My expanded thoughts on gun violence in America

I don’t get highly political very often. I have my opinions, but I generally keep them to myself. For whatever reason, violence, and gun violence in particular, has really struck a nerve with me. All political issues are obviously important to particular people, but this is literally a life and death thing at its very core, so I guess it just doesn’t seem like something we should be ignoring. I wrote an essay/rant (below) in direct response to the Sandy Hook shootings in December, 2012. I was upset, pissed off, and tired of acquiescing to gun supporters’ rhetoric. I furiously typed up this essay/rant/whatever you want to call it and threw it out to the internet sharks. It got a lot of response, and opened up some conversation about the topic. I honestly don’t know if it changed any particular person’s thoughts on the topic, but I certainly hope it helped. A little over a year later, we haven’t seen any particular incident quite as bad as Sandy Hook, but it seems like just about every single day I will see some news story about an outrageous shooting, often in public places. And while the general trend for gun violence is slowly decreasing across the country, it is still astronomically higher than the rest of the first world. This is not something we should be comfortable with. The point being, even though there is no single breaking point for me to repost this, the general idea still remains very relevant. I cleaned up a few typos and removed the old brief intro but otherwise left it in tact in its original form. I also added a pretty thorough point/counter-point section on the end based on the arguments I got against it from the original post. I think they further the factual basis for what I was going for as well as get in front of the typical responses that will appear from people who disagree with my opinion. OK, enough prattling, here it is:
Until very recently, I used to fight tooth and nail for gun rights in America.  I even staunchly supported conceal and carry.  You know that side of the story: “people are able to make intelligent decisions on their own” and “it’s obviously possible to be perfectly safe as a gun owner” and all that.  I’m sure it’s the same thing a lot of people say and think very frequently.  In light of the rampant public gun violence in the past year, I started to waver a bit on my opinion recently, and leaning more and more the other direction as time went by.  After today, I can confidently say I’m solidly standing as far in the other corner as possible.

It seems to be the de facto response from gun supporters that acts like today’s school shootings are the isolated acts of a crazy person and guns are not to blame in any way.  In theory, that sounds great, the problem is, how do you weed out someone like that with the way our current system works?  The answer is pretty clear at this point; you just fucking can’t.  Because of our supposed NEED for guns as a society, access to them is simply far too easy.  It is exceptionally rare to hear one of these stories where the shooter didn’t obtain guns legally, or took them from someone who obtained them legally.  We simply are NOT doing anything that we need to in order to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.  I’d love to say that our solution is “tighter controls” and all that, but honestly, how the hell do we know?  How do we have any clue that if you buy a gun you’re not going to lose it and start killing people?

What does this mean?  As I said earlier, fuck your guns.  I don’t care anymore.  I don’t give a shit that you can cite an outdated constitutional amendment that promises you can own deadly weapons for reasons that are no longer relevant to our modern society.  There is absolutely no practical need to own a gun.  Supporters, like I had been, love to think that having a weapon with you will protect you from violent crimes on the street.  In doing research on this awhile back because of a debate with a roommate/friend about the validity of conceal and carry (which I was in support of at the time), almost all evidence, anecdotal and statistical, shows little positive benefit and is easily outweighed by the negative.  This is particularly true when taking into account the second-hand effects of having guns in homes, such as accidents, thefts, and misuse.

For those hunters out there, yeah I stopped caring about you, too.  Bluntly, your impractical hobby is not worth it.  You may be responsible with your gun.  I don’t care.  The tangential benefit of your having fun does not outweigh all the negatives of ownership across the country.  Admittedly, from my own perspective, we shouldn’t have needed large-scale tragedies like this to come to this point, but all the fun you’ve ever had in the world hunting does not outweigh the thousands of lives needlessly lost to guns.  If your need to have something cool to do occasionally somehow outweighs the greater good of saving lives, then honestly, fuck you.  Take one for the team and realize that it is not a good idea to be able to buy deadly weapons that can be used for evil just as easily as… I won’t even say “good” because there’s really nothing “good” that comes from it, just… maybe not inherently bad.

