A Moderate View on Guns

I want to talk about guns again.  I’ve talked about them twice before.  The responses to those posts were mostly positive.  I feel a need to talk about them again.  It’s been several days since the shootings in Orlando, so you may be sick of this topic by now.  That’s okay.  I’m writing this for myself as much as I’m writing it for anyone else, to try and work through my emotions around this latest event.  If you want to skip this entry, I don’t blame you.

I don’t consider myself a Republican or a Democrat.  I lean more left than I did when I was younger.  My conservative friends and family probably see me as a liberal.  I’m certainly able to find lots of areas of agreement with my liberal friends.  But one area that I’ve always been more right leaning is guns.  I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of taking away American’s guns, or infringing on the Second Amendment.

It is important to me that we avoid emotional responses on this issue.  Knee-jerk reactions are not usually powered by intellect and sweet wisdom.  That’s the kind of reaction that led to us fighting in Iraq.  It’s the kind of reaction that led to the Patriot Act, and Guantanamo Bay.  Smart people can get caught up in that kind of reaction, and then regret it later.

We are reeling from the worst mass shooting in American history.  Okay, well, it’s not actually the worst in history.  But it’s the worst in recent memory.  It was perpetrated by a man that had previously been under Federal suspicion.  He used an AR-15, bought legally.  He claimed alignment with ISIS.

There is so much right there.  Terrorism.  Assault rifles.  The ability to purchase a gun, even when on a No Fly list.

After recovering from the initial shock, we were inundated with second guessing.  Liberals cried out about the guns.  Conservatives clutched to their guns, saying it’s all about terrorism.  Both sides started fighting and name calling, and no actual communication took place, because it’s all emotions, grandstanding, and fear.

If someone had been armed in the club when the shooting began, would it have made a difference?  Conservatives say yes.  Liberals say no.

If he hadn’t been able to purchase the gun, the tragedy would have been avoided, right?  Maybe.  That seems to be the main argument for tighter gun restrictions.  But the Boston Marathon bombing didn’t involve a gun.  I don’t think Ted Kacynski used guns.  If Omar Mateen had been scoping out the club weeks before the attack, who’s to say that he wouldn’t have tried something that didn’t involve bullets?

My initial reaction, after the sadness for the loss of innocent lives, is to side with the conservatives.  But we’ve had so many mass shootings.  A call to make a change is not an emotional reaction.  It is the reasonable thing to do.

At the risk of upsetting the quasi-religious reverence given to the Second Amendment, let’s look at what it means to restrict guns in the US.  Already, you can’t just have any gun you want.  I’m not talking about nuclear missiles or weapons of mass destruction.  I’m talking about the kind of weapon you might think was used in Orlando.  To quote:

NFA weapons are weapons that are heavily restricted at a federal level by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. These include automatic firearms (such as machine guns), short-barreled shotguns, and short-barreled rifles. Some states and localities place additional restrictions on such weapons.

So, we know that there are already some restrictions on what constitutes a legal firearms.  That makes me think that the conversation about greater restrictions is going to go one of two ways.

  • Tighter restrictions on the kinds of guns people can purchase legally
  • Tighter restrictions on the kinds of people that can purchase guns

If we further restrict the types of guns people can own, we’re talking about eliminating semi-automatic weapons.  People could then legally own bolt action rifles and single-action revolvers, right?  Or will we go further?  It wouldn’t take much before it starts sounding a bit like what was done in Australia.  They broke out guns into several categories.  I think the AR-15 would be a Category D, which can only be owned by government officials.  Handguns are Category H, and in addition to having a justification for owning one (such as being a security guard), there’s a 6 month probationary period, as well as other restrictions.

I don’t think that’s going to go over very well in the red states.  It might be a hard pill to swallow in many of the blue ones, too.

Let’s shift back to restrictions on who can purchase a gun.  I don’t think anyone disagrees with the notion that suspected terrorists shouldn’t be able to buy guns.  But… how do we determine if someone is a suspected terrorist?  What criteria do we use?

We’re still struggling with racial biases and prejudices in our law enforcement and at different levels of our government.  One of our candidates for President speaks with alarming frequency in tones of racism.  How do we keep racism (and potentially fascism) from becoming a part of the process that determines if a person can own a gun or not?

Someone should ask Trump if an American citizen born and bred in the United States, that just happens to be a Muslim, should own a gun.  I wonder what his answer would be, and how he’d play it out against the backdrop of the Second Amendment.

