HERE WE GO AGAIN

By Mike Cronin

Yet another mass shooting has shattered lives and sensibilities across the nation. While the dead bodies were still warm and the facts opaque, the usual demagogues began firing off the usual salvo of blame-storming.  Guns, or types of guns, or parts of guns, or gun accessories, were to blame. Angry white men. Congress. Gun manufacturers. Republicans. The NRA. You get the idea.

As usual, the only solution to the believers of The Narrative is to ban firearms. Not all firearms, of course (at least not all at once), just the evil ones.

Such people are often impervious to reason. Even so, I feel compelled to once again offer some reasoned, logical thinking on this issue.

Either we have the right to life or we do not.  Our Founders believed we do. They enshrined the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.  If we have the right to life, then inherent in that right is the subordinate right to self-defense from any threat, to include the threat of tyrannical government. Our Founders ensured we had the capability to fight any and all such threats by means of the Second Amendment. During the centuries between the ratification of the Constitution and today, Americans have amassed hundreds of millions of firearms and billions, if not trillions of rounds of ammunition.

Since so many guns legally exist in the hands and homes of millions of people who have the protected right to possess them, and since a legal ban on guns could not make all guns everywhere magically evaporate, it follows that the only way we could eliminate all (privately held) guns everywhere in this country would be for well-armed government agents to confiscate them. One small problem. A government that once protected the rights of its people that then abolishes those rights by force is by definition tyrannical!

Therefore: Because guns exist and can be used against the people, the people must have the right to have guns. Put another way: Infringing on the right to keep and bear arms is infringing on the right to life. Banning firearms would be nothing less than banning our right to exist.

You might ask: “What about the victims of these mass shootings? Didn’t they have a right to exist? Doesn’t allowing criminals and crazies access to (insert the detested firearm variety here) give them all the power to kill and destroy?”

Of course the victims had a right to life. Of course we should limit the power of criminals and crazies to kill and destroy. The best way to do that isn’t by eliminating everyone’s access to firearms, it’s by limiting the criminals’ and crazies’ access to society!

It is my contention that people with histories of violence, or diagnoses of psychological conditions making them prone to violent behavior, or those using prescriptions that have side effects that include tendencies toward violence, must be escorted in public, incarcerated, or institutionalized.

“But Mike, criminals and crazies have just as much right to access society as you do!”

No, they don’t. Rights come with the responsibility to respect the rights of others. Those unwilling or incapable of fulfilling such responsibilities have less claim to any rights than those who are responsible. The rights of the incompetent do not outweigh the rights of the competent.

To paraphrase an analogy proffered by Bill Whittle:  There are predators and there are prey. The leopard hunts the gazelle with stealth and claw and fang; the gazelle can fight back with numbers, speed, hooves, and horns.  We cannot defeat, or even deter, the leopards of the world by erecting “no cat zone” signs (pro-tip: leopards can’t read) and cutting the horns off all the gazelles. However, we might improve the situation by trapping or “belling” the cats!

Oh, one other thing: note that I did not mention the name of the latest mass murderer. Another mitigation we might consider: A significant number of the criminals and crazies out there want nothing more than notoriety. Lets deny it to them. Our media can stop mentioning or publishing the names of the shooters. Yes, doing so is well within the bounds of “newsworthiness” and the names are indeed part of the facts of the case – but why fuel these monsters’ cravings?

Murderers’ Lives don’t Matter

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By Mike Cronin

Black lives matter, but Black Lives Matter doesn’t matter so much.  Cop’s lives matter, but the lives of murderous cops and cop murderers not so much. French lives matter, and so do the lives of nightclub partiers, but their jihadi killers not so much. School kids and theater goers and political rally attendees’ lives’ matter, but their lunatic assassins not so much. Kurdish lives matter and Shi’ite lives matter, but Saddam Hussein’s not so much. New Yorker’s lives matter, and servicemen’s lives matter, and airplane passenger’s lives matter, but Osama bin Laden not so much.