Now, I understand that there are deeper societal concerns here.  People keep using the buzzword “mental health” like we can somehow magically identify and fix problems in people who have deep-rooted issues.  These being the same people who we’ve failed to identify them in yet and who haven’t sought help for their own problems.  Let’s just please be realistic–we’re not going to always find and solve those problems.  Sure, it should absolutely be our goal, as well as fixing our society’s fixation on and acceptance of violence in general, but it’s just not going to happen any time soon.  We at least need to do everything we can to prevent those people from being able to take others down with them.  Gun violence may indeed by a symptom and not the real problem, but until we can make traction on fixing the real issue, we need to address the symptom to prevent things from getting worse.  Gun lovers, give it up for the greater good.  We as a country are severely screwed up and it’s been definitely proven in my opinion by this point that we can’t handle the responsibility of gun ownership as a whole.  America, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Look, if I can change my opinion on this 180 degrees, there’s no reason why anyone can’t.  It’s highly probable my stance on this won’t change anyone’s mind, and I guess that’s fine.  But if I can at least influence one person to sit and think truly and honestly about WHY they think we need guns for the citizens in this country, I’ll already feel justified.

I welcome discussion on this so long as you don’t come at me with a bunch of the same clichés and rhetoric that we’ve heard for years and that I already alluded to.  One way or another, this conversation NEEDS to happen on a large scale, and something needs to change.  We can’t go on like this.
Alright, so, in response to that I received some pretty unsurprising counter-arguments and did my best to find ways to factually argue my point. Here are the primary ones which I’ve summarized/paraphrased, along with my responses.
1. I understand why you don’t like guns, but all you’re doing is complaining. Do you have any actual solution in mind?
When I wrote that post it was like 50% venting because I was pissed off and 50% just trying to get peoples’ attention to spark a conversation and make them think so I avoided a lot of the nuts-and-bolts parts of the conversation, like stats and citations, as well as my actual ultimate goal. And since you asked so nicely, here it is. Ultimately, there should be no private gun ownership whatsoever. Eliminate individual sales of guns and get rid of what people own already. This clearly is not a particularly realistic thing to just have happen right away but it should be our end goal. Whatever steps happen to get us there are fairly inconsequential to me, as long as it moves us in that direction. The less guns, the better; simple as that. This is not a fantasy or purely speculation, either. All around the world it is essentially without fail that the countries with the tightest gun laws have the lowest homicide rates. The United States is embarrassingly representing a murder rate about on par with Cuba, topping those of Yemen, Palestine, almost twice as high as Iran, and at least four times higher than the entire rest of the comparable first world.
2. OK, well, even so, that seems like it’s completely unrealistic and idealistic. Who says it would even help anyway?
In 1996, Australia was in a similar condition as we are currently. In the past 18 years there were 11 mass-shootings, culminating with an awful incident in Port Arthur, in which 35 people were killed and 18 wounded by gunshots. In response to this, as well as a general problem with gun violence, their government quickly enacted some legislation that would be pretty drastic if it happened here. Any and all long arms capable of rapid fire were banned outright (i.e. assault rifles and quick-action shotguns) and a huge-scale buyback program was created which encompassed any firearms whatsoever. Upwards of 700,000 guns were no longer in private ownership and sales obviously were halted. Afterward, gun deaths decreased at a trend of 6% per year for the next 10 years and there were literally no mass shootings during that time. This is not a utopian pipe dream, gun legislation can, and does, make a huge difference even in a place with an established gun culture in a short amount of time. The results of a full study with all data (coming from the Australian Bureau of Statistics) and methodology is here. Note that the changes made are not even nearly as far as I would ideally like to go. Removing even more guns from circulation logically would reduce these statistics even further.
3. People are still going to be violent or crazy whether guns are around or not. They will still find something else to use as a weapon.
I passionately HATE this argument, primarily because it is completely backwards logic and a terrible way to try to debate a topic. If it’s as simple as that, and all weapons are equal, why would anyone even care to defend gun ownership at all? If a knife, or a hammer, or whatever else is just as effective, why don’t we hear of mass-stabbings/clubbings leading to deaths? Why are our police and soldiers not equipped only with knives? Yes, people will still be crazy and violent, there is an underlying problem with violence in our country as a whole, which I acknowledged in my original essay. However, why make it as easy as possible for those violent or crazy people to inflict lethal injuries on people? If we eliminate the most lethal weapon available, it will inherently save lives, even if the same number of violent incidents happen. It was a twisted turn of fate that on the same day Sandy Hook happened in the United States, a crazy person in China also attacked a school full of children with a large knife. He was able to wound 22 of them as well as an adult. Literally none of them died. Yes, this is somewhat anecdotal, but it is completely ridiculous to say that all weapons are equal or that any other option is just as deadly as a gun.
