A Thought Experiment on the 2nd Amendment

I’m not going to try to make sense of the latest episode of homicidal violence that took place yesterday in Moneta, Virginia. Nor am I going to use this tragedy as an example of the consequences of lax gun laws. I don’t know if tighter gun control measures could have prevented this most recent slaying. Frankly, this kind of shit has happened so often over the last decade-and-change that you could probably find a case to support whatever conclusion you wish to draw.

What I would like to do is conduct a thought experiment, to think outside the realms of what is and step into the less familiar territory of what could be.

A thought experiment produces no empirical data. Its cerebral laboratory exists outside the realms of reality because the conclusions it produces are often unrealizable. Nevertheless, the results can help us to gain insights that reality itself cannot provide, insights that allow us to act on and alter that reality despite the fact that they are not derived from it.

My thought experiment involves the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, perhaps more widely recognized as “the right to bear arms.” This amendment not only influences our country’s legislation regarding guns and gun control, but more importantly the way we think about guns. In this country, gun ownership is a right, a right won through a revolutionary struggle in which everyday men took up arms against tyranny and blasted their way to freedom. With this historic backdrop, owning a gun has become not only the exercise of a constitutional right, but an act of the highest patriotism—it is what Americans do to show how American they are. Even if gun ownership is not high on your own list of American values, there is no doubt that there are many Americans for whom it is, and not all of them live south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

But this is where the thought experiment begins: What if the Constitution was silent on guns? What if gun ownership wasn’t a constitutional right? What if, instead, it was more of a privilege?

I’m sure there are many who think that gun ownership is already far too representative of a privilege. There are, after all, regulations. No matter what the Constitution says, you cannot buy a gun if you’re a felon or a toddler.

However, regulations aside, the constitutional language of “right” has produced stark differences in all things firearm related between the U.S. and other nations. This includes gun control legislation, general attitudes towards guns, and gun-related behaviors.

But if gun ownership was and had always been an earned and regulated privilege rather than being viewed as an irrefutable right, would the romantic attitudes so many Americans hold towards guns still exist?

My guess is probably not. Gun ownership might still be a privilege that some people would value, but not something as visceral as it is for so many Americans today.   Hunting may still be a popular pastime, especially in heavily forested places like my home state of Minnesota, but I do not think it would be farfetched to say that a vast reduction could be expected in the number of machine gun enthusiasts. I also imagine seeing far less signs in the windows of shops and stores that explicitly prohibit firearms and weaponry. In this hypothetical world, such signs would not be necessary, as people would likely not see the need to pack heat when leaving the house to pick up a gallon of milk. And of course, there would be far less guns, which would presumably lead to far less gun deaths.

But let’s take that thought experiment a step further: what if the 2nd Amendment was not eliminated, but replaced? What if rather than “the right to bear arms” the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution read something like “the right to be cared for when sick.” I know that for some even the idea of altering the sacred words of the Constitution is borderline sacrilegious, but the document is a human creation, worthy of both praise and criticism. It is a document that is simultaneously admirable and flawed, just like the men who wrote it. So really, the idea that the Constitution could have been, or could be different if we really wanted to change it, is not that crazy at all.


Back to the thought experiment: As an amendment, we could assume that the right to be cared for when sick, or in other words, the right to free healthcare, would be defended as vehemently as other constitutional freedoms, the same way proponents of the 2nd Amendment vehemently defend the right to bear arms today. The idea that the government could interfere with this constitutional right would be met with indignation. Illness is something that befalls us all. It is our responsibility, society’s responsibility, the government’s responsibility to care for others when illness befalls them, and it is our right to be cared for when illness befalls us. If the government were to infringe on this right by faulting on its responsibility, it would be met with uprisings and protests that would make the likes of Cliven Bundy blush.

Of course this is not the reality. Gun control and single-payer activists are viewed more as evil to be eviscerated than constitutional crusaders. In the real world, even the lightest gun control measures or the most watered-down attempts at healthcare reform are met with fervent resistance, spearheaded by those who claim to be defending that which makes America great.

But what are the results of the thought experiment? That depends on the brain that you conduct it in. It depends on your beliefs and values, on how you see the world, on your interpretations and misconceptions. You may think that more gun control will lead to an Obama-led government assault on our remaining civil liberties, or that free government healthcare is the first step in our transformation into the 21st century version of Communist Russia. But when I conducted the experiment in my brain, the only results I found were a lot less bodies in our hospitals and cemeteries.

