No, yes; here we go again

Forty years ago, I surely wasn’t the only student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a shotgun in his dorm room.

Was it legal? Who knows? Who asked?

A gun was like a pen. You needed a pen to write. You needed a gun to hunt.

It was that simple. End of discussion.

Then times changed. The news in America became heavily about people being shot with guns. And Americans started to worry in ways they never worried before.

Who reading this knows what the gun crime rate was in  1976 versus today? Higher? Lower It had to be lower , right? Way lower, you think. There wasn’t this hysteria about guns in the ’70s.

Maybe there should have been.  The firearms homicide rate for 1976, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics was 5.6 per 100,000 people against an overall homicide rate of 8.7 per 100,000.

The rate today? Firearm homicide deaths are down to 3.1 per 100,000. That’s a 55 percent drop. And the overall homicide death rate is down to 4.5 per 100,000, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s a 52 percent decrease.

These are big changes. Forty years ago, as many people were killed with knives, blunt objects and other non-firearm means — 3.1 per 100,000 — as are today killed with firearms.

For all our worries about American violence, we have been steadily morphing into a friendlier, less-violent society for decades. We’re no heavily armed Switzerland or Sweden with a homicide rate below 1 per 100,000, but we’re probably never going to be a Switzerland or Sweden.

If we could somehow magically eliminate every firearm in the country today, we’d still have a homicide rate higher than those countries. One can get deep into the psychology of Americans trying to explain all of this; I won’t.

I will only point out that against the statistical reality of the times it seems we’re arguing over guns more than ever because either we fear them, the good liberal view, or we fear government is going to take them away, the good conservation position. The gun debate has popped in Alaska again over the  issue of whether a gun ban on Alaska university campuses should continue.

It’s probably safe to say the ban today is no more than a BINO. I’d bet my left arm –  and I’m left handed – that there are already guns on Alaska campuses. There are guns everywhere in our society today. It is now believed there is more than one gun per person in the U.S.

Anyone who thinks they are in a “gun free” zone because there is a little sign declaring it gun free is deceiving himself or herself.  Unless people are being run through metal detectors, you can pretty well count on the fact there is probably someone with a gun around you somewhere.

All legalizing guns on Alaska campuses would really do is make it OK for the people who follow the law to exercise their Second Amendment right in the same way as people who ignore the law.

And yet none of these realities have stopped my old, card-carrying-liberal University of Alaska classmate Dermot Cole from getting his undies all in a bunch about the Alaska Legislature deciding to let Alaskans have a say on whether to continue the ban or lift it. Cole does, thankfully, seem to understand that letting people be heard is what the legislative process is all about.

A lot of people will express passionate beliefs both pro and con,” he wrote in the Anchorage newspaper. That is, of course, total speculation, but Cole is likely right. And the problem with letting the citizens of a democracy express their beliefs is?

Let Cole answer that: “This sideshow comes at a time when the Legislature is preparing to cut millions from the university budget, reducing academic programs and cutting jobs; this is “misdirection” and “grandstanding” aimed at getting” people to waste their energy fighting over imaginary problems and they will be distracted from real budget questions about services and taxes.”

Don’t you love it when the totally unbiased and objective media pitches a fit because others are talking about subjects the totally unbiased and objective media doesn’t think people should waste their time talking about?

Had Cole been a paid pundit back in 2003, I’m confident he would have made the same stink about the efforts of Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage,  to repeal a state law that required Alaskans to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Croft staged another of those distractions, and the rest of the political establishment went along with him.

Ever since, Alaskans have had the legal right to carry concealed weapons . What happened? Homicide rates involving firearms that began trending down in 1985 continued to trend down, according to the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage

“Since 1985, Alaska has…experienced a substantial decline in homicide rate per 100,000 population overall,” the Center reported.

“In 2012, the Alaska homicide rate was less than half of the 1985 rate. The proportion of homicides committed with a firearm also declined significantly in Alaska between 1985 and 2012. The proportion of homicides with knives increased nearly threefold.”

We’re still killing each other at an unacceptable rate, but were doing it less with guns and more with knives. The latter kind of makes me think that there are circumstances on Alaska campuses where a vulnerable person, say a petite woman, might actually want a handgun for self protection.

But do I care, personally, if firearms are allowed on state campuses? Not really. I moved out of the UAF dorms a long, long time ago. If some kid wants to go to school now and do some small game hunting in his spare time, he can go find a college Outside that allows firearms or simply live off campus in Fairbanks.

Am I going to get upset if other Alaskans decide the existing ban should be lifted or otherwise modified and convince the Legislature to act? Again, the answer is no.

What I do care about is what has become the shoddy practice of journalism wherein journalists, or the people who call themselves journalists, present one-sided arguments lacking facts and context.

Could I make a valid argument for continuing to ban guns on Alaska campuses? Sure. There are some demographic issues involved that might make it slightly more dangerous to allow guns on campus than to allow guns everywhere else in this sate.

Could I make an even better argument for banning guns in rural Alaska communities where the homicide rate is more than double the average for the state? Yes, but who would suggest such an idea in any way other than to point out there really is no black and white on the gun issue; it is a whole bunch of grays.

Unless, that is, your approach to the issue is a a simple search for a platform from which to rant at Republican lawmakers because you happen to dislike Republican lawmakers. That sort of thinking, one must admit,  does make the complex questions of life easier: “If those people are for it, I’m agin’ it. End of argument.”

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin built her national pol-ebrity on this approach. She’d be happy to tell you, “it’s just common sense.”

Unfortunately, sense isn’t all that common, and the best approach to most of the difficult problems facing the country today isn’t as simple as banning whatever it is the people in power at the moment happen to dislike.

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