Debate Forum, 4/23

Debate Forum, 4/23

Debate Center: Is there a way to unplug the pressure cooker that is the United States?

 By Alex Culpepper
Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Fort Hood, Texas; Blacksburg, Va.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Boston, Mass. – all these places have one particular characteristic in common: they are sites of mass carnage generating huge casualties. Even though they share the same terrible misfortune of hosting a massacre, they are not all quite the same, because in two of those places assailants used bombs instead of guns. The two bombings show how effective bombs can be at causing destruction and generating terror – after all, they allowed Ted Kaczynski to wreak havoc for 17 years. The most recent bombing in Boston, however, has created more discussion about violence in our culture and has also exposed a new layer in the debate about gun control.

The recent bombing at the Boston Marathon has provided fuel for opponents of gun control to express that restricting gun ownership will not be an adequate solution to prevent carnage. They point to that incident, the Oklahoma City bombing, other recent bombing attempts and shootings as evidence that dangerous people will do nearly anything to create massacres, and even the strictest of laws would have little chance of stopping them, especially if the laws are not enforced. And if we are to have increased restrictions on guns and their availability, they argue, then we need bomb-control laws now because bombs can create similar – or even greater – damage. But as with guns, they say making laws prohibiting bomb-making items would not then prevent mad bombers from dealing death; it would only frustrate legitimate users of those items.

Supporters of gun control see things differently. They would admit that no laws are 100 percent effective, but they argue certain restrictions on what weapons people can own are helpful in preventing future tragedies, from either bombs or shootings. The idea behind gun restrictions is to limit the availability of tools used to create violence and death, and if it would be possible to restrict availability of items commonly found in homemade bombs then that would be good as well. Applying this logic of less is better of anything that is capable of creating mass casualties, gun control supporters believe gun crimes, homicides and massacres will be greatly reduced.

With constitutional rights at stake and fears of so-called slippery slope legislation that could infringe on those rights, gun rights supporters are suspicious of talk about firearm restrictions. Yet, gun control supporters want freedom, too – the freedom from being shot or blown up at an array of venues, or at least a reduced chance of it happening. Both sides know the potential for mass killings could lurk anywhere, but each disagrees about the solution, or if a solution is even realistic.

Reach DCP freelance writer Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Just as guns were tools for the premeditated carnage of Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Virginia Tech (just to name a few), fertilizer was used by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, and now pressure cookers and ball bearings in Boston. Is the gun control debate truly about controlling tools of mass carnage?  Should there now be laws requiring background checks and registration for persons who wish to purchase pressure cookers and ball bearings at WalMart? Is controlling potential tools of carnage (guns, fertilizer, pressure cookers) a solution, or just a bandage? 

Debate Left: Regulations aren’t for criminals – they’re for us

By Ben Tomkins

The great human tragedy is perhaps the most difficult condition to manage legislatively. Raw, inflammatory emotions – both personally and rhetorically – make it all but impossible to broach relevant social questions that are often highly nuanced and worthy of deep introspection. School shootings, bombings and calculated terrorist acts gouge those things that are held most sacrosanct by our culture and our legal system – our family, our privacy and our solidarity – and as a result bring to the foreground profound questions about our fundamental personal and civic values.

In writing this piece, at a time when the families, victims and community members of the Boston attack are still in a state of shock and without answer for their loss, I suppose I am both the better and the worse individual to address these questions because of the simple fact that I am removed from its epicenter.

Given the all-too-recent horrors of the Boston Marathon bombing and the Newtown shootings, the reality of our voluntarily weaponized society must be reexamined. Personally, I am equally appalled by the extreme insensitivity of organizations like the NRA, and the intellectual sloth of those who would suggest something patently absurd as regulating pressure cooker sales. To be fair, I have not heard of anyone calling for a pressure cooker or ball bearing regulation, and if I did it would reduce my view of their critical faculties well beyond that of an individual making the gun argument. Nonetheless, the point still stands. Using the deaths of humans to paint frothing, vitriolic, black-and-white reductio ad absurdum arguments to forward a social agenda is the last thing we need to come to some kind of a mutual resolution regarding the issues of weapons and terrorism in our society.

If we take the example of the pressure cooker bomb for the sake of a foil, I think a distinction can be drawn immediately between generic elements of destruction and those that are demonstrably worthy of some regulation. A pressure cooker is a generic example one of a hundred possible household items that could be used to make a bomb. You could just as easily put explosives in, well, a Ryder truck and drive it into a building in Oklahoma. Similarly, ball bearings may as well be deck screws or teaspoons.

Guns are fundamentally different. A gun is not a generic delivery system for a bullet. You can’t just shove a bullet into a piece of PVC pipe and start shooting people. I’ve always hated the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” pseudo-profundity that dribbles out of the mouths of the less intelligent of the pro-gun crowd and onto the front of their stupid t-shirts. I’m sorry, but I think you’re missing the point, dear. Every gun owner is a personally knighted defender of the rest of humanity right up to the point that they start murdering people. The issue is the ease with which one can make the transition.