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Minnesota, USA

Street-Parking People

One morning a couple winters ago I was at my girlfriend’s basement apartment in Uptown, Minneapolis, getting ready to go to the gym. It was a weekday, but I was fresh out of grad school and still without a job, so a mid-morning gym visit was a good way to be productive with my time. I threw on my coat and went outside.

The night had brought a heavy snowfall. It coated the tree branches, the sidewalks, and the empty streets. The empty streets. Weirdly empty. Sure it was a weekday and many of the cars that normally lined the crowded avenue were likely in the garages and parking lots that accompany the work places of their owners, but that alone could not explain this emptiness. And then it hit me: the snowfall. There must have been a snow emergency declared. The streets needed to be plowed. Any cars parked on a declared “snow emergency route” would be towed at the owners expense. One of those cars was mine.

I got a ride to the Minneapolis impound lot where my car was being held. The line was literally out the door, and judging by the number of cars being towed in behind me, it wasn’t going to get any shorter.

Moods ranged from mildly annoyed to outright furious. It’s not the way that any of us wanted to spend our Tuesday mornings. But aside from our shared anger and frustration, there were other common elements amongst the people with whom I shared that room: the worn clothes, the tired eyes, the unkempt hair…And it was in those moments that a wave of class consciousness swept over me: all the people in that room were people who could ill afford to be there. They were people who were really going to struggle to pay the $138 standard tow charge, and who were even going to struggle more to make up the half-day of work they were likely missing.

It is not a coincidence that most of the people in that room were from the working class. That’s not to say that the city specifically targets working class people when doing its street sweeps, but it is to say that working class people are much more likely to be parked on the street than people of higher social classes.

It’s not that working class people like to park on the street, they park there out of necessity. Working class people are less likely to live in a place that has its own driveway. Working class people are less likely to be able to afford private parking spaces, or ramps, or garages. Working class people come from harder economic circumstances, and consequently, working class people are going to be much more hurt by any street-parking fine. $138 buys a lot of groceries. $138 buys a lot of gas.

As I said previously, I was jobless at the time. The charge sucked, but I managed to pay it without being thrown into financial crisis. I don’t know if I can say the same for all of my working class brethren.

I have since obtained full-time employment, but I’ve been thinking about that day a lot in recent weeks. I still park on the street, and over the last two weeks, I have received two parking tickets. I won’t bore you with the details, but both tickets came in situations where the charge was murky, and where the enforcement is clearly inconsistent, seeing as how I have gotten away with both “offenses” scot-free literally dozens of times over the year that I have lived at my current apartment. Maybe the City of Minneapolis has stepped up reinforcement, maybe they’re trying to make up for a budget shortfall, or maybe they just recently hired a dickhead to patrol my neighborhood.

The fines were $32 and $42, respectively. These fines don’t kill me, but they still hurt, even as someone who has ascended into a relatively comfortable middle-class living.

And while, for me, these fines are annoying and frustrating and will likely force me to skip a social outing or two over my next pay cycle, I know that there are families on my block who would be hit much harder than me, who rather than skipping social outings, might instead be skipping meals, or coming up short on overdue bills.

And the problem isn’t that there are punishments for street-parking violations. Of course our city needs them to maintain some semblance of order. The problem is that these punishments are far too severe, especially considering the economic circumstances surrounding many street-parking people. $138 for the city to essentially steal my car?!?! I get it that the streets need to be plowed, and that a tow costs the city money, but doesn’t $138 seem a little extreme for an innocent mistake that has already totally fucked up the day of the offender? $32 for parking within five feet of a driveway?!?!? How about $10? Better yet, how about a frickin’ warning?

Street-parking people usually are not trying to break the law. They are just people trying to make it: recently graduated colleges students working that first job trying to pay off their student loan debt, single mothers and fathers trying to support a family and put healthy meals on the table, adults with two jobs coming home late from a night shift, just trying to find parking so they can go to bed and do it again the next day.  They are people with enough money to afford a car, but not necessarily enough money to pay the fines that a car can currently get them. So take it easy on your street-parking people, Minneapolis. Chances are that they are already struggling in one way or another, but that doesn’t mean that they will be struggling perpetually, at least so long as their city’s semi-insensitive policies don’t force them to be.

