Friday, May 4, 2018

A Public Letter To Matthew McConaughey

My thanks to Instapundit for the initial link to the Christian Toto post.

In this recently posted piece in Hollywood In Toto, fellow Texan (as in by actual birth, not a late-comer migrant like myself) and justly famous actor Matthew McConaughey is quoted as saying the following regarding the ongoing public debate over firearms ownership in Texas and the USA more generally:
“The two sides (have) got to talk. Because we both agree that there’s an epidemic. We both agree something has got to change. So I was for what they were marching for, and I wanted to speak to my hometown on the capital of my state Texas’ steps. And also talk to the many men and women who I grew up with, I know that had the guns, that owned the guns, and say hey, do we really, where can we reach across the aisle here? Find a compromise for the betterment of all of us?”
Other observations were also attributed to him in the article (which, to be honest, had an entirely different, if well argued, direction), but I want to focus on this statement for now.

Yes Matthew (if I may be so bold), we do agree; all citizens of our state and country have got to talk about this very fundamental condition of our shared citizenship, but I submit to you that posing the conversation as being a binary issue (pro or con only) makes that admirable goal much harder to accomplish. There are legitimate distinctions that shade and give necessary context to this general topic that an either/or juxtaposition simply doesn't permit, if only as a result of the initial premise such an oratorical construct requires. You made the statement quoted above at a public (and at least somewhat spontaneous) public event, so post facto insistence on scholarly citation and the like would be unfair at the very least, and I make no such demands of you here. I am confident that you would agree that such citations and references will be necessary to arriving at a well considered conclusion.

We do both agree that there is an epidemic, but I would argue that it is mostly composed of a lack of agreement on the nature and substance of personal and public education on the contributing factors that lead up to individual gun ownership and usage. If I may, more on this later.

Taking a public position on an issue one can be certain beforehand will be widely regarded as controversial at best, requires a degree of personal courage and integrity that I compliment you on embodying so well. There are few enough of us at any time who are prepared to do so "in front of God and all" as my grandmother was known to say; anyone who does so is worthy of public recognition as a matter of simple justice. That said, can we also talk about the record of the compromises made by various parties to this issue over the past century or so?

May I suggest we begin our talk with this brief (I promise) Quora discussion of the topic by B. F. Caffrey: Why wont gun owners ever compromise? I will simply offer the opinion that compromise has been a well-trod path here-to-fore, very much in one direction. As always (who is this Mr. Phelps guy?), venture into the Comments section at your own peril.

I will leave the arguments for further restriction on our rights and opportunity to gun ownership and usage to those prepared to make them; I am perfectly willing to discuss things with those so convinced of course, but I feel unprepared to honestly state their case for them. On the other hand, may I assume that I am the first to introduce you to my fellow blogger (and Arizonan, but let's not hold that against him) Kevin Baker? Unlike so many, Kevin has spent literally decades researching and discussing most of the various aspects of firearm ownership and usage from as scholarly and practical a viewpoint as anyone I am familiar with (who isn't actually being paid to do such a thing). Please Matthew, take the time to click on his name and follow the link to his blog page The Smallest Minority (redundancy alert!) and scroll down the page, paying attention to the links listed on the (somewhat ironic) left hand side of the page. Click on any of them; no apologies from me for leading you down into that warren of intellectual rabbit holes, but I hope you will agree that the topic is indeed well and truly explored as well as critically examined.

If you have any energy left after that traumatic experience, you might also want to give some attention to the ravings being spouted by that well-known right-wing propaganda site (sorry, the snark got away from me there) The Washington Post. On October 4, 2017, that newspaper published an article by one Cari S. Babitzke (identified as a PhD candidate in history from Boston University, so presumably not a working journalist) (sorry, I'll quit). Not wanting to commit any gender assumption faux pas, I will limit my observations to noting the article's obvious effort at an even-handed approach to the topic.