One of the supposed horrors of war is the dehumanization of an enemy – but who is doing the dehumanizing?

One of my brothers is a police officer.  He once had to shoot a man who would have otherwise shot him.  It was a case of “suicide by cop,” a phenomenon where a suicidal person decides to credibly threaten police officers with deadly force, thereby leaving the officers  little choice but to defend themselves and shoot first.  My brother regretted that he had to take such drastic action, but he felt very little remorse for the man he had to shoot, and rightly so, for the “man” gave up his heritage of reason the moment he pointed his gun at my brother.  Our ability to reason and to make value judgments is the thing that separates us from animal barbarism. Negating that ability is a reversion to the animal.

One of the “narratives” energizing social media is a call to end hate and live in peace.  Most of us don’t hate.  I know I usually don’t have the time or energy for it.  It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate, its apathy.

I contend that people that recognize other individuals as distinct human beings and treat them as if they matter, matter. Conversely, those few monsters among us who fail to recognize the most basic reality of human life, the distinctiveness and value of individuals and their right to exist, and act on that failed recognition to rape, torture, and kill, are dehumanizing others. In so doing, they dehumanize themselves, and forfeit any moral claims they have to rights. They have morally ceased to matter, and they don’t deserve the energy it takes to hate them.  They deserve instead our revulsion and apathy – in the same way we are repelled by, yet apathetic about, cockroaches.  When cockroaches remain in the sewer, we let them be, but when they intrude into our lives? We exterminate them.

Blanket Guilt or Precision-Guided Accountability?

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By Mike Cronin

Q. What do all of the following have in common?

A. You might be tempted to answer racism or bigotry, but that doesn’t cover the last item. The correct answer is that in all of the above examples, an entire group is being held accountable for the supposed sin of an individual or individuals. It is a hallmark of collectivism.

Consider: The sniper who killed the Dallas police officers on Thursday was seeking revenge for the deaths of some black men who had been shot by some white police officers in other states.  In other words, in his mind, since some white police officers in other locations had killed black men, all white officers were racists. The sniper committed the very same crime he believed the white officers had committed:  he held a group responsible for the actions of a few, or of one.  He tried, convicted, sentenced, and shot the Dallas police officers for crimes they didn’t commit, or for the non-crime of being white.

Mr. Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims is less combative, but it still stems from a collectivist mentality: If some Muslims are coming here to do us harm, then we can reduce the potential for such acts by banning ALL Muslims from entering the country. There is certain soundness to the logic here: If no Muslims can enter, it must follow that the jihadist sub-set of Muslims can’t enter.  Nonetheless, setting aside the difficulties in enforcing such a policy, the idea goes against the principles of individual liberty: it applies a sanction to an entire group for potential crimes yet to be committed by some members of that group.

Consider:  If you take the Bible literally, then you believe God created Adam, the first human.  Adam was tempted by Eve (who was herself tempted by the serpent) to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge.  Human souls have been tarnished by this “original sin” ever since. Put another way: Humanity is being held to account for a supposed sin we could do nothing about, because it happened thousands of years before any of our births. In essence, we have been born convicted of a crime we didn’t commit and commanded to atone for it or suffer eternal damnation.

The problem is that collectivism belongs to our infancy. Our country was founded on the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility, but they conflict with the collectivist principles at the root of most religious doctrines, so there has been a constant duality in American culture.  For example: During World War Two, The US Government rounded up US citizens of Japanese ethnicity and “interned” them in concentration camps for the sin of merely having common ancestry with an enemy; yet after the war, our government largely did not hold the Japanese people accountable for the brutality of their vanquished rulers.  Instead, General MacArthur’s occupation forces went after the actual individuals who led the Empire.

It is all too human to project our fear, or anger, or hatred, or resentment over the sins or crimes committed by an individual onto a group, yet there is no justification for doing so. Humans have been doing this since we were stone-age primitives trying to protect our “turf” from rival clans. It takes some enlightenment to dial down our naked aggression and apply accountability with precision.  It is a thing we must learn if we are to advance as a species.