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Minnesota, Sports

How I think I can maybe try to justify celebrating an Adrian Peterson touchdown

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!?!?!? We Minnesotans are. With the return of Teddy Bridgewater poised to build on his highly successful rookie season, the addition of speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace to give Teddy that deep threat and, as the experts like to say, take the top off the defense, and another anticipated year of defensive improvement under the auspices of head coach and defensive guru Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings are almost a lock to win the division, the Super Bowl, and launch a dynasty that will undoubtedly endure well into the next decade.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned our secret weapon: former MVP and freak of nature Adrian Peterson, who coming off a year of rest and resentment, looks again ready to transcend the limitations of age and physics and have a career year at 30 years old. But there is a problem with our secret weapon, and it has nothing to do with what he does on the football field. The problem is how we as fans can justify cheering for a man who, less than a year ago, beat the shit out of his own child with a tree branch.

This is not a problem for all Vikings fans. Some people are better at separating their moral compasses from their purple pride than others. But for those of us who struggle with said separation, the Minnesota Vikings, and the National Football League in general, are becoming more difficult to watch. Between the less-than-admirable off-the-field behavior of far too many players, the hostage holding of fans and taxpayers by billionaire owners to get stadiums built that enrich the owners while leaving the un-rich unable to afford entrance to stadium that their tax dollars paid for, and the increasing body of knowledge about head injuries that makes the game of professional football feel like a blood sport unseen since the times of the Roman Empire, there are a wealth of reasons for the morally righteous to leave their TV’s turned off on Sundays.


But perhaps for the purple, there is a justification—a way to celebrate an Adrian Peterson touchdown while keeping one’s moral compass intact.

First, a disclaimer: the sport of professional football and any importance that we attach to it pales in comparison to the importance of the domestic issues at play in this story, first and foremost of which is the health and well-being of Adrian Peterson’s son. Though this article is, in essence, a football take, this take is not being made in negligence nor ignorance of what is really important.

Back to morality. The struggle I personally have has nothing to do with Adrian Peterson the player and everything to do with Adrian Peterson the person. Like everybody, I was horrified last year when news of the events surfaced, and even more horrified upon seeing the pictures. But what I was never onboard with were the Adrian Peterson character assassinations, the people who declared Adrian Peterson a bad person, or even a monster.

Don’t get me wrong. What Adrian Peterson did to his son was abhorrent and unequivocally wrong, both legally and morally. I supported all sanctions and punishments levied by both the NFL and the legal system, and would definitely put myself in the crowd that believed said sanctions and punishments did not go far enough. That being said, I do not feel that, in spite of the horrifying results of his actions, I can condemn Adrian Peterson as a human being.

To flesh out this sentiment, it is perhaps best to offer a comparison between the actions of Adrian Peterson and the actions of the other NFL bad guy from 2014, Ray Rice. On September 8, 2014, a video surfaced of Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancé Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City elevator. The case of Rice and Peterson share many similarities: both are cases of domestic abuse, both are cases in which the victim was relatively defenseless…But there is one key difference, a difference which, I believe, should be taken into account when we judge Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice as human beings, and in turn, how we feel about them as players on our football teams.

The key difference is the moral context in which the two men committed their abuses. By this I mean the two men’s understanding of morality, what is right and what is wrong. When Ray Rice punched his fiancé in the face, he knew it was wrong. He knew it before he did it, he knew it when he did it, and he knew it after he did it. It may have been a momentary lapse in judgment, a brief break with Rice’s normally upstanding character, but either way, Rice consciously made a decision that he knew to be morally incorrect.

Adrian Peterson’s situation is different. When Adrian Peterson laid his child over his knee and proceeded to brutally beat his legs and buttocks with a stick, he was not only ignorant to the fact that what he was doing was wrong, he believed that what he was doing was right. Adrian Peterson truly believed that what he was doing was what a morally correct father does in order to ensure that his son grows up to himself become a morally correct human being.

Does this excuse Adrian Peterson’s actions? Absolutely not. As I stated above, Adrian Peterson deserved every punishment and sanction he received from both the NFL and the legal system, and probably deserved worse. However, it does change the way that I personally look at Adrian as a human being.

Adrian Peterson was a prisoner to the ignorance in which he was raised (all of us are, really.) He was raised in a culture where the use of a switch was both a tolerated and encouraged form of discipline. His father beat him as a child, and he turned out alright. In Adrian’s mind, he was just doing what good dads do.

Ray Rice is different. Ray Rice may or may not have witnessed spousal abuse growing up. I don’t know. But what I do know is that if he did witness spousal abuse, he was never under the impression that that was an OK thing to do. There is not a place in the United States where spousal abuse is not taboo. It may be something that in some parts is tragically common, but nowhere is it something that is morally correct. Spanking, on the other hand, is.

