When I was in sixth grade, I loved science. I was intrigued by the scientific method: making observations, formulating a hypothesis, designing an experiment to test the hypothesis. My teacher passed out a flyer with a list of paperback books we could get for very little money. One book in particular caught my attention. It was a collection of science experiments you could do at home. I wanted that book.
I took the flyer home and asked for the money to get it. I’m sure it couldn’t have been more than 95¢. But we were poor, and the purchase seemed frivolous to my parents at the time. They said no.
But I wanted that book. I hit upon a daring plan to get it. My mom packed me a lunch every day, but she would give me a nickel (or maybe it was a dime) for milk. I started saving my milk money. When I had enough for the book, I filled out the form in the flyer and turned it in with my saved milk money. A few days later, the books arrived.
I was thrilled. I read and re-read that book and treasured it for years. It was my book in a way that no other book had been mine. I still remember many of the one- and two-page essays explaining and illustrating various principles in science. I learned how to use my watch as a compass—before digital watches, of course. I learned that you could easily set fire to a sugar cube just by rubbing a little cigarette ash on it first. I learned about the Bernoulli principle, which makes heavier-than-air flight possible. I learned how to tell a raw egg from a hard-boiled egg without cracking the shell. That book slaked my thirst for knowledge without quenching it.
I had a problem, though. I had gone behind my parent’s back to get the book. I knew they would not be pleased. I suppose I could have kept it a secret, but it was not in my nature. Besides, I loved my mom and dad and wanted to share with them the delight I had in discovering new things. I took the book home and told my mom what I had done. My mom took the book and said she would talk to my dad about it. I could tell she was disappointed, but I also thought she could scarcely keep the book from me when I had shown such resourcefulness in acquiring it and sacrificed drinking milk for several days to get it.
I don’t know what my folks said to one another, but they let me keep the book. Of course, they admonished me never to do anything like that again. Although I agreed, I was secretly proud of myself for defying them in the cause of knowledge.
Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, plenty of Facebook friends have weighed in on the need for gun control or gun safety laws. Some have been well-reasoned. Most have been incendiary and polarizing. Against them and equally polarizing have been defenders of the second amendment, most adamantly refusing to admit a need for any kind of regulation beyond what we already have. Except for passing on a few moderate articles, I have stayed out of the fray. But now I feel I can contribute something in a small way.
Significant change in gun control is not going to happen. The Constitution does not allow it, and the Supreme Court has consistently held that the second amendment, whatever its authors may have intended, means that individual citizens have a right to own guns. Some changes are likely, but they will not be significant. Here are the changes I expect to see along with reasons why they are unimportant. The stated aim of most of these proposals is to decrease the likelihood of another Sandy Hook. None of these proposals can actually fulfill that aim.
- Ban on assault weapons. This is likely to happen simply because it happened before. It did not make a difference then, and it will not make a difference now. Any ban is likely to take the form of a ban on sales. It will have no effect on assault weapons already owned. Estimates put the number of assault weapons in the US between 3 and 4 million. The transfer of such weapons by sale would become illegal, but since there is no way to enforce a ban on private sales, they would likely continue anyway.
- Restrictions on magazine size. This may happen because it is reasonable. No one who owns a gun for sporting purposes or for self defense needs a 30-round clip. (Of course, it is possible to imagine scenarios where a large clip would come in handy, but lets stick to reality.) Limiting magazine size, however, would not be an effective deterrent to someone determined to quickly kill a lot of strangers. It takes only a couple of seconds to eject an empty clip and install a new one. Those couple of seconds might be a window of opportunity for a trained officer armed and able to respond, but for unarmed people cowering behind any available cover, they are meaningless. In addition, there would be sales of extra capacity clips—legal or not—to circumvent the law.
- Background checks. Background checks have a lot of popular support because we obviously don’t want to sell guns to known felons or folks with a history of violent mental illness. The problem here is the sheer number of guns already in existence. Access is not a problem either for criminals or for the mentally ill. Forty-seven percent of households reported owning a gun in 2011. Twenty-nine percent own more than one. With more than 300 million guns already in private hands, chances are good that the next Adam Lanza already lives in a household with multiple guns.
- Waiting periods. The idea behind a waiting period is to prevent heat-of-the-moment shootings. You learn that your girlfriend is having an affair with your best friend, so you run out to K-Mart and buy a pistol and shoot them. If you have to wait seven days before you can take possession of your new gun, chances are you might re-think your future and decide on a less final solution. The problem here is that mass shootings usually require careful planning and preparation. A short waiting period is no deterrent at all if what you aim to do is prevent mass shootings.
- Registration. This is perhaps the most contentious potential regulation. It is also the one most likely to make a difference. Gun rights advocates fear that this is first step toward confiscation. Require registration of firearms in order to build a federal database of gun owners. Then when the time is ripe, use the database to seize the vast majority of civilian-owned weapons. Gun control proponents scoff at this scenario, pointing to licensing and registration of vehicles as an analogy. If a registration law does go into effect, it will likely affect only new sales, not existing ownership, not only because of the power of the pro-gun lobby, but because enforcement costs for implementing a law requiring registration of existing firearms would be too high. Moreover, many people would no doubt refuse to comply. In any case, a national firearm registry would not act as a deterrent to someone planning a mass shooting.
Gun violence is an intractable problem in the US. On the one hand, we have a long tradition associated with the second amendment that guarantees citizens the right to gun ownership. On the other, we must acknowledge that easy access to guns has made America less safe rather than more safe. Gun rights proponents are fond of saying that the only effective deterrent to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. That is wild west thinking, good guys and bad guys, bang-bang! you’re dead. But for many of us, and especially for those of us who do not own a gun, the good man with a gun is the police officer or soldier who is paid to protect us. In truth, the only effective deterrent to a bad person is a good person. The gun is peripheral.
Something happens to us in grade school. We lose our natural sense of what’s right or wrong in English and come to rely on rules instead. One of the first rules we learn makes us do crazy things for the rest of our lives. Maybe you just came in from outside, flushed and excited.
“Me and Charlie were down by the creek catching nightcrawlers,” you begin.
“Charlie and I,” says your Aunt Mildred, a retired second-grade teacher from Mt Sterling, Ohio.
This has happened before. You suddenly know that any hope of communicating the enthusiasm, the unmitigated joy, the pure delight, of looking for nightcrawlers and finding instead a three-foot serpent has been lost. Aunt Mildred launches into a lecture of which you hear only one refrain: “Never use ‘me’ when speaking of yourself and another person, and always put yourself second.”
“Charlie and I,” you repeat dully. The moment is forever lost.
Even Aunt Mildred, shocked as she was at hearing such disgraceful grammar from an eight-year-old, would have to admit that “Charlie and I” is not a catch-all for speaking of yourself and Charlie. You might have been pursued by a dragon, for example, while you and Charlie were playing with your little sister. ” The dragon chased Charlie and me,” you say, “and we led it far away from Sally.”
But somehow now it doesn’t sound right. Somehow you’ve got it into your head that “I” always follows “and” no matter what role the words play in the sentence. How can you tell when to use “I” and when to use “me?”
Simple. Drop “Charlie and.” If it’s a sentence you would still say, then you’re probably on the right track.
The dragon chased Charlie and I.
The dragon chased
Charlie and I.
The dragon chased I. Oops!
The dragon chased Charlie and me.
Just between you and
I me, if you apply this trick to your writing, you will rarely go wrong. And you will save yourself some embarrasment when the grammar cop pulls you over for using the wrong case pronoun for the object of a verb or preposition. |