Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Guns


Monday, the Supreme Court reinforced its position that gun ownership is an individual right as set out in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Guns, gun ownership, gun violence, and firearms legislation is one of the great hot-button topics of our society along with abortion and any other partisan issue. I think this decision, which mirrored a decision from two years ago, will not have a serious impact on public safety except for a likely increase in accidental discharges in the hands of the careless as they embrace their newly confirmed rights.

I’ve been around guns all my life. Dad was a hunter and a strict gun-safety nut. Before he was nineteen he was involved in two or three hunting accidents and never cared to see any more. The guns at our house were locked up with the key hung on a hook up out of the way of little hands. I was taught at an early age how to safely handle firearms and to respect their power. I took this ethic to my brief military experience, then into a thirty-year career in law enforcement. I was trained as a firearms instructor, a range master, and as an armorer and trainer for the Glock pistol. As a retired law enforcement officer I am entitled to carry a concealed weapon in any jurisdiction in the nation. But I endured the weight of the weapon, its obligations, and the risk of having it turned against me long enough to have lost any desire to exercise my rights through gun ownership. No guns, no gun accidents.

What is to be made of this new decision? Not much. Gun sales might increase, but the issues of what regulation is allowed on gun ownership will still rage on here in the blogosphere, on the tube, in the Congress, and in courts. Can an illegal alien own a gun in his home? Can a regular citizen carry a gun in his camper to a state park? Can someone carry a gun openly in a holster in a grocery store? The Supreme Court left open these questions. The citizen remains confused. The gun lobby and the anti-gun lobby are assured of years of revenue-rich litigation to sort it all out. And legislators are not off the hook when it comes to gun policies.

I will relate a humorous episode as a Cub Scout leader. Starting in the mid 80s, we took eight, nine, and ten year old boys to summer camp. It was an experiment. They didn’t used to go to summer camp until they were Boy Scouts. The Scouts invited moms up too so they could keep track of their precious babes. One single mom was quite vocal in her disapproval of the trappings of Scouting, uniforms, badges, saluting the flag, mustering before dinner, and telling stories around a campfire.

One of the activities was the rifle range where the Boy Scouts shot .22 rifles as they have done since about 1909. The Cubs shot BB guns. Every shooter wore goggles to protect against ricochets. This mom just couldn’t understand why the boys needed to know how to shoot. She didn’t own any guns and her son would never own a gun. I tried to explain to her the importance of the boys knowing gun safety. Her son might never own a gun, but her neighbor might and her son might want to know how to behave if that gun came out. I left her to mutter her unhappiness. Three days later I chanced by the range. She was wearing safety glasses and just getting out of the prone position and readying her BB gun for her next course of fire. I doubt that she ever shot a BB gun again, but I know her son, now probably with a son of his own, will know how to be safe around a firearm.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Drill Ban

I get irritated with the clamor to ban offshore oil drilling because of the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I wish people would take a breath. The Deepwater Horizon accident is like a horrible traffic pileup on the freeway caused by someone driving drunk and over the speed limit. And then we discover that the highway patrol was off eating donuts. Do we close the freeways? No.

Oil platforms have blowout preventers, immense, complicated safety valves that, well, prevent blowouts. The operators are supposed to conduct regular tests of the BOPs, but this involves suspending drilling or production which costs money. Anyone inclined to take a shortcut will falsify the tests and get back on schedule. I was peripherally involved in a BOP falsification case in the 1980s. The oil company and its contractor cooked the books to maintain the drilling schedule. Already we are hearing accounts that on the Deepwater Horizon they knew the BOP was about to fail, but the crews were under great pressure to get the well in. Only a professional and rational investigation will reveal the facts.

There are systems in place that would have prevented the Gulf tragedy, but they weren't used. Indeed, they may have been willfully ignored. Just like the drunk driver going too fast. Will more regulations for offshore drilling solve this problem? Not if the operators ignore them too. Let the operators obey the rules and have a solid regulatory structure in place.