Thankfully, that is changing. If there is anything good that came from the Adrian Peterson case, it is the national awareness that was hopefully raised about the fact that hitting your children, even on the butt, is indeed child abuse and is never OK. Furthermore, we desperately, desperately hope that Adrian Peterson has learned from his grave mistakes, and that future beatings that his son may have received will now never happen.

But all things considered, can we justify rooting for Adrian Peterson? Has Adrian Peterson truly learned his lesson? Some of his own ill-timed comments would suggest that he hasn’t, but he has apologized numerous times and claims to be a reformed man and father.

You may believe, as I do, that his sentence should have been much more severe, but the fact is that his sentence has been served. He deserves a second chance. I just wish that second chance would have been somewhere else.

I’ll still be watching on Sundays, offering my patronage to a league, a sport, and a team that fly in the face of many of my moral values. I’m a hypocrite like that. As for Adrian, we’ll see how I feel after he scores that first touchdown. Maybe having him on my fantasy football team would help to counteract some of the guilt I might feel.

So in closing, will I cheer for Adrian Peterson? Probably. He’s a Viking, and I bleed purple no matter which direction my moral compass points. And, am I ready for some football? I guess. But not as ready as I used to be.

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Race, USA

The Meaning of Black Lives Matter

The recent one-year anniversary of the dawning of the Black Lives Matter movement has spanwed a lot of reflection over the tumultuous year that has passed. The murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and too many others have sparked and fueled a national outrage that has brought the issue of the destruction of black bodies to more American living rooms than perhaps any time since the Civil Rights Movement. But while white Americans may be more aware than ever of the central issues underlying the Black Lives Matter movement, many are still confused about what “black lives matter” actually means.

That confusion often translates into anger, much of which stems from the movement’s perceived exclusivity. “So black lives matter and other lives don’t?!” an incredulous white person might ask, “That’s reverse racism! ALL lives matter!”

This is flawed thinking that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of all things racial, a mistake that is understandably easy to make when you grow up in a nearly all white community without any black people to complicate your worldview (Exhibit A: Me.) For white people, reverse racism is just like the racist shit that white people do to black people, but in reverse. For instance, if someone were to start a “White Lives Matter” movement, that would largely, and in my opinion correctly, be labeled as racist. So isn’t Black Lives Matter racist too? The answer is no, and that’s because reverse racism is not a real thing. It doesn’t exist.

To really wrap your head around why there is no such thing as “reverse racism,” it is helpful to be familiar with some textbook definitions of words like “racism,” “prejudice,” and “discrimination,” but I don’t want to get too far down the rabbit hole. Saying there’s no such thing as reverse racism is not the same thing as saying there are no black people that hate white people. There most certainly are. I could probably go find some right now if I wandered into the wrong bar on the other side of the highway. But the key difference between black hate of white people and white hate of black people is understanding where that hate comes from.

White hate for black people is historical. It comes out of a history of perceived racial superiority, of slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, and urban ghettos. Likewise, black hate for white people is historical as well, but it comes from a history of being on the receiving end of that oppression, of receiving the hate and returning it accordingly. It doesn’t necessarily excuse black hate, but it does help to explain it.

More importantly, what makes racism racism is the –ism part. The –ism suggests that there is a system at play and that that system takes sides. In other words, if you’re a white person and you hate a black person, you have the system on your side. However, if you’re a black person and you hate a white person, you don’t have that luxury. You can’t put racism in reverse.

So Black Lives Matter is not racist, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not exclusive. Certainly it is not as inclusive as the #AllLivesMatter hashtag that is used by some to mock and challenge the Black Lives Matter movement. But this gets at another fundamental misunderstanding, the idea that by saying “black lives matter” you are somehow saying that white lives do not.

The reality is the opposite. The reason that nobody says “white lives matter” is because nobody needs to say it; we already know it. We know it by the way that white lives are talked about on TV. We know it by the way that white lives are written about in the paper. People take notice when a white life is lost.


Unfortunately, with black lives, this is less likely to be the case. Lost black lives are ignored or glossed over. The deceased are often labeled as gangsters and thugs whose deaths can be chalked up to gang violence. Even in life, black people are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to receive a shitty education, more likely to go to jail…Both in life and in death, black lives continue to be undervalued compared to those of whites.