An Open (and Polite) Letter to the Gun Control Faction

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By Mike Cronin

Here’s my take on the bitter firearms dispute vitiating our country. I offer my commentary without vitriol. No contempt. No condescension. No name-calling, baiting, or inflammatory rhetoric; just exposition.

Obviously, we have a fundamental philosophical difference.  I don’t know, but I suspect that your apprehension over firearms is energized by a belief that it is the government’s responsibility to protect the citizenry from harm, and that you see firearms in private hands as a huge threat, especially given horrific mass shootings.  Ergo, the government should further regulate firearms or ban them outright. If I am articulating it wrong, please correct me.

I can’t speak for every pro-gun rights person, but I suspect most of us subscribe to a quite different interpretation of the government’s duty to protect us than you do.  I see it like this:  All of us have the inherent right to defend ourselves from immediate violence.  It would be nice if there were always a police officer around to intercede on our behalf, but that’s just not feasible, so we compromise.  We retain the ultimate individual right to self-defense, but we delegate the right to retaliate after the fact (via impartial criminal prosecution and punishment) to government.

So far, you may not see a large gulf between our positions.  Yet there is a significant one:  It is my position that the right to self-defense is absolute.  By that I mean that I have the right to defend myself from ANY initiation of violence (or the imminent threat of same) from ANY initiator – up to and including government agents, should they act in the absence of due process or turn overtly tyrannical.  A shotgun or revolver is hardly proportional to such a threat. Since our own government, should it turn tyrannical, and the forces of other governments, should they unwisely choose to invade this country, possess weapon systems of devastating destructive power, it is more than reasonable for a free individual to possess mere firearms to stand in opposition, even if such opposition must take the form of a covert insurgency. It is reasonable that a free person possess firearms identically lethal to those his oppressors routinely bear.

Does that mean I think private individuals should be able to go down to “Booms-R-Us” and buy guided missiles and tanks and chemical weapons?  In the absence of a better argument, I’ll accede to this principle: the more indiscriminate a weapon is, the harder it should be for anyone to obtain.  That principle is already largely in effect. Regardless of anybody’s desire, there is no “Booms-R-Us” to go to in this country. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t legally buy a grenade, landmine, or bomb as a private citizen without an enormous amount of oversight, if at all. Conversely, hand-held firearms currently legal for possession are discriminate enough that law-abiding individuals should not be further barred or banned from buying and possessing them, regardless of militarized appearance, magazine capacity, fire rate, trigger function, or other minutiae, or whether some sociopath or jihadist has used one to commit mass murder.

There has been, and will continue to be, all manner of legal wrangling over the exact meaning of the oddly-phrased Second Amendment within the bounds of “the letter of the law.” However, the Founders made the spirit and intent clear in their other writings.  The Second Amendment does not primarily protect the right to hunt or compete at the skeet range, that protection is a byproduct.  It protects the individual right to self-defense. (Don’t take my word for it; the Supreme Court has said as much in D.C. vs. Heller.) A populace that can assassinate tyrannical leaders and their henchmen and fight a well-equipped guerrilla war against its oppressors is a populace that will not be easy to subjugate. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee that America has such a populace.

If we look at our positions from a purely logical standpoint, I posit that we are arguing from different premises: The pro-gun rights argument rests on the premise that individuals have an inherent and inviolate right to self-defense, and that our government is obligated by the Second Amendment to protect that right through non-infringement on keeping and bearing arms. If I have not misread the argument for the gun control faction, your premise is that government’s obligation to protect our rights gives it (or should give it) the purview to limit the potential for anyone to cause harm.

I contend that the more power you give to the government to prevent anyone from causing harm, the more pathological personalities you will attract who seek to wield that power…to cause harm!  Eventually, you will get a card-carrying totalitarian who will turn the United States into a Venezuela or an Iraq, or worse. The alternative is to accept some risk with your freedom: occasionally, a nut with a rifle will kill a bunch of innocent people.  The proper mitigation to both threats: A populace that can shoot back!