Likewise, the government already has restrictions on various dangerous chemicals. The average human, for instance, can’t just go to Walgreens and buy Agent Orange. This would be a somewhat insane thing for society to allow. Also, many other chemicals, fertilizers and lab equipment listed on a document known as the Special Surveillance list are not banned, but are carefully monitored. Red phosphorus, one of the primary chemicals necessary for making crystal meth, is highly regulated so as to make it very difficult for the average member of the public to attain. The same is true of nitrate fertilizers that can be easily converted into a bomb. Some lab equipment is on the list, and even cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine requires a pharmacist to enter your name and purchase date into their computer to stop people from buying fifty packages for the purpose of making meth.

But to understand the purpose of this document is to understand exactly the way in which regulation does help to prevent proliferation and reduce crime. We have all heard the argument – largely in reference to guns, but now for bomb components as well – that we shouldn’t limit the availability of these things because once a person is using them for criminal purposes we aren’t going to stop them anyway. Well, obviously. However, what the Special Surveillance list does is it criminalizes otherwise law-abiding individuals who casually mishandle or sell these items to others.

This serves as a tremendous deterrent to crime, in that it reminds citizens to take extra precautions to ensure that they handle these things responsibly. If a lab technician knows that they can’t just sell a centrifuge to their buddy because it seems harmless, then casual transactions with profound results will be greatly reduced.

If Boston and Newtown have taught us anything, it’s that it is time to look anew at the social casualness with which we as a society treat those things that have the tangible potential for mass harm. Not mom’s pressure cooker or a handful of deck screws, but objects and products that have an obviously narrow usage for both law abiding citizens and criminals alike.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. 

Reach Ben Tompkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: We must be careful not to overreact

 By Rob Scott

Whenever our nation goes through a tragedy, many times there is a rush to react quickly, which results in our constitutional rights being challenged. Looking back through history there are numerous examples of this occurrence.

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, essentially ending a citizen’s right to challenge their incarceration by the government by going before a judge or court. Lincoln at the time felt it was justified in order to keep the Union together, capture southern sympathizers and ultimately bring the country back together.

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered Japanese Americans to be interned. Roosevelt was trying to prevent sabotage by what were believed to be Japanese in the U.S. helping the Empire of Japan.

And after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the passage of the Patriot Act gave the U.S. government broad powers for wiretapping, surveillance and more to prevent terrorism. President Bush felt the law would help the FBI and CIA capture terrorists both abroad and domestically and prevent them from harming Americans and American interests.

Some view these historic responses to tragic events by our nation as mistakes and in lots of cases complete violations of the U.S. Constitution.

President George H.W. Bush said, “In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”

The recent events of violence during the past year from the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting to the recent Boston marathon bombings are no exception. They were horrendous crimes on U.S. soil and those responsible shall receive the full weight of the law against them.

However, those tragic events are challenging our rights as Americans. They have cast doubt on the very ideals and freedoms we hold as Americans. Unlike the reaction our nation had after the bombings of Pearl Harbor, we must learn from our history and continue to maintain the constitutional principles of the U.S.

Many believe the appropriate action in order to prevent such tragedies is to regulate the “ingredients” of terror. They would like to regulate, control or – in a few cases – outlaw pressure cookers, ball bearings and fertilizers. Alternatively, many want background checks of individuals who are purchasing such items. However, is regulating ordinary and legal items a solution to preventing terror whether foreign or domestic?

Is putting restrictions on pressure cookers or ball bearings a good use of the U.S. government’s time to prevent repeats? Maybe a better and more effective solution would be to be more aggressive in spotting those who are looking to do damage? Several elected officials and citizens are calling for severe restrictions on the purchase, use and sale of firearms in the U.S. One issue that is never addressed by them is that in most instances those who purchase firearms through the legal process are not the ones who commit these terror crimes, and if, say, a law abiding gun owner were carrying their firearm they could stop a terror event from even happening through self-defense.

Not to mention the Second Amendment allowing Americans to own firearms. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the amendment numerous times.

Those who commit terror will find other ways to make homemade bombs using new ingredients. Ultimately, the true terrors that must be stopped are the individuals who bring it. It’s the saying that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Therefore, the main focus should be stopping those individuals and possibly empowering private law-abiding citizens who could defend against terror.

As more questions from the Boston bombing are answered and time begins to pass from that tragic event and others, sensible thinking will return. Our heightened urgency to react will diminish some. Regardless, we cannot shred the very foundation that makes our nation a free society.

Having a free society can be very difficult. Our Founding Fathers strove for it and built a foundation that protects it. Freedom is what makes being an American special.

The U.S. is made up of people from all cultures throughout the world, with different mindsets, religions, priorities and overall beliefs. The one thing that binds all Americans together regardless of wealth, education, sex and religion is our freedom. The former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

The moment our government begins to impinge on our freedoms, specifically the rights of a free society, we will begin to lose what it means to be an American and the enjoyment of a free society.

Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, founder of the Dayton Tea Party and a Councilman in the City of Kettering, Ohio. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or gemcitylaw.com.


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