4. If we get rid of legally owned guns, criminals and “bad guys” are still going to get their hands on them.
In extreme cases, this will obviously be true in a limited fashion. But again, we can look at the other countries around the world and easily tell that this is will not be a rampant problem. Also, if even simply POSSESSING a gun becomes a crime of some sort, it becomes an even bigger discouragement for anyone to have them “just in case” or whatever. For reference, the statistics I’ve seen while doing research generally puts illegally purchased guns at less than a third of all guns used in crimes. The large majority are fully legal when being purchased. This chart is a little old but it’s the easiest reference I’ve seen. Either way, illegally acquired guns have to come from SOMEWHERE. More often than not, they are purchased/stolen second-hand from someone who bought them legally, or are sold off-the-record illegally from gun dealers who would no longer have access to that supply through an outright gun ban. Even if we can’t realistically get rid of EVERY SINGLE GUN, removing nearly all of them is going to inevitably make a dramatic impact.
5. Owning guns is the best deterrent and/or best defense against gun crimes. (a.k.a. the justification for conceal and carry, a.k.a. the “good guys with guns” argument, a.k.a. the “only someone with a gun can stop someone else with a gun” argument)
The root of the argument against this piece of circular logic is blatantly obvious: if nobody has a gun in the first place, this is a completely moot point. You don’t need to defend yourself against gun violence if there are no guns to be used for violence in the first place. However, we’ll go a little further so as not to seem like a cop-out. From this pretty excellent research paper which goes into a lot of depth on the subject:
Concealed carry weapon laws have been unsuccessful in significantly affecting the rates of violent crime in states where they have been enacted. Several studies have been published on this topic, using information collected on crimes and rates between 1973 and 2000; each study used a date range between those two years.
This is on top of the fact that we have already discussed, which is that general gun ownership within a population not only does not reduce gun crime, but actually increases it. This article does a good job of going into some of the specifics on that beyond the raw wiki data I listed above. Basically every piece of evidence provided for WHY gun ownership can reduce crime is purely anecdotal and/or based on highly specific samples that are nearly always used in such a matter to try to support a pro-gun agenda. And any remaining statistics that show a possible correlation between gun ownership and a reduction in crime is easily offset by resulting accidents, increases in successful gun suicides, and unnecessary use of lethal force in cases of “defense” with guns. Otherwise this argument is purely rhetorical and theoretical without any real factual basis for it at all.
6. There are [thousands/millions/whatever] of responsible gun owners. Why punish them for other people doing bad things?
I already quickly addressed this, and it goes a little in hand with the previous answer regarding the whole “good guys with guns” thing, but we’ll get more specific. First and foremost, it is utterly impossible to predict future behavior of a person. Screening out potential gun owners based on criminal records, mental health evaluations, demographic information, etc. is in no way a defensible means of ensuring someone isn’t going to use their weapon in a harmful and illegal way. The epitome of a “good guy” would be someone like a police officer or member of the military. They are fully trained and educated on firearms and are trusted to use them regularly for their role. Even so, we hear very frequently about ex-cops and former military personnel losing it for whatever reason and shooting someone. It can happen to anyone, regardless of whether they seemed to be in a position where they should be fully trusted to do the right thing. Beyond that, the number of totally legit people having totally legit accidents is pretty outrageously high also (as in, more than zero needless deaths is pretty outrageously high, regardless of the actual statistics). It is simply not worth the risk.
7. People die needlessly from [cars/alcohol/obesity/cigarettes/insert random thing] all the time, too. If your argument is valid, then we need to ban those, too.
This is just a blatant type of red herring. If you want to start a movement to ban something on that list or whatever other thing you can think of, go for it. I’m not going to argue for or against any other topic in this space right now; it’s completely missing the point. All I know is that looking at factual evidence, there is virtually no upside for gun ownership so I really don’t understand why so many people are hell bent on keeping them around. A gun’s specific, designed purpose is to do lethal damage. Whether you may be shooting at an animal, or a target on a range, or whatever, THAT is the purpose. Any other thing that is ever presented within this type of argument never has that explicit purpose. They are made for enjoyment, convenience, or whatever.