Storm Warning: Orlando

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By Mike Cronin

There are many aspects to the tragedy in Orlando that defy reason, but we may yet be able to put many of the chaotic elements into context and derive some small degree of understanding.

Keep in mind the following as you watch the news and listen to the pundits and demagogues:

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the news networks’ primary job is to sell advertising. They will dwell on every aspect of this story as long as they can in order to keep you coming back to watch commercials find out the latest breaking wrinkle.

The anti-gun fanatics will exploit our fears in order to advance their agenda to ban ___ (take your pick of anything gun or gun-related).  They’ll be sure to shout that this was the worst shooting in US history.  That might be true if you discount several massacres of Native Americans and the Civil War; I don’t know.

Pro-gun zealots will exploit the fear that the left is coming to take our freedom. They will jump up and down to expose every error the anti-gunners make about the specific gun used, how it was obtained, and about how it is already illegal to have a firearm inside a place that serves alcohol in Florida, so gun bans demonstrably don’t work.

Strident religious groups will be in a hurry to tell us that what happened in Orlando was God’s punishment for the sinful behavior of the club’s clientele.  In fact, one such group, ISIS, took credit for the attack!

Let’s try to unscrew ourselves from the ceiling a bit and put some more context to this storm:

Was it the worst mass-shooting in US history?   Ever hear of Bear River (~250 dead), Sand Creek (up to 163 dead), or Wounded Knee (150 dead)? They were but three of dozens of massacres of Native Americans committed in the 1800s.  How about the various battles of the Civil War (~600,000 dead)? (Granted, some might say those events don’t count because they weren’t “crimes” or terrorist attacks; instead, they were (directly or indirectly) government operations. I think that not only do they count, they exemplify the very reason we must not give up the right to keep and bear arms!)

Was it the worst terrorist attack on US soil? No; that was 9/11. (~3000 dead).

Surely it was the worst domestic terrorist attack?  Nope. That dubious title goes to the Oklahoma City bombing. (168 dead)

Nor was Orlando the worst nightclub attack; that distinction belongs to the “Happy Land” club arson fire in the Bronx in 1990 (87 dead).

It does look like Orlando might actually be the worst attack on the LBGT community; though there was an attack nearly as bad in 1973: 32 were killed at the “Upstairs Club” arson attack in New Orleans.

To like-minded folk that believe the second amendment is under attack and should not be infringed upon any further:  Yes, the anti-gunners will shamelessly exploit mass shootings.  We don’t need to follow their example and squawk and honk at each inaccuracy or inane statement made while the tape is still around the crime scene and the blood is still on the floor.  Those rounds are largely wasted.  Save them for the letters to the editor and to your politicians.  Let the anti-gunners make their mistakes in the heat of the moment.

As for the religious condemnation: If you believe Jesus was the son of God, then ask yourself: what would Jesus do?  Would he kill homosexuals?  Would he add salt to their wounds after such a tragedy by saying they were killed because they were sinful? Most especially, would he do that just to get attention? If he wouldn’t do those things, it might be wise to follow his example.

If you are a radical Muslim jihadist, I know that nothing I write here will sway you in any way. Even so, I must say it. If you purport to be a devout member of the so-called religion of “peace,” what is peaceful about slaughtering people whose behavior you don’t approve of, either here or in Syria, or Iraq, or the rest of the world where Islam holds sway?

If ISIS was indeed ultimately behind this attack, what have you gained? All you have accomplished is to show your clients and constituents that one jihadi with a gun and a lot of ammo can kill a lot of unarmed people.  And….what? Is this supposed to terrify us? We are not terrified. Is it supposed to gain you recruits?  You’ve caused just as many, or more, to deplore your cause.

We live in an era with instant news and constant competition for our attention. We are in the middle of one of the most contentious election cycles in recent memory. We are in a shooting conflict with ISIS. The Orlando massacre served as a catalyst to energize a storm of bloviating. We can let it die down a bit so we can hear ourselves think before making hasty conclusions.

