Judging Columbus

Recently in America, we celebrated Columbus Day, or Indigenous People’s Day, or whatever. Many people do not Celebrate Columbus’ discovery of America, but instead choose to celebrate the newly dedicated Indigenous People’s Day. This is being done because a certain segment of the population does not want to publicize Columbus and his contributions to America. In many circles he is seen as a bad person in history.

Contemporary focus on Columbus has come to center on his treatment of the Indians, or shall I call them Native Americans? History is full of people who were not of the utmost moral quality, yet aspired to do incredible things. In this age, the untrained tend to judge historical figures by 21st century standards, and not by the age in which they lived. This is historiography, and I have written on it  before. 1

Is it fair to judge Columbus in such a negative way? When I was growing up, Columbus Day was celebrated and we talked about him in school. We spoke of him as the person credited with discovering America. Later, this fallacy was given to Leif Ericson the Viking who landed on the coast of New Foundland around 1000 CE (Common Era, after the year 0). The Vikings left without establishing a permanent colony and their voyage fell by the wayside. Before even the Vikings it is thought the Chinese, or early people from India came to the North and South American continents. They came and traded with the ancient American empires. Whether Columbus was first is not really the issue. Has history blamed him too harshly for the results of this actions in the late 15th century? Should we dismiss some of his actions as a bi-product of the period?

George Washington was a slave owner. He owned upwards of 300 slaves during his 50+ years as a slave owner. While he did allow for their release, it would not occur until two years after his death in 1799. This was only due to his wife Martha, signing a manumission that released the slaves from their duty to the Washington/Custis estate. 3

Thomas Jefferson was also another great American that we speak highly of. He was also a slave owner. His home at Monticello was built by slaves. He freed fewer than five slaves in his life. Despite having a relationship with Sally Hemmings, a slave of his for almost 40 years, and through which he had six children. Jefferson also wrote he did not believe Africans and Anglos could coexist in the same environment. 4  This is the same person Americans hold in such high regard.   I have written on Jefferson’s shortcomings before.

Whereas many “great” Americans hold a special place in the hearts of Americans for their contributions, so too does Christopher Columbus. As children, many of us were taught he was looking for an all water route to China, but instead he “discovered” America. He did not discover a new continent. The Chinese and Vikings had already been to North America. What Columbus did stumble upon was a series of islands in the Caribbean and never set foot on North American soil. 5

Columbus did not set out to open the world to new discoveries. Like most sailors of the time, Columbus wanted to make money. A westward, all water route to China would open that door. It would be much faster than travelling around Africa and the Indian Ocean to China.
When Columbus landed on Hispaniola, he recorded his observations of the natives, claiming he thought they would “make good servants and I am of the opinion that they would very readily become Christians as they appear to have no religion.” 6 Shortly after landing, Columbus planned to build a fort, but stated in his diary fortifying the place was unnecessary because the natives were “simple in war-like manners.” 7 Columbus obviously thought the Indians were primitive and he could easily conquer and enslave them if he chose. He wrote of this several times in his diary.

In the 15th century, slavery was a way of forcing barbarians (foreigners) to accept Christianity. God, gold, and glory were the reasons for Spanish exploration. When encountering natives, he recounted numerous times the natives noted him and his explorers as the people who came from the heavens. 8 Logic dictates the people from the heavens were the Spanish. Indians learned the Spanish language very quickly and him vice versa. This seems to be the case if one takes Columbus at his word in his diaries. When looking at the historiography, Columbus may have simply heard what he wanted to hear. European ideas of the time dictated they were the vastly superior race of the time, and therefore they could bend the world to their will. After all, the Europeans had defeated the Muslims and pushed them out of France. This feeling of invincibility became even more evident with latter explorers.

On his second voyage in 1493, Columbus brought several natives back to Spain and forced them into slavery. This was possibly done in an effort to build a slave trade and show how valuable the Indians were. 9 Columbus said they might “be led to abandon that custom which they have of eating men…learning the language, they will much more readily receive baptism and secure the welfare of their souls.” 10 Obviously the push was to develop a slave trade, similar to that which was being created in Africa at the same time. It should also be evident of the push for spreading the word of God, as was the goal of the Spanish government.
Also on that second voyage, he brought colonists with him who desired to exploit the natives for their gold.   When the gold was hard to find, the Spanish began to kill the natives, who in turn resisted. Columbus ordered more forts built and required the Arawak Indians to bring gold dust. 11  Those who did not pay the tribute would be hunted down and killed. Eventually, the Spaniards revolted against Columbus and his cruel treatment of the natives. The Spaniards wanted to share the land with the natives and have them work the land, much like the feudal system of medieval Europe.