I consider this essentially my final word on the topic unless anyone feels the need to challenge it. I have no problem defending my stance, so if you feel that need, go right ahead. Or I suppose if anyone thinks I just blatantly missed on some topic, in which cause I can definitely do an update or addendum. Otherwise, I think this is pretty complete from my perspective on the issue. Thoughts?
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My Top Albums of 2013

 

I decided to do a completely unoriginal year-end review of my favorite albums of 2013. I guess I felt like sharing since I can never get enough of talking about music and sharing what I’m into at the moment. But also because most year-end lists from actual publications can’t stop getting their rocks off about Vampire Weekend and other popular stuff that I’m not into at all. Also, if I can get even one person to check out something on here and dig it that you weren’t aware of before, I’ll be ecstatic. I’m not gonna blab too much but I’m adding some notes for those who may not be familiar with the artists, including links for Spotify or other relevant/interesting stuff.

1. Milosh – Jetlag

Milosh-Jet-Lag

(Not on Spotify yet, but it’s free to stream on BandCamp)

Milosh was easily my artist of the year, as his other project, Rhye, also appears on this list. Tough call between the two but his solo stuff’s chill, downtempo electronica is perfectly up my alley. This is easily his best solo album front-to-back, with phenomenal, emotional songwriting that swings all over the place sonically. Usually an entire album of basically love ballads would be boring and lame but it works shockingly well because it’s all extremely genuine, deliberate, and honest. “Hold Me” is probably my personal favorite; I would not have expected a dynamic, 8+ minute song in this style to be effective but it’s pretty incredible. On the totally other end of the spectrum, he recorded the outstanding piano ballad, “Slow Down,” with an accompanying video starring his wife that’s intensely sweet.

2. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

Blood-Orange-Cupid-Deluxe

Spotify

This is probably the only album I really agree with pretty much all the critics on as being one of the year’s best. But it still seems like it’s flying a little under the radar as far as fans and listeners go. If you’re not familiar, it’s a hard-to-describe clusterfuck of genres, in the best way possible. It goes from Prince-y pop/R&B/soul to new wave, disco, and hip-hop mixed together in and endlessly interesting and awesomely listenable experience. Consistently well written and diverse songs make the entire album pretty fantastic the whole way through, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be maybe the weirdest track on the album with its odd 2+ minute voice-over intro and catchy-as-hell bass line, “Chosen.”

3. Rhye – Woman

Rhye Woman

Spotify

As I already spoiled, the other project involving Milosh was in serious contention for my favorite album of the year until the last two I wrote about were released late in the year. It’s much sparser, much more organic, and much more soulful than the electronica of his solo music, and I’ve gone back and forth a ton on which I prefer. If I were picking my top 20 (or maybe even 10) songs of the year, 3 of them would for sure would be from this album. “3 Days,” “Open,” and “The Fall” are all absolutely amazing, with “3 Days” probably being my favorite track of 2013. The live versions are really worth checking out also since they’re approached quite a bit differently (This one for example, or this). If it weren’t for a couple mediocre tracks thrown into the mix, this would have been on top of the list.

4. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

jon-Hopkins-Immunity

Spotify

I could see this being a little bit of a “love it or hate it” kind of album for some people since it goes absolutely all over the place. As a producer with a really varied background, Jon Hopkins covers the gamut on anything you might possibly throw under the “electronic” genre. I love the diversity, though. He throws together some of the most interesting, unique, and excellent upbeat dance tracks with some of the most beautiful piano-driven instrumentals I’ve heard in awhile. The mix is kind of a rollercoaster ride but it makes for an awesome listen. Get up off your ass to some electro dance funk with “Open Eye Signal” then follow it up with a gorgeous 10-minute ride of the title track “Immunity” and see what you think.