Some Thoughts on Mass Shootings

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By Mike Cronin

In my last post, I tried to moderate the gun debate by debunking the myths that 1.) Shootings and violence are on the rise; 2. The police can and must protect you; and 3). The 2nd Amendment does not protect an individual’s right keep and bear arms.

A sharp-eyed commenter pointed out that I was largely silent on the sub-issue of mass shootings, so I thought I’d have a go at trying to cut through some of the alarmism* emanating from the media and gauge how bad the problem really is. Let’s take a look:

According to Mass Shooting Tracker, there were 363 mass shootings in 2013, 339 in 2014, and 353 in 2015 as of Dec 6.  Mass Shooting Tracker doesn’t articulate their criteria for what exactly a mass shooting is, though they do state that their mission is “providing unbiased, raw statistics, all with verified sourcing to inform society of the number of Mass Shootings that occur in the United States each year, no matter the cause or intent of the toll of victims.”

Nearly one mass shooting per day sounds horrific, right?  But the folks at Pew research recently published an article that shows that gun homicides have been going down since the 90s.

But wait! In June of this year, President Obama recently started “that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”

And this Wall Street Journal article screams that the US leads the world in mass shootings.

So what gives?  Gun homicide has been going down, yet mass shootings are an almost daily occurrence?

We certainly have gun violence and mass shooting in this country; there is no denying that.  But is the problem really a crisis spiraling out of control?  Are we really the worst place among developing nations, or have we run across a vast case of weasel-ese?

chluke “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

We are being fed a tangled web of facts and data woven to further an agenda by spinners adept at using truth to lie or mislead or to “shape a narrative.”

My own agenda is to try to help people understand the world through the use of reason and rationality.  I am biased in favor of freedom, individual rights and liberty, free markets, and capitalism.  I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Once I did that wearing a uniform, now I’m trying to do it in part with this blog.  To that end, when I cite references or statistics or other data, you can bet I tried to find sources or data that support my point…but I also will tell you that.

The leading adversaries in the gun control/gun rights debate do the same thing, except that they are much less likely to tell you their bias or agenda like I just did. The people who want more gun control, or even full confiscation, know that they are up against the 2nd Amendment.  They will use, or misuse, every statistical trick, fact, and rhetorical tactic in a way that makes gun violence in America seem as bad as possible.

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Conversely, there are people who would have us believe that the entire mass media is hell-bent on eradicating guns from America, or that Liberals just don’t get the concept that making something illegal won’t make it go away. They will also use, or misuse, sources and data to back up their positions.

Here are  a couple of tricks spin-meisters like to use:

Use absolute numbers vs rates to make a comparison between populations. The Wall Street Journal article does this.  It claims the US leads the world in mass shootings.  They are using absolute data to back that claim.  It is a fact that the US has more mass shootings than any other developed nation…but that is not the whole story. The US has more people and more guns than the rest of the developed countries, so of course we will have more mass shootings and more deaths, in absolute terms.  But do we have the highest death rate from mass shootings?  Nope.  We’re somewhere in the upper- middle. So which country is the worst? Would you believe it is statistically more likely that someone in Norway (?!) will die in a mass shooting than in any other developed country? That makes President Obama’s June assertion incorrect. Mass shootings do happen in some other developed countries with as much or more frequency per capita than in the US.

Omit context:  How many of the mass shootings in the US are justified self-defense (i.e. not a crime)?  We are not told.  How many are being committed by perpetrators with weapons that are already illegal to possess? We are not told. How many perpetrators were in the country illegally? How many were crazies off their meds who should not even be in public unsupervised? We are not told. How many happened at places where it was already illegal to have a gun at all (i.e. so-called “gun-free zones”)? We are not told. How many were attacks by terrorists? We are not told.  It is factual, but misleading, to merely count up incidents and report them without providing any context.