And that is why the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting. They are not fighting to have the lives of black people valued at a greater level than those of white people,  they are fighting to have their lives valued at an equal level to those of white people, to receive the same privileges of respect and dignity and attention that many of us in the white community take so much for granted. When a black person dies from causes related to systemic poverty, they want people to care. When a black person is unjustly gunned down in the street, they want people to get angry. They literally just want black lives to matter. That’s what it means. Nothing more.

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Military, Politics, USA, World

Nuts Over Nukes

Nuclear weapons have been in the news a lot in recent weeks, but one story that has flown under the radar is the nearly trillion-dollar weapons upgrade to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This “modernization” has been proposed not by the hawkish Republicans of the House and Senate, but by Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning president Barack Obama.

The funding and carrying-out of the upgrade will not happen in one fell swoop. It is a process scheduled to take place over the next three decades, as the U.S. aims to convert its aging Cold War stockpile into a modern 21st century nuclear force. Nevertheless, the nearly trillion dollar price tag is a concerning one, especially for those of us already frustrated with the amount of money our government currently spends every year protecting our “freedom” and promoting “democracy” in the world.

The U.S. spends more on defense than any other country, and it’s not even close. In fact, in 2014, the U.S. spent more money on defense than the next seven highest spenders combined. Yes, that means that if you add up the total defense spending of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India, and Germany, it still falls $9 billion short of the guns, bombs, planes, and tanks built and bought by the U.S.

Domestically, this adds up to 18% of total spending, that is, if you solely focus on mandatory spending. If you focus on discretionary spending, which more truly reflects how our government spends its money, the total rises to 57%. That means that the United States spends nearly 33% more dollars on its military than it spends on EVERYTHING ELSE.

But we are talking about nuclear weapons here, an area that even with a trillion dollar increase will not exceed 5% of total U.S. defense spending in the coming decades. And perhaps this is what is most concerning of all: the fact that even as we dump another trillion dollars into a weapons system whose only function is massive annihilation of humanity, it will barely manage to register a blip on the defensive-spending radar.

It is also important to note the political and historic backdrop in which this proposed upgrade is taking place. The United States along with several other nations just put the finishing touches on what’s being heralded as a historic “peace” deal with Iran, a deal that aims to prevent Iran from even having the technological capability to develop a nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, most Congressional Republicans, and even some Democrats, still view the agreement as far too weak, and want to see language that cripples and controls Iran even further. I wonder what Iranians think about the U.S.’s expansion of it’s own already gigantic nuclear weapons program while simultaneously limiting the comparatively tiny program of Iran, a program that explicitly has never had a motive other than energy production?

Of course, the fear is that should Iran have the ability to develop such a weapon, the crazy, Islamic bastards would probably use the bomb to rain fire on all their sworn enemies. However, if history were to have its say, which it should, it would tell us that if anyone were crazy enough to use such a devastating weapon, it would most likely be the only country that has ever used it before. Of course that country is the United States of America, a nation who exactly 70 years ago last week, dropped two atomic bombs on the country of Japan killing more than 200,000 people (the vast majority of whom were civilians.)

Mixed international signals aside, the spending part of this issue is a domestic one, and while a trillion dollars is a lot of money, the fact that it fails to make up even 5% of total military spending has left lawmakers searching for other options when seeking to cut costs. This is a stupid way to think.

A trillion dollars is a trillion dollars no matter what percent it is of a whole. Maybe a few cuts here and there won’t make much of a difference in the overall numbers, but that won’t lessen the impact it could have for the communities whose families it could feed, whose sick it could heal, and for whose roads and schools it could build.

Furthermore, the idea that we need to further invest in the modernization of a program in which the only scenario where those dollars come to fruition is a nuclear war that severely compromises the ability of humans to even exist on this planet is completely and totally idiotic. Any competitive edge the United States is gaining in such a scenario is a million times mitigated by the devastating effect such a war would have on human life.

So fuck bombs. Let’s put those dollars towards people. Let’s make a real statement that we are committed to international peace and not upgrade but dismantle our nuclear weapons arsenal. Let’s show Iran that we mean business. Let’s show Japan that we are sorry. A trillion dollars worth of nuclear bombs is a trillion dollars wasted, no matter what kind of deterrent it may or may not provide. And if that deterrent is really that necessary, if the only thing that is preventing us all from blowing each other up is the fact that we might get blown up too, well then I don’t want to live in that kind of world anyway.

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