Because of the argument signed with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Columbus had the power to administer any island he claimed for Spain and was entitled to profit from them. 12 It is clear from letters he wrote to the king that he planned to obtain gold. In these letters he explained an elaborate system for keeping track of the gold. On his second voyage he enslaved a number of Indians to be returned to Spain, while many more were to be forced to mine for gold.13  After he was imprisoned by the Spanish and sent back to Spain, Columbus wrote another letter explaining his actions. In it, he speaks of how he should be judged, “…as a captain who went from Spain to the Indies to conquer a numerous and warlike people…” 14  This certainly gives credence to the belief Columbus set out to obtain wealth and certainly took pride in forcing other to do it for him.

In the end, I think those who think only in present day terms have judged Columbus a bit too harshly.  Perhaps it is because of the desire to revise history, or to make amends for past mistakes.  On that I have no idea.  However, I feel Columbus acted as any other European explorer with an edict from the King of a world power would.  He sought to make money, which he never did.  Columbus sought to line his pockets through any method necessary, including building a slave trade, raping the population of their resources, and pushing upon them a new religion.  If we are to judge Columbus as a villain of history, then should we also judge Washington and Jefferson the same?  After all, they did own slaves and did participate in its trade during their lives.  Or perhaps we should simply look at the time period and apply the societal norms and then make a judgment about their character and intentions.

Sources and for further reading:

**Eventually I will clean up my citations and reference list.  I know I am not using the proper format.  Maybe I should write an entry sometime about how to do historical research and documentation.

1 http://chrismcmillanhistory.com/?p=12

2 http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/leif-eriksson

3 http://edit.mountvernon.org/research-collections/digital-encyclopedia/article/george-washington-and-slavery/

4 http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-slavery

5 http://www.economist.com/node/5381851

6 http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/columbus1.asp

7 http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/columbus1.asp

8 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/people-places/columbus-confusion-about-the-new-world-140132422/

9 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/columbus-confusion-about-the-new-world-140132422/?no-ist

10 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/columbus-confusion-about-the-new-world-140132422/?no-ist

11 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/columbus-confusion-about-the-new-world-140132422/?no-ist

12 http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/index.php?type=explorersection&id=64

13 http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/index.php?type=explorersection&id=64

14 http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/index.php?type=explorersection&id=64

Blame the criminal, not the gun

I am a gun fan, not necessarily a nut, but certainly a fan. I love to shoot as often as I can and enjoy giving different guns a shot. Yes, the pun was intended. I appreciate the original intent of the 2nd Amendment. Feel free to read my last entry to see my research on that subject.

Before I get started, let me say that while I am an avid supporter of gun rights, I do appreciate the views of the other side, even if I do disagree with many of them. One of the wonderful things about this nation is we are free to disagree with each other and still be friends at the end of the day. Often times that is forgotten on people. I have friends who are not gun folks, it does not make them any less of a person in my eyes, it just means they view things differently than myself. Ultimately our values are shaped by our experiences in life. I have been shooting guns since I was about five or six. My first gun was a 20 gauge break open single shot shotgun given to me by my dad.  My second was a 20 gauge semi-auto shotgun, also from my dad.  (I still have and use both).   I have learned to appreciate and respect them. I enjoy shooting so much I managed to get Uncle Sam to pay me to do it for a little while.

First I want to deal with a little terminology that is often misquoted or misused by the media, probably because they have not done their homework on the subject. Most of these terms I will not use in this entry, but I just want to clarify some terminology for those uneducated on the subject.
1. Magazine. A magazine is the detachable box that allows a weapon to hold more ammunition before reloading. It can be detachable or internal. A magazine IS NOT a clip.
2. Clip. A clip is the brass strip with grooves in which a bullet’s rim is slid into place. This allows to quickly reload empty magazines by placing the fully loaded clip onto a speed loader, and then sliding the rounds into the magazine. I have seen 30 round magazines, but never a 30, 40, or even 100 round clip.  Media reports are so wrong on this it drives gun enthusiasts nuts.  If you want to argue a point with the other side, at least be able to discuss intelligently and have a working knowledge.   I would have loved to have seen clips and speedloaders as it would have saved me a lot of time in the military reloading magazines.
3. Assault weapon. An assault weapon is a military weapon that can fire on fully automatic. A person must have a Class III Federal license to own a fully automatic weapon. You can not just go to Walmart and buy one. You must go  through a Federal Firearms License dealer, or you can buy one privately. However, you still have to get the license to legally own this kind of firearm.
4. Automatic weapon. An automatic weapon is a firearm that fires multiple rounds with one, continuous squeeze of the trigger. When you release the trigger, the rounds stop firing. The exception to this is if the barrel gets too hot and continues to cook off rounds on the belt of the weapon. I have seen this happen before in a training scenario. Some of the automatic weapons our own military uses are the M4, M16A4, M249, M240, and the M2.
5. Semi-automatic. A semi-auto weapon is one that fires one shot each time the trigger is squeezed and does not need to be reloaded or have the bolt worked between shots. Law enforcement officers carry semi-automatic pistols. Most pistols made today are semi-automatic. Many rifles, such as the popular AR15 are semi-automatic. These are widely available to the general public. They work the same as a bolt-action rifle with an internal magazine. The only difference again is the bolt does not have to be worked manually to chamber a new round.
6. Silencer vs. suppressor. A firearm makes a loud noise because the bullet is pushed out of the barrel through an explosion. The bullet is going past the speed of sound, therefore there is a shockwave as it reaches that point. A silencer, to the best of my knowledge, does not exist. However, a suppressor does. A suppressor drops the sound considerably, but it does not reduce it to the point as if it is barely heard like in the movies, “twerp, twerp.” It sounds like a crack of a small-caliber rifle. The sound is mitigated through a series of baffles inside the “can” or suppressor. You must register the suppressor through a family or corporate trust. It is possible to register one individually, however, there is a mountain of paperwork and it can not be e-filed when registered as an individual.