This whole conversation about guns in the US is one of those issues that requires thought and care.  Unfortunately, it’s instead filled with name calling and rhetoric.

What do I think?  How would I change the system to make it better?

I’d start small.  I’d start with putting the restrictions on people, and I’d try to make the restrictions as reasonable as possible.  If you’re on a No Fly list, you can’t buy a gun.  Then I’d go a step further and make sure that there are provisions for getting off the No Fly list, so that innocent people finding themselves on such a list have a way of getting removed.

Maybe I’d also make the waiting period based on the results of the background check.  If you’ve been on a No Fly list, or you were recently the subject of a restraining order, or you had run into some other legal troubles, your waiting period is measured in months rather than days.  People can still get guns if they’re under some suspicion, but they can’t get them in a hurry and rush off to do mayhem.

I don’t think those are unreasonable changes.  It’s an incremental change that would have addressed the situation in Orlando.  Or at least, it would have meant that Omar Mateen would have had to use something other than a gun.

I think that’s the way that we’re going to make things better in the US.  It’s through incremental change, with conversation and compromise, rather than shouting and mule-headed grandstanding.


Writing Technique: The Word “Was”

Let’s talk about how to write.

My writing has really improved over the last few years.  Part of this improvement comes from writing more.  Another part comes from putting my ego aside long enough to listen to meaningful critique.  One of the things I’ve learned from critique is that I fall into the passive voice when I’m not paying attention.  Many writers do this, and the passive voice is fine once in a while.  But like any seasoning, too much ruins the broth.

Adverbs are in the same boat.  Adverbs are not your friend, and should be used with care and intention.  If you’re not paying attention when you use an adverb, you run the risk of telling something that you should be showing.

Most adverbs end in “ly” like quickly, loudly, and simply.  When scanning your writing, you can let your eye land on the words ending with “ly” and then start your surgery.  Similarly, many passive voiced sentences involve the word “was.” So, while editing The Repossessed Ghost, I spent a great deal of time rewriting sentences that involved that word.

Here is an example of a passively voiced sentence that involves “was”:

Rewriting sentences was how I planned on elevating my prose.

If I come across that sentence while editing one of my stories, I’ll rewrite it to something more like:

I planned on elevating my prose by rewriting the weak sentences.

Look how much stronger that sentence is!  The emphasis shifted from “was” to “planned.” It is easier to read, the message is clearer, and I even had room to sneak in an extra adjective.

My first draft of The Repossessed Ghost dripped with weak, passively voiced sentences.  It isn’t that surprising.  The main influence that set the tone for my book is Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and he falls into the passive voice all the time.

Of course, not every passive-voiced sentence involves the word “was.”  Look at the last sentence of the previous paragraph.  The first half is passive.  It should be “Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files influenced and set the tone for my book.”  It’s sneaky, because it doesn’t involve the word “was” and it is part of a longer sentence.

So, as hard as I worked on The Repossessed Ghost, I know that it still isn’t perfect.  It’s stronger than the previous draft, with a greater emphasis on strong verbs.  However, sneaky sentences slipped past me, and now wait like active land mines.

But, beyond my own book, I have developed a sensitivity to the word “was.” I’ve spent so much time watching for it that it stands out in other people’s work.  It stands out in the audio books I listen to.  Every instance of the word “was” makes me sit up, pay attention, and listen for passivity.

I’m trying to back that off.  It isn’t a terrible word.  It’s sorely needed in some sentences.  I know that some of the sentences I rewrote in my book were not made better by eliminating “was.”  As I’m going through the beginning again, polishing and adding greater strength to the verbs, I’m trying to leave some of the sentences alone.

So, in summary, spending energy seeking and destroying the word “was” can help you reduce passively voiced sentences in your work.  But spending too much energy on something like that can make you crazy, and still allow you to miss your ultimate goal of good prose and a solid story.

You know, I never know how to end posts like these.  So I’ll just say, “Happy Birthday, Melissa!  I love you, and I hope your day has been extra special!”

(Edited.  When writing a post on writing, it’s embarrassing to include so many sloppy mistakes.)


My BayCon 2016 Wrap-Up

I go to 2 or 3 conventions each year, with one of them being WorldCon every year that I can afford it.  This year, Melissa and I chose to go to BayCon as one of the other conventions.  This was our first BayCon, and I went into it with some unrealistic expectations.

