Shoot First, America.

Other than as an infallible acid test for how rational the person you’re talking to is, there’s very little to be gained arguing America’s gun possession laws. It’s like abortion. Minds are made up. Those of us who perceive little or no mortal danger in our daily modern mostly urban lives can’t fathom the need to own one. Much less can we understand the need/desire to acquire a small arsenal. So … we and look on the crowd arguing for the need/right to carry, then conceal and lately “Stand Your Ground” (the so-called “expanded Castle Doctrine”) as precisely the kind of people — addled by bizarre paranoias — that should not be packing heat as they order their triple macchiatos and/or stroll the aisles of Home Depot.

A comprehensive psychological profile, administered to gun license applicants, would do wonders for denying permits to the personalities who need guns way too much for reasons that have nothing to do with “personal safety”.

In the past two weeks we’ve had two more incidents of outrageous gun play by (very likely) damaged characters acting as guardians of our safety. First, Master Sgt. Robert Bales in Afghanistan, accused of the mass murder of 16 civilians, including nine sleeping children, and now George Zimmerman the, and I quote, “self-appointed” citizen watch guard who pretty obviously stalked an unarmed black teenager, engaged him in a confrontation and shot him dead … all in, as I say, his personally appointed role as guardian of a … wait for it … gated Florida community.

Far from being beside the point, the mental instability of both Bales and Zimmerman is highly germane to whatever conversation you might care to have. Bales was obviously in a war zone. But the truly grotesque irony in the Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case is that Zimmerman most likely imagined himself in something similar.

How did either one of these guys get in the position to do what they did?

I have very little confidence that the Army, left to its own investigation and courts-martial, will reveal any of its possible failures to screen out Robert Bales, a family guy (with a red flag financial management career) who had already served three tours in Iraq and reportedly didn’t want to re-deploy. (Who would? In Bales’ favor is that he was sane enough at that point to understand that another combat tour wasn’t in his best interests. If it were me, I’d be testing any soldier not complaining about  returning for a fourth tour. Someone’s enjoying just a bit too much.)

The Zimmerman-Martin episode speaks more directly to the fear-struck homeland side of the equation. Florida has the law that gun-talking/gun-loving/gun-toting small town police chief/Republican legislator Tony Cornish has been pushing here in Minnesota for what seems like years. Mark Dayton vetoed the bill this time around on the grounds that it was — yet another — GOP solution in search of a problem. What statistical evidence there is that ordinary citizens need legal protection to extend their “threat zones” to basically any place they happen to be, allowing them to “Stand Their Ground”, shooting first and thinking of retreating later, is preposterously subjective at best. Even anecdotally there isn’t enough to suggest this is necessary legislation.

The larger point though is the psychological screening that goes on with “avid” gun buffs. As I say, if ever there were a signal that someone needed a thorough screening for irrational thinking and aberrant threat assessment, it’s the guy building an arsenal in his leafy suburban basement or arguing loudly that he needs a loaded gun on his hip to gas up the truck at SuperAmerica.

To any rational person that is thinking of someone in a paranoid fantasy land, i.e. someone very likely to contrive a situation to “deploy” his arsenal.

How someone like George Zimmerman, plainly a nutcase based on his constant 911 calls alone, was allowed to cruise around — a gated community — unimpeded by police has everything to do with political cowardice in the face of gun zealots and NRA lobbying. “Stand Your Ground” is the law in post Tea Party Florida. The survivor’s word that he was acting in self-defense is good enough, no matter how palpably unstable the pistol-packing citizen appears to be.

(In the context of inducing fear in legislators I note the profound under-coverage of the Zimmerman-Martin case by FoxNews — the cable news organization of choice for many gun lovers, I’m guessing — and the entirely predictable twisting of the story into yet another “war on guns” by hysterical liberals.)

The hysteria and fear-mongering, of the imminent threat to home and family by homicidal intruders, is a constant theme of far-right media. I spent a couple of hours driving around Phoenix last winter slack-jawed at the paranoid nonsense being spewed by … Arizona Gun Radio, a station entirely devoted to gun talk, gun rights and … fear of everybody walking past your front door.

George Zimmerman may well be crazy. The likelihood is that a lot of people who have crossed the line from amiable deer-hunter to gun fetishist are also crazy on some level. But the issue here is what is the sequence of events and influences that put a crazy-ass character like him on a “block watch” detail … with consent to carry (at least one) loaded gun … and enough legal immunity that he not only shot to kill an unarmed kid … but hasn’t been arrested?

With Independent Voters, Crategate Bites

What do independent voters make of the odd story of Governor Mitt Romney scaring the crap out of his dog by strapping him in a crate to the top of his car at highway speeds? Clark Griswold benign? Cruel and unusual?

According to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted last week:

• By more than a 5-to-1 margin, independent/other voters thought Romney’s treatment of the family dog was “inhumane” (66% said “inhumane”, 12% said it was “humane”).

• By a 12-to-1 margin, independent/other voters said the incident makes them less likely to choose Romney (36% said “less likely”, 3% said “more likely”).

• 55% of independent/other voters had no opinion of Romney on the subject of dog treatment, indicating the story is familiar to about half of Americans at this stage of the campaign.

This issue is not as prominent as “Obamneycare” style flip-floppery. But with the swing voters who will decide the election, Crategate elicits more bite than lick.

– Loveland