07 September 2012

Guns and Americans

I was supposed to write this post months ago. A gun debate cropped up on my facebook page over my "freedoms and rights" blog post that needed tending to. But on the eve of my research into the topic, came the Auroura theater massacre and I kept seeing my children's faces in place of six-year-old Veronica Moser, smiling over her ice cream cone. Instantaneous gun-nuttery, both pro and anti, ensued before Veronica's mother even knew her child was dead. Although I was able to read on about constitutional gun law history and the American militia, I din't have the heart to delve into modern gun philosophy. It would have to wait a while. And the shootings had only begun.

I apologize for my summaries and general lack of enthusiasm. My original post citing court cases, individual and collective gun rights, abolition and Federalism versus Anti-Federalism was deleted by accident and, well, frankly I'm no longer enthused.... anyway....

So here we are, caught up in the same old bullshit. Since the founding of America, lawmakers have had to strike the balance between the right to defend one's country and one's self from tyranny or harm with wisely not wanting to arm the masses, comprised largely of uneducated jackanapes. There has ALWAYS been a struggle between the freedom to defend yourself with arms and the freedom from having to defend yourself against an armed populace. Yes, folks, carrying a weapon around was no 'right,' even from day one when Militias were king.

Let's start out in Revolutionary times, because everyone gets this wrong. Toting a gun anywhere else but a muster or a hunting trip was unheard of. Carrying a weapon for personal protection at the dawn of America was considered unseemly and antagonistic. Carrying a concealed weapon was the utmost in cowardice and vilified by all corners of society and political leanings. You were always protected under common law to be able to use deadly force if there was no other recourse or means of escape but at this point in time, the idea of a weapon as generic self-defense tool was preposterous and therefore, largely ignored.

What was not ignored was the need to bear arms in service of the Militia. Which, by the way, was just as much of a societal obligation to defend your country (i.e. unless you were a Quaker, it's your duty to join and pay dues) as it was a means of defense from tyranny by your own government. As our leaders were laying the foundation for our new country, they had to weigh the desire for personal liberty with the need for cooperation to form what we call "a society." They had to begin hashing out whether America was going to be a bunch of self-policed states and localities that do their own thing, or one coalesced force, capable of becoming a world power and defending itself from larger and more experienced empires. Because, let's be honest, no one is defending a swath of land as big as the United States with a few hundred disorganized groups of civilians with rifles. Although the Militia helped us win our war for independence, they were becoming a liability in that they did not like having to be called by the government. Sometimes they refused to muster in protest. They were involved in riots and mob scenes, making political statements against our fledgling government and sometimes becoming known more as glorified drinking clubs. Not only that, but enlistment periods were short, turnover was big and the lands did not get tended to when the men were away. George Washington was having none of this mess. With pressures from Britain and the Native Americans, plus France not being the truest ally, he wanted a real army or we'd all be back to square one.

On the other hand, fear of tyranny was real and the people should not quietly obey a government they find unjust or morally objectionable. The problem is everyone will interpret what is unjust or morally objectionable in a different way. And, again, people tend to have a poor grasp of basic science and critical thinking skills as well as a propensity to be led by their emotions. So the Militia really ran the gamut between it's ideal of community cornerstone where respectable fathers and sons shared sacred wisdom, traditions, survival skills, military tactics and notions of  informed liberty... to drunk jag offs having bonfire parties, shooting cans and bitching about the new gub'mint. Each group made different political statements from nobly protesting unfair taxation and standing up for their locality to stupid torch waving riots and racist lynch mobs. Remember, we're human beings. Ideals are one thing, but reality quite another. So was the Militia, the good, the bad and the ugly. Federalism and Anti-Federalism ensued.

And, just like we do today, our founding fathers and mothers and uncles and aunts and cousins etc., created necessary laws, then used and twisted those laws to defend their own agendas for both good and bad. Personal self defense was always lauded and vilified, depending on whether people lived or died by the new revolver and bowie knife fads, so on and so forth until the present. If you do not understand that both protection with arms and protection from arms are equal struggles we must continually balance, there is no hope for you to fully grasp the situation. And this is why we have NRA spouting idiots who think they are fucking Boondock Saints and naive hippies who think we simply have to send all weapons on a rocket into the sun and no one will ever be the victim of violence again.

Then there are all the confounding correlations, incorrectly interpreted statistics, leaps of conclusion and cherry-picked percentages touted, usually by people who use the word TRUTH in caps. My favorite is the drop in crime graphs that are correlated to the loosening of gun restrictions in certain states. Of course, the bigger picture, what economists tell us, is the drop in crime was simply a matter of increase in incarceration in the early and mid nineties, along with a drop in crack usage. Not only that, but not every state gives the same 'slam-dunk' data and those graphs are often left out. On the other hand, the sheer number of gun related deaths are emblazoned across some websites to scare the crap out of white people in already safe neighborhoods, who now think there are lunatics with assault rifles behind every pristine topiary. Both sides tout how they do it in (insert European country), depending on their level of gun rights and regulations. It is so tiring.

More troublesome to me is the mentality that goes along with American gun culture. If you want to have all these guns and less violence, you cannot have an individualistic philosophy and expect it to work. If you want less violence, you need more education, opportunity, and real solutions to our country's illegal drug problem. You need a society that takes care of the mentally ill and has social programs in place to help people in abusive situations. You need to close the disparity between poverty and wealth. Most of all, you must be involved in your government, your community and be informed. But gun nuts don't want any of that shit. It's every man for himself, mothafuckas, and if you come near me, I'll shoot you. No one serves their community. They read screeds on the internet and get all worked up and fearful about boogeymen that don't exist. They don't know their neighbors. They're terrified in their fancy neighborhoods and singing the praises of firearm ownership, meanwhile kids are getting shot in the head all the time while walking to school on the South Side from legally purchased suburban guns that get stolen, sold or passed off, because their blighted forgotten and neglected streets are a battleground over drugs and gang affiliation that hundreds of years of institutionalized racism caused. But no one wants to address that, either. Everyone talks about bootstraps, but it's often the people who have rows of designer boots in their walk-in closets who expect everyone to pull themselves up.

More gun restrictions won't stop the whackos. But they can make it harder for criminals to own guns and mow dozens of people down in one clip. It can track guns, owners, flag mental illness and criminal activity. Less gun restrictions won't cause everyone to immediately kill each other, but they surely won't prevent all theft, muggings and rapes, via everyone's newfound inner John Wayne.

What's missing in our current gun dialogue is a sense of participation and communal spirit that leads to trust, cooperation and civic responsibility, like back when the militia was an obligation that you paid money into, not just some founding father fantasy of everyone fighting government oppression (but not oppression against minorities, women, other religions, no religion, or anyone else that isn't you.) Also, being an active member of your community and government would make everyone less fearful of it's power. This would go a long way in reducing fear mongering, improbable conspiracy theory and shitty lobbyists whipping uneducated folks into a lather.

We are part of a larger society and as such, we must have regulated liberty. It's as simple as that. Otherwise, it's nothing but a selfishly motivated anarchy and ain't no great nation rising out of that nonsense.

1 comment:

cath c said...

amen. praise elvis and kwan yin.