Another way to omit context: Make a crisis out of some aspect of a problem that supports your point, while ignoring or evading that the larger problem is within normal bounds. Mass shootings are but a subset of shootings, which are but a subset of violence, which is but a subset of causes of death.

Is there some other cause of death that is more of a problem than mass shootings? If so, why isn’t it getting as much attention?

In fact, there are several. The top ten causes are various diseases, accidents, and suicide. The homicide rate is roughly only half the suicide rate. Sadly, Heart attacks, cancer, accidents, diabetes, and suicide are not very newsworthy in and of themselves, but a killing spree is high drama.

So is the mass shooting problem as bad as we are led to believe? I’ve given you a peek behind the curtain, but you’ll have to decide that for yourself.

*Here is a mild example of the kind of alarmism I am referring to:  The Mass Shooting Tracker data listed above clearly indicate there are very nearly enough mass shootings (according to their unstated definition of mass shooting) to equal one per day over the last three years.  A PBS article citing this very same source ran with the headline “More than one mass shooting happens per day in the U.S., data shows.” Call me guilty of splitting hairs, but claiming a source indicates “more than one per day” when the data show “nearly one per day” is either sloppy exaggeration, ignorance of the length of a year, or irresponsible sensationalism.

Moderating the Chain-Reaction Gun Debate

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By Mike Cronin

The recent shootings in Paris, San Bernardino, and Colorado Springs have brought out the usual heated debate over guns and gun control.  Perhaps we can moderate the chain-reaction with a bit of reason by dispelling a few myths:

Myth: Gun violence is exploding in America. Mass shootings are up, and more people than ever are being killed by guns.

Fact 1: Not true. It’s very hard to find source material on this issue that is reasonably free from bias – either liberal or conservative.  The least-biased source I found, Pew Research, shows that “National rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s, paralleling a general decline in violent crime, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

Fact 2: Even if we set aside any policy or philosophical agenda on the part of the media, consider that news organization select stories based on several factors of “newsworthiness.”  “Mass shootings” fit several of these criteria.  They are sensational stories. It is good business to hype sensational stories; ergo killing sprees get lots of coverage…and perpetuate a sense of dread or crisis.   It’s just not as sexy to report that “no one was shot today” when an armed citizen deterred a gunman from committing a violent act.

Myth: Why do you need a gun when you can just call the police?

Fact: The average number of police officers in cities with 50,000 or more residents is 17 cops per 10,000 people.  When you account for shift work, days off, and detectives, supervisors, and special teams (like SWAT), one quarter or less of those 17 will be uniform-wearing officers “on the street” available to respond at any given time.  You might be able to call the police, but it’s very unlikely they will arrive in time to get between you and whatever or whoever is threatening you.

Myth: The police have to protect me.

Fact: No they don’t.  They are obligated to protect society as a whole via the deterrent value of investigating crimes and arresting criminals, not protecting you as an individual.  Don’t take my word for it; the Supreme Court has maintained this position over several cases dating to at least 1981, including Castle Rock v. Gonzales and Warren v. District of Columbia.

Myth: The Second Amendment was about arming the militia, not the average citizen.

Fact:  The Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that the 2nd Amendment affirms the individual right to keep and bear arms.  The founders themselves made clear in their writings independent of the Constitution and Bill of Rights that the people must not be prevented from owning and bearing firearms. Consider these few examples from some of the most prominent founders:

“Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences  (sic) and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.” -George Washington

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside … Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.” -Thomas Paine

“The great object is that every man be armed.” and “Everyone who is able may have a gun.” -Patrick Henry

“Those who hammer their guns into plowshares will plow for those who do not.” -Thomas Jefferson

“The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that … it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; … ” –Thomas Jefferson

“The best we can help for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” -Alexander Hamilton

The bottom line: 1. Gun violence, though dreadful, is not as bad as you are lead to believe. 2. You are responsible for your own self-defense, not the police!  3. The right of the individual to own a firearm is absolutely what the founders intended to protect, and what the Supreme Court has upheld, in the 2nd Amendment.

Disagree?  let’s hear it!