We Don’t Have to Live Like This

“Gun violence is a scourge that is unique to this country, and that is why we are taking action…We don’t have to live like this.” Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer

“They’re banishing books from their schools. We’re banishing hunger from ours.” Minnesota governor Tim Walz

Gov. Whitmer was talking about the recently enacted legislation to strengthen gun control laws in Michigan. In 2020 men armed with assault rifles entered the Michigan capital building protesting pandemic safety policies. There was also a failed plot by anti-government extremists to kidnap Gov. Whitmer. Michigan has good reasons to limit access to guns.

Minnesota’s Gov. Walz was comparing state policies in Florida with Minnesota. Specifically Florida’s book bans (and attacks on public education at all levels) vs Minnesota enacting a universal, free school lunch program.

Florida under Republican rule has become a breeding ground for culture war extremism. It is telling that Republicans don’t trust teachers to teach history, biology or human health without “indoctrinating” children. Teachers and librarians can’t be trusted to select books or curriculum materials. But they trust teachers to carry guns in school and make decisions about the use of deadly force.

In contrast Democrat controlled Minnesota is, in Gov. Walz’s words, a bulwark against the “hatred and bigotry” where freedom is children going “to school without worrying about being shot dead.” He says, “Minnesota’s strength…comes from our values.”

These “values” are ideals like fairness, tolerance, personal dignity, community, equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law – all those freedoms that are theoretically part of the promise, the dream, of America. Too often these ideals have not been realized but they still are our theoretical “better angels.” Our history shows a continuous struggle between these positive ideals and the greed, selfishness, callousness, intolerance, hate, bigotry, exploitation and toxic religiosity common in our country and humanity.

These negative, destructive character flaws are well represented in the current Republican party, the extreme right wing gun nuts, white supremacists and religious fundamentalists. But the majority of us don’t have to accept their lack of values or dystopian worldview. We don’t have to live like this.

In some places people are pursuing sensible, fact based policies on guns and other social issues important to a civil society.

Since they took control of the Michigan legislature this year, Democrats have enacted gun control improvements, passed equal rights for LGBTQ people, repealed the misleadingly named “right to work” law, repealed the 1931 abortion law, and passed tax reforms that help working people, retirees and the poor while adding $1.5 billion for business incentives.

The gun laws include a safe storage law requiring gun owners, with minors in the home, to keep guns in locked cabinets or unloaded with a trigger lock. Another law requires background checks for all firearms – not just pistols – purchased in Michigan and strengthens penalties for illegal sales of guns. The Michigan House passed a “red flag” law allowing  authorities to temporarily remove firearms from anyone deemed dangerous. Other legislation is pending to remove guns from domestic abusers, ban large-capacity magazines and make it possible to sue gun manufacturers for damage done with their products.

In Minnesota Democrats have been enacting many changes good for people. With control of both houses of the legislature and the governorship they have protected access to abortion, transgender rights, strengthened environmental funding and standards, improved rental assistance and enacted free school lunches and breakfasts for all public school students. Stronger gun background checks and “red flag” laws are in the works.

Minnesota also took steps to protect the reproductive rights of women from other states. In the bizarre world of right wing, patriarchal control of women, Republican states are criminalizing getting an abortion even in states where it is legal. In response Minnesota enacted laws protecting people’s right to access legal products and services regardless of where they live. This includes protecting personal medical records from subpoena, refusing extraditions and prohibiting judicial cooperation with out-of-state legal actions against women or medical providers.

These crazy red state laws are probably unconstitutional. They definitely violate individual freedom and traditionally conservative notions of states rights. Plus it creates a nightmare tangle of legal issues likely to further polarize the country.

Note that these right wing states are not penalizing crossing state lines to buy guns, gamble, get a quickie divorce or party with prostitutes. Theocratic Bible Belt states are not prosecuting men coming back from Vegas. It is all about controlling women. As many have commented, if men could get pregnant abortion would be free and available at drive through clinics.

Coming back to the lunacy of guns in America, I have always thought fully automatic machine guns were illegal. But I was wrong. On a recent visit to rural Kansas, the neighbor of my wife’s brother was firing a machine gun. Being a veteran I am very familiar with the sound of the M-60, 30 caliber machine gun. This, or something very similar, was being used. My brother-in-law had contacted the sheriff and was told it was legal.

There is a provision in federal law that allows “collectors” to own fully automatic military weapons. You don’t have to be a museum but there is a background check. Apparently there is no requirement to disable the weapons. I don’t know if this neighbor had a legal permit or not. I don’t know if a “collecting” permit allows firing the weapons. But it is pretty scary to be sitting on the patio enjoying the day with the right wing nut job next door using a combat military weapon.

The M-60 machine gun has an effective range of 1200 yards and maximum range of 4073 yards. It will fire 550–650 rounds per minute. The belt fed 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition is available on the Internet in 500 round ammo cans. One retail outlet says, “Premium Mil-Spec ammunition is perfect for target and practice shooting as well as long distance target shooting” and offers “free shipping.” Ain’t America great!

However, there are supply chain issues. Currently supplies are out of stock for belt fed ammunition. Perhaps the war in Ukraine is impacting supplies for the domestic terrorist market?