In the wake of the shooting in Oregon, the call for gun control, and gun confiscation in some circles, is rearing its ugly head. I do not believe restricting firearms will stop any mass shootings, and will therefore write from that perspective. Looking at the violent crime statistics for cities like Chicago and Washington DC. proves there is a “higher” rate of violent crime than in most other areas. Both of those cities are known as high crime areas and for good reason. Note there has been a drop in murder per capita over the last 10 years from the data most immediately available. Source  These cities are known for their strict gun control laws.  I might point out the rate per 100,000 residents of violent crime is higher than more gun friendly areas.

Criminals will not and do not acknowledge laws because they are just that, criminals. Laws are for honest people, which most gun owners are. Guns are not the problem in America. Personal responsibility is the problem. Do we blame spoons for making people obese? Do we blame the pencil for misspelled words? Do we blame the vehicle for drunk driving? Do we blame the explosive in a suicide bombing? Why then do we blame the firearm? As a society we must blame the person, not the abused tool for the problem.

This leads me to the meat and potatoes. Why do we allow guns in our country? First, they have been a part of the United States since its inception. The nation was born from the barrel of a gun. Our nation was forged through independence, individuality, and a strong moral compass to do the right thing. The original intent of the 2nd Amendment was to protect people from the tyrannical government. It was designed to allow the people to protect the people and allow them to secure the blessing of liberty. Think of this as protecting “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Source While this quote is from the Declaration of Independence that actually gave no rights to anyone, it is important to understand Jefferson meant no people should be restricted from taking care of themselves.  This was foremost on the minds of the Founding Fathers when the wrote the Constitution 11 years later.

When the Constitution was written in 1787, the open carry of firearms was a part of life. People travelled and there was no police force. Most of the nation was agrarian. Help was miles away. Within cities, there were some organized law enforcement groups, but they were few and far between. Who would the people call on for help in the middle of the night or on the road in the middle of nowhere? When help was needed, and seconds counted, it was only minutes or hours away at best. The question now is, who has the duty to defend you and your family? Common sense would say the police. However, the Supreme Court of the United States would disagree. The 1981 Supreme Court case Warren v District of Columbia stated, “Courts have without exception concluded that when a municipality or other governmental entity undertakes to furnish police services, it assumes a duty only to the public at large and not to individual members of the community.” Source This is quoted in HR 2252 from 2011 in which the US House of Representatives attempted to pass a bill in order to allow the use firearms to protect a family and home. A similar bill was proposed in 2003 with HR 648. This ruling alone says the police have no responsibility to protect an individual, only the community as a whole. The proposed bills show the obvious foresight by some members of Congress that a person should be responsible for their own protection, not the state.

I have a hard time believing most people would have a problem with a weapon in another persons home. However, somebody might. That is fine with me if they do. They do not live under my roof and therefore have no say or affect in my plan for my family’s protection.

When the issue with firearms becomes biggest is in the public realm. Firearms are all over the place and most people are completely unaware of it. Concealed firearms are also expanding around the nation. In many circles, firearms are no longer even noticed because they are so commonplace. There is a certain sensitivity, or insensitivity to them. (Perhaps I am stumbling onto a future top of discussion here). If a person, or family, is out in public who will defend them? The Supreme Court has stated the police have no duty to defend an individual. What do you do if an individual decides to go on a shooting spree and you are caught in the crossfire? Obviously try to find cover in a safe spot and wait for the police to show. How long will that take? What if that crazed gunman decides to target your family? If you have no firearm and they do, you are already behind the eight ball in a life or death situation.

