No Way to Live

Since the Connecticut school shooting, there have been many arguments about guns and gun control on television, on the Internet and in homes across the country. The NRA has been silent, claiming they are waiting for more facts about the case to come out, and still claiming that even though it’s the Monday after, and a lot has already come out. NRA supporters have not, however, remained silent, and continued to spread their talking points:

  • more people die in car accidents–not so true anymore
  • guns save lives–never true
  • the Second Amendment protects all gun ownership–no and I’ll give you more on this later
  • the founding fathers said so–no they didn’t
  • gun control does not work–again, not true
  • all we need is more gun education–at best, that only helps when the people with the guns do not want to use them, and many feel that would glamorize guns.

Gun advocates bottom line is that more guns in a gun saturated society will eliminate gun risk. They also argue that there is a some  acceptable level of dead first graders that we have not yet crossed–that these deaths are an acceptable cost of protecting gun rights. Do you believe these arguments make sense? If so, why when so much that we know counters these arguments?

Some people have said the only discussion worth having after this shooting is one about mental illness. I agree that mental illness is a very important issue that needs to be discussed. However, in the case of Sandy Hook, mental illness was not the only issue. Despite the very moving article I am Adam Lanza’s Mother about one mom’s struggle with her still undiagnosed son (possible Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder), that’s not the whole story in Connecticut.

It now appears that Nancy Lanza herself was a survivalist or prepper as they now call it. She was preparing for the end of civilized society. She believed that economic upheaval would cause shortages and dangers, and stocked food, water and weapons to protect her family. We’ll never know what she told Adam or why he took her guns, shot her and left for a grade school.

Apparently, there are a lot of preppers these days. Some of this is just another extreme reaction to the numerous end of world predictions that have gone on for hundreds of years, but a lot of it is new. Many people, egged on by religious zealots, and extremist right-wing media outlets, pundits and websites, have been convinced that the election, and now re-election, of Barack Obama is a reason to stockpile weapons. The societal disconnect that causes people to stockpile, and specifically stockpile weapons, has increased since the shooting last Friday. Gun sales have since soared. We are left to wonder what people with his point of view are thinking or planning. Why would we want to arm them?

Some claim the survivalists and preppers only want to protect themselves as allowed, or even commanded by the U.S. Constitution. They say that the Second Amendment guarantees gun freedom. If that’s true, why can the government prevent a person from bringing a gun into a government building, or on an airplane? It’s not true, and we already have some constitutional gun control–even under some very skimpy construction of the Constitution. You are searched for guns every time you go into a courthouse, statehouse or federal building. Is it only because the legislators and judges don’t want to fight the battles they find acceptable for a first and second grade class?

However, a true reading of the Second Amendment does not necessarily require such a limited ruling. The Second Amendment says this:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Many people want to ignore the first phrase about the “well regulated militia”. When interpreting the Second Amendment, however, you are supposed to interpret it as any law would be interpreted. There are rules of statutory construction. When interpreting a law, an interpretation that renders a portion meaningless is disfavored. The words “well regulated militia” are not to be ignored.

You’re also supposed to look at the context of a law. In 1788-1789, when the Bill of Rights was written and debated, the country was focused on its recent war with Great Britain, and the militias that helped with the war effort. The post-war debate was whether these militias were adequate to protect the country or was a regular army necessary, or preferable. George Washington, as the General of the regular Continental Army, experienced working with the rag-tag, untrained militias during the Revolution, felt the militias were dangerous, and did more harm than good. The matter was eventually settled in the U.S. Congress by the passage of laws regulating the militias–to get them under the wing of the Army, mandate uniform skills, training and weapons, and create a chain of command. The purpose of the Second Amendment was not to protect the individual’s right to commit mass murder, but to make it possible for colonies/states to put together reasonably functional militias, and make sure they were well regulated.

As a side note, James Madison found the militias to be a disaster when they failed to provide any