Guns and the 2nd Amendment
MUGGER: I totally agree with you that Eric Alterman is a despicable human being (5/19). He is the most ignorant and cowardly person I have ever corresponded with. He was on Canadian tv a couple of months ago as a guest along with a very nice conservative lady. He was as ignorant a person as I have ever seen. He said that Reagan was a worse liar than Clinton. The lady responded by saying that Reagan never lied under oath. I remember Alterman responded, "He would have, but was out of his mind before he could." I'm visiting Tarrytown for a couple of weeks beginning this Saturday, staying with friends, one of whom knows where I can visit Alterman. I'm going to give him the chance to be ignorant to me in person. I told him to bring a friend along, if he has one. I enjoy your columns, and agree with you 99.9 percent of the time. But I don't agree with your view of homosexuals. I think they are perverts and the dregs of society.
Miscalculated Bill I enjoyed John Strausbaugh's really quite thoughtful analysis of the gun debate ("Publishing," 6/2). Although I share his hesitancy about altering the Bill of Rights, I think it's time we all took a deep breath and did it anyway. Screwing with the Bill of Rights is not something to be taken lightly. Clearly, if we're not careful, this could get to be a very, very bad habit. I, who frankly respect almost nothing in this world, respect the Constitution. And yet, it is also true that futzing with the Constitution is nothing new. Mistakes have been made see Prohibition. But mistakes have also been corrected see also Prohibition. Considering its horrendous cost, I see little reason to keep the Second Amendment. First off, what exactly is it that is so all-fired wonderful that we're supposed to be getting for putting up with the Second Amendment? The benefits of the First Amendment, as exemplified by NYPress (even in its more insane moments) are clear: A free and open expression of ideas helps us, the victims of democracy, to grapple with complex issues and to even occasionally solve them on the principle that good ideas generally drive out bad ideas, sometimes even when bad ideas have the upper hand in smothering the competition. Separation of Church and State prevents the sort of nonsensical theocratic bickering that has so lavishly tied up Israel as it tries to solve its real problems. But free and open access to firearms for the purpose of maintaining a militia, which was once a tremendous convenience in protecting a Federalist government with no standing army from getting caught with its pants down in the event of rebellion or invasion, is clearly obsolete, no? Instead we're in the midst of a humongous disaster that the Framers, quite reasonably, never expected: that we would become the most violent industrial nation on Earth with a murder rate to make any sensible person's eyes bug out. If the Chinese use their ill-gotten nuclear secrets to put on The Last Fireworks Show, squeezing off a couple of rounds at an incoming warhead with a Saturday-night special isn't going to be the least bit satisfying, even as a symbolic gesture. And since the workability of our democracy has been pretty much settled, exactly what do we get out of making things easy for the likes of the Republic of Texas? I'd like to make two more points before going to bed and sleeping this off. The first is regarding the ridiculous argument made by the NRA that guns aren't really the problem because Americans tend to be violent anyway. Therefore, according to them, the real solution is to make sure that ever more people have guns as a way of discouraging the instigators. Oh, swell. In other words, we're a bunch of psychos with the impulse control of Charles Manson and the best way to make sure we don't kill ourselves is to see to it that everybody has a gun. (Aren't these guys great? Let's give them a great big hand!) It never seems to occur to these flatheads that people who are generally peaceable might not even want to carry guns or might be significantly less willing to use them even during an attack the pussies. As for the argument that Americans tend to generally be more violent themselves (a full one-third of all murders in this country are committed without firearms), remember Giuliani's once-ridiculed idea that by punishing small-time annoyance crimes you could alter the atmosphere of a city so that more serious crimes would go down as well? Conservatives lapped that one up when it involved unrequested windshield washing, but can't quite grasp the same concept when applied to outright homicide. People will inure themselves to a seemingly unsolvable problem provided it sneaks up on them incrementally. Remember the boiling frog analogy? The moment there is a perceived chance of solving it, however, everybody goes crazy in their desire to fix it. Normally, that sort of thing puts me in a sweat because new solutions frequently have a way of becoming newer and more oppressive problems. But when we're talking about an annual national murder rate that's still in the tens of thousands and such an obvious solution is at hand (strict gun control with huge penalties for its violation), and it's one that's worked pretty well in other places, we just might want to keep our fingers crossed this time and let this madness run the next phase of its course. At the risk of indulging in cheap sanctimony, isn't the first liberty a reasonable expectation to life itself? And doesn't the present chaos and slaughter have a chilling effect on that expectation?