For most of us it never will and let us all be thankful for that. We should all be prepared, or at least allow for those who are willing, to be prepared. When driving down the road, we do not expect to have a flat tire, yet we have a spare just in case. We have insurance on our home in the event of a natural disaster. Would it not be prudent to have some sort of insurance and protection for our own lives when out in public? Trouble does not make an appointment so we must be prepared.

Some argue about the wholeness of gun free zones. In theory it is a great idea. In 1990, then Senator Joe Biden introduced the bill and it was eventually signed into law by George H.W. Bush. Yes, the same Joe Biden who said to fire a double-barreled shotgun through the door. Source I will not get into the absurdity of that today. Gun free zones were established to keep firearms away from public schools. (Private schools can generally make their own rules). I applaud the idea, but in reality it seems kind of crazy to advertise gun free zones.

The argument holds water that many mass shootings take place in gun free zones. For instance Newtown, Ft. Hood, Chattanooga, Columbine, the Washington Naval Yard, and Aurora come to the top of my mind. What if a legal weapon carrier had been in one of those locations to take action to defend themselves or others? Perhaps fewer lives would have been lost. Would it not be better to at least have tried to fight back with equal power? The police in every case were at best minutes away when seconds truly counted.

Recently I have read several articles claiming there is no evidence the shooters in question targeted gun free zones because they were gun free. That very well may be the case, but the end result is still the same. A gunman walked into a gun free zone with the intent to kill and went on a murder spree. Law abiding citizens were rendered defenseless because a feel good law, that is ignored by criminals, told them their gun was not allowed. Would a good guy with a gun have prevented a shooting? Maybe, maybe not. But at least the innocent could have had a chance.

With all of that said, what can be done? More legislation? More paperwork and more laws will not prevent shootings. Less access to firearms is not the answer. Gun owners are already tired of being told what, where, and when they can do things with their properly acquired and legal firearms. It simply is not fair to punish the law-abiding gun owner with restrictions on types of guns, magazines capacities, and waiting periods for purchases.

Many gun control advocates push for more background checks and mental health screenings. I can partly get on board with some of that. A person going into a gun store, or buying from a dealer at a gun show, must undergo a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Source A person can be denied purchasing from a dealer for any number of things. However, a transaction between private citizens is not monitored. However, how many criminals will truly show up at a gun show that is crawling with police and untold numbers of gun advocates? Criminals are going to buy their guns on the black market, or as seems to be the case lately, they are going to steal them. Theft is illegal, but again the criminals who wish to do harm do not care. Maybe we should start making heroin or methamphetamines illegal also. Laws on paper should prevent that. My point is, criminals will get their guns and they will do bad things with them. So who really gets hurt with legislation?

Focusing on mental health is the new buzz in the gun control world, and rightfully so. The push is for mental health screenings before a purchase. However, federal laws regarding health care are very tricky to navigate. Think HIPAA laws here. Also, this adds another step to ownership for law-abiding citizens. Some might argue it can save lives. It might, but why does the federal government need to know about a person’s health? Who would pay for the health care screenings? How many other rights does a person have to spend money in order to exercise them? I cannot think of any. As a law-abiding citizen and pro-gun advocate, I think this might be the thing to focus on, despite the resistance. However, the points about criminals owning guns still hold true. Only a few people would likely be caught through mental health checks. As I have pointed out, a large number of mass shootings have been done by people with mental health issues that simply stole their weapons from family members or obtained them through other illegal methods. I might also add several of them had noted mental issues and were still able to obtain weapons.

Ultimately, the gun issue is extremely difficult and both sides are admirably passionate on their beliefs. Looking at the information I have read, and a fraction of which I have presented, I believe it is up to the individual to defend themselves. The Supreme Court ruled in such a manner that should not be questioned. By virtue of the 10th Amendment, states have the right to make laws that are not already administered by the federal government. In most states, this allows for the right to conceal, and in some cases, open carry. The explicit right here is one of self-defense.

Nobody should be subject to having their life taken by a crazy person with the intent to kill them. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence of the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Source  Sometimes these unalienable rights must be protected from someone who wants to take them away. Free human beings should be able to protect themselves and their families from that threat. Protection might have to come from the barrel of a gun.

In the end, I am okay if a person is in favor of gun control. I will respect your wishes on your property. But do not take away the rights of legal gun owners to protect themselves and their loved ones because you might be afraid of something you do not completely understand. In the end, allow legal gun owners to protect themselves when there are no police officers around, one day you may thank them for it.

Sources and for further reading:






Updated article reporting a Harvard Study.  This happens to support my overall theories on self-defense and gun violence/deterence.