For starters, I thought it would be bigger.  I hadn’t heard anything about BayCon 2015, and I wasn’t aware of the three other cons going on at the same time.  I heard a rumor that there had been doubts about BayCon happening at all this year.  If I’d known all that from the beginning, it’s possible I would have given BayCon a pass.  Fortunately, I went, and I had a good time.

I did have my doubts at the beginning.  Melissa and I arrived a little bit early, and we hoped that would help get us through registration more quickly.  We’d preregistered, and I hoped it would be a straight forward affair.  Unfortunately, they had a rough start, with technical difficulties preventing them from getting registration going on time.

Melissa and I went up, badge-less, to attend the opening ceremonies.  There seemed to be some confusion about when the doors would open for that, so Melissa and I bailed on the opening ceremony.  We took a walk around the hotel and went to lunch instead.

Still badge-less, we went to our first panel.  It was Magic versus Religion.  It went in a direction I didn’t think was as interesting as it could have gone.  I took some notes.  Then, one of the panelists started talking about their own stories and their own characters, devolving far and away from the topic.  That went on for several minutes.  The moderator never reigned the individual in.  I looked at Melissa and saw that she was getting tired of the panelist’s droning too, so we quietly left.

So far, I’ve described a pretty terrible convention.  Fortunately, that is (almost) the last bad thing I have to say about BayCon.

Registration finally opened, and we made it through without too much fuss.  After that, we went on to a panel about Space Operas, which proved to be much more interesting and better organized.

Let’s take a moment and talk about the hotel.  For the most part, I liked it.  The air conditioning was a bit inconsistent, with some rooms freezing us, and others testing the strength and tenacity of our deodorant.  There were plenty of seats, and most of the rooms were easy to find.  There was one room, however, which didn’t seem to fit in regular three dimensional space.  It was ostensibly on the third floor, but it also seemed to be on the same floor as most of the other rooms, which were one flight of stairs up from the ground.

Food options were limited.  If I’d been willing to drive for food, we probably could have gone to a number of places.  I didn’t want to do that, though, so the only place Melissa and I could eat was the hotel.  Like the air conditioning, the service was erratic.  The food was also a bit overpriced for what it was.

I sure seem to be whining a lot in this post!  But really, Melissa and I had a good time, and some of the panels were really spectacular.  The best panel we attended all weekend, and maybe even the best one I’ve ever attended, took place that first evening.  Called “Believable Spaces,” it had only one panelist: M. Todd Gallowglas.  Since I meet with Michael regularly, and since I have an ego roughly the size of a small moon, I told Melissa, “I’m probably not going to take a lot of notes.” Boy was I wrong.  Michael ran that panel like he was teaching a college level course on creative writing.  And it worked.  I have to say… I’m really proud of him.

There were other panels throughout the weekend.  We attended them.  Some I enjoyed more than others, but I didn’t walk out of any of them as I had that first one.  A couple were purely for fun, like the Delphic Oracle run by Todd McAffrey, or The Mystery Panel, which wound up featuring a bunch of writers at the convention writing flash fiction head-to-head.

Melissa and I attended the after parties.  We did our best, but I think we’re getting old.  We didn’t stay out very late, but we had fun while we were out.

The best part of these conventions for me is just meeting people.  I enjoyed talking with Jim Doty and Todd McAffrey and Mark Gelineau.  I got to visit with Jennifer Carson and Juliette Wade for a little bit.  At the Convolution party, I talked Jason Warlock’s ear off about Convolutions of the past, and what I look forward to in a convention.  I also really enjoyed getting to sit down to breakfast with Lawrence Schoen and Anastasia Hunter.  There were many fantastic people at the convention, and I enjoyed getting to connect with them.

Melissa and I weren’t able to stay for the entire convention.  I had a performance on Memorial Day at the VA Hospital, so Melissa and I left BayCon Sunday evening, right after a delightful panel on linguistics, with Juliette Wade and Lawrence Schoen as the panelists.  They’re both fiercely intelligent people, and it was both entertaining and educational to listen to them riff off each other about how language works.

There’s more I could talk about, from the Variety Show on Saturday night, to what it was like being a “Galactic Sponsor” of BayCon.  I think I’ve probably said enough, though.

There were flaws, but we had a good time, and that’s all that matters.  Will we go to BayCon 2017?  Maybe.  All I can say for sure is that Melissa and I are going to WorldCon this year.  Any other conventions this year or next year are not on the radar, yet.