Michael Fonda, Astoria
Playing Risk I appreciated John Strausbaugh's mostly measured gun discussion in NYPress, though my own views stand firmly on one side. As a Middle American teenager, I enjoyed putting together a tight shot group and being recognized for my good eye and steady hand. As an adult, I'm convinced that guns are overrated and just not worth the downside. Tuli Kupferberg's dead-on cartoon could be paired with one captioned "Guns don't kill people, bullets do." Besides the stats Strausbaugh gave for the lethalness of shooting over stabbing or beating, accidents are all too common. A bullet in the head, and you can't kiss and make up. Parents who think small kids are disinterested in guns, can't find hidden ones (or ammo) and are mature enough to understand consequences and follow strict procedures are deluding themselves. It's true that most existing guns haven't taken a life yet (if you don't count animals), but that's partly luck. Unlike, say, cars, the supposed "necessity" of guns doesn't justify the risk. Strong regulations are warranted, and NRA dinosaurs should get a life and save lives by phasing out this dangerous toy. I sincerely hope that letter-writer R.S. McCain's fears of further advances by "the gun control crowd" are on target.
Gary Williams, Manhattan
The Beat Can't Be Buffaloed MUGGER: I'm happy to see NYPress online now, and I'd like to thank you for your support last week for our upstate, upstart paper, Buffalo Beat. Miserable as I was to have my professional peers read as strange an assessment of our efforts as the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies recommendation committee gave us, I now have to contend with the fact that a significant number of well-read New Yorkers, most of whom already have horrible impressions of Buffalo, have now also read how puzzling a paper we put out. Ouch. I can only hope that your readers put more weight in your analysis than in what I'm certain Clif Garboden meant to be an objective blurb. In all seriousness, however, I can't tell you how happy I am to have you bring up the question of how the recommendation committee, immersed in their own communities as I trust they are, would have any idea whatsoever whether or not we had lost touch with ours. The funny thing is, we could have run any bullshit City Hall column that slammed councilpeople inappropriately and brought up questionable issues that seem like the right stuff and we would have had boffo praise. After all, it's not difficult or expensive to send interns out with questions and a camera to rip off the Village Voice's survey feature. I know this because it happened to another paper this year, which aside from the three consecutive issues needed for submission, depended almost entirely on predictably liberal, Alternet store-bought cover and feature stories for the last year, rather than on developing writers and being in touch with its own community. But how would the recommendation committee have known what local reporting made sense or didn't? I brought this up with Garboden the night before the vote and he conceded the point, very graciously. Three consecutive submittable issues are really easy to stack with the "right" kind of editorial for AAN judging, if that's the main thing a paper is trying to accomplish. Six consecutive issues would be fairer. Developing staff and sources, and doing real local reporting that means something, as well as trying to stay above water financially, are priorities. Getting into AAN, bless its little heart, should be a secondary concern. I look to your column weekly to hear things put in ways that surprise me, a rarity indeed. And the second point I want to thank you for enlightening me about, seeing as Buffalo Beat was let in after I gave a speech on its behalf, is that I could ever have the power to scare some of those bigwigs at the Peabody bar that weekend in Memphis. This will make conventions much more fun to come to, since I've been relatively shy, freshman-like even, at the last three. I'll need cowboy boots and a lot of red wine, evidently, but then I'll be all set. Thanks again, and I'll see you next year. Next time bring the boys and Mrs. M. I half expected to see them this year.
Natalie Green, editor, Buffalo Beat
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