Returning to my earlier mention of education, I hope I have gone some way toward demonstrating why I believe the talk we need to have about guns ought best to center around the sub-text of education. Not just the more traditional approach to history, but the philosophical, legal, and economic influences that resulted in our being asked when we were school boys to memorize "Four score and seven years ago ..." and all that. Elsewhere in the HiT article I quoted from at the outset of this letter, you are also quoted as saying:
“One, let’s ban the assault weapons for civilians. This is a no-brainer. And to my friends out there that are responsible owners of these recreational assault weapons that they use for recreation, please let’s just take one for the team here and set it down. That issue saves lives,” he said. “Number two, let’s restrict the capacity of the magazines. Look here: in the state of Texas, we have a three shell limit to hunt migratory birds. Do the math. You get my point.”
Once you have had opportunity to read the links I suggested above, you will realize that your point One isn't nearly as simple as it is commonly believed to be. In all seriousness, would you be willing to argue that a bolt action hunting rifle in 30:06 caliber would qualify as an "assault rifle" given it's descent in this country from the M1907 rifle issued to US combat troops deployed to the European Theater of Operations (circa 1917) and the Pacific Theater of Operations (circa 1941 - 1945 inclusive)? You know, (Great?) Grandpa's deer rifle. If not, why not? If so, how is that rifle in any practicable way different in design or purpose from the AR-15 gas-operated rifle (which is actually Eugene Stoner's civilian rifle design that eventually would lead to the US Army's M-16 rifle)? Can we agree that there is much to learn, starting with the applicability (not to say actual basis in reality, but ...) of the descriptive terms used? Indeed, I hope we can talk about many other assumptions that seem to inevitably appear in any conversation about guns, and gain a more transparent understanding of them.

I hope you will forgive me this observation, but your point Two is problematic at best. Your example of migratory bird hunting is a sterling example of those questionable assumptions I just mentioned. To be blunt, neither you nor I, our friends and families, not even the irritating neighbor down the street who (enter particular irritation here); none of us - nor, hopefully, any of our fellow citizens, ever - are game animals, Matthew. We are none of us, nor should we ever be thought to be, subject to the rules and regulations governing the sustainable practice of wildlife population control through hunting. The assumption that those rules ought in any way to be considered as applicable to any of us does your - and anyone else who says something so silly and thoughtless - reputation no good at all.

In closing Matthew, I wish to suggest you consider how the entirely ordinary business of instruction in an extensive selection of martial arts disciplines that exists in our state, indeed the country as a whole, might be adapted to provide an ordinary and commonplace means to educate ourselves (yes, starting as children, just as we already do) on how to safely and responsibly incorporate firearms into the routine of our lives. Martial arts instruction generally assumes that the individual is the proper level of societal judgement as regards questions of self defense, an assumption that admittedly makes for some degree of feelings of parental-unit nervousness, but no widespread, organized objection to such instruction being offered for sale that I'm aware of. As well, there are many existing schools that already include weapons usage, along with training in safe practice and related issues regarding weapons handling generally to the civil population, a great many of them children. Other than engineering issues, how are guns in any effective way different from archery or any of the other "antique" distance weapons developed during the course of human history? Can we agree that dangerousness isn't an acceptable disqualification all on its own? We already know how to safely and responsibly train, carry, use, store, and otherwise own weapons, we just don't choose to include guns (outside of the hunting/target shooting competition niche the NRA, USPSA, and IDPA (among others) already occupies quite effectively in the USA) as just one more physical activity that's part of our everyday lives because ... reasons, I guess.

I am a (not very accomplished, I'm afraid) life member of HEMA Alliance, "a martial arts federation dedicated to the study of Historical European Martial Arts". One of the distinctions between HEMA and many other studies of martial arts is the requirement that there be an existing historical document describing the technique(s) and their usage upon which to base the effort at re-creation of the particular art form in a modern practice context. While there are arguments as to how well this works as a training format, I am confident that you can see how this documentary requirement for inclusion could be applied to the study of modern firearms in a modern martial arts context. Simply expanding the existing martial arts school business model to include firearms instruction would create the widest possible availability of such education (not just academic instruction, but the actual physical safe practices of usage, the history of the weapons as examples of durable complex tool engineering, the philosophy and legal ramifications that lead to their creation as well as those that arose from their existence ... the whole thing) to include - well, everybody thanks to the internet, but certainly our fellow Texans and those other folks still trying to get here. Joining together to independently research source documents, to base a series of publicly available courses of instruction upon, that potentially lead to inclusion in established education syllabi teaching the make up and function of human civilization? That's a talk I'd like to have.

No, my idea isn't The Answer; hell, it's not even that well thought out, to be honest, but isn't that what we're talking about here, Matthew? Talking about how to work out how to safely live with guns in our midst, a condition that I believe can be honestly and fairly argued to ultimately be a necessary one, sadly. We do need to talk about guns, but together, not at (or worse, past) each other, and the only way I can see any us getting to that point in this whole thing, is if some of those few of us who have achieved a degree of public acclaim will agree to participate in some public way that sets the stage, so to speak, for the wider positive conversations we hope will develop.

There's an old saying that applies to us all equally here, I think; Lead, Follow, or get out of the way. I'm stepping up here as best an old guy can, Matthew. Help a brother out?