5. Gary Numan – Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)

Gary-Numan-Splinter

Spotify

If you haven’t been paying attention, Gary Numan is still making music, and it’s pretty great. Apologies to Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, How to Destroy Angels, tweaker, etc., but this is easily the best “industrial” album of the year. Quite possibly, the best of the last many years. It isn’t necessarily breaking new ground or doing anything stylistically mindblowing, but if you dig heavy industrial music, this is nearly a perfect execution of the genre. If you consider yourself a fan at all of any of those artists, do not pass on this. Check out the first track, “I Am Dust” and you’ll likely know whether the album is for you.

6. Moderat – II

Moderat_Cover_Digital

Spotify

A collaboration between two of my favorite electronic artists, Apparat and Modeselektor, had the potential to disappoint horribly. However, the execution of this album was outstanding and managed to blend their unique styles in a really excellent way. There is an awesome flow and feel to the record even as it moves from experimental instrumental tracks to upbeat songs that border on pop R&B like my personal favorites, “Bad Kingdom” and “Gita” which both apparently got some college radio play earlier this year. Aside from that, though, this album sadly seems to have slipped under peoples’ radars even after really great critical response when it was released.

7. Queen of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

queens-of-the-stone-age-like-clockwork

Spotify

I sincerely hope I don’t have to explain this one too much. I think it’s almost inarguably the best mainstream rock album to come out this year. Queens haven’t put out anything bad in… maybe ever, and even though the releases aren’t very frequent, they do one hell of a job pushing the envelope with their style and presentation. The album is far from perfect but it’s always interesting, and the high points, like “Smooth Sailing” and “If I Had a Tail” are quite amazing.

8. Apparat – Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theater)

Apparat - Krieg und Frieden

This got taken down from Spotify recently for some reason and I can’t find a full album stream anywhere. It’s on iTunes/Amazon and there’s obviously BitTorrent if you want to be shady.

This album was not originally going to be an album. It’s the soundtrack to a German theater performance of War and Peace with all songs written with the intent of being performed live. But it was so good and so well received that they were basically forced to do a studio version of all of it and released it as an album. Most interestingly is that it was all written and arranged by Apparat, who was primarily a glitch/house producer and DJ until he started to get bored and decided to do all sorts of various stuff. It’s mostly emotional, orchestral style compositions like the theme “K&F Thema (Pizzicato)” (that version is the good studio version but incomplete, this live one is complete and beautiful but not ideal quality). However, there are a couple awesome vocal tracks, including the incredible “A Violent Sky” which is a must-listen.

9. Glasser – Interiors

GLASSER-INTERIORS

Spotify

This is in a similar vein to the style of Milosh’s solo album or the more pop-oriented tracks from Moderat’s album that I’ve already mentioned here. I couldn’t get enough of the good mid- or downtempo electronic stuff that was released this year, and this was one of the best. This could easily have been an Imogen Heap record in an alternate universe, which I say in a good way because Imogen Heap is great. The album’s opening track, “Shape,” is probably the best, but I really dig “Keam Theme” and “Landscape” as well.

10. Hammock – Oblivion Hymns

Hammock Oblivion Hymns

Spotify

My two favorite post-rock bands, Sigur Ros and Hammock, decided to go completely different directions with their 2013 releases, and it was very hard to choose between them for this last spot. While Sigur Ros decided to bring some aggression to their excellent Kveikur, Hammock minimalized to the extreme. This album is about as ethereal, understated, and simply pretty as anything I’ve heard since, ironically, probably Jonsi’s side project release, Riceboy Sleeps. If you’re trying to actively listen to anything and really dive in, this could definitely drag on over the course of the entire record, but as mood music or semi-background listening it is unbelievably good.

Others that were close calls and I like a lot but didn’t quite make the cut, in no particular order:

Sigur Ros – Kveikur
Kanye West – Yeezus
How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion
Pretty Lights – A Color Map of the Sun
Trentemoller – Lost
tweaker – Call the Time Eternity
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Jimmy Eat World – Damage

If you dig my taste at all in my top 10 selections, I would strongly encourage checking out this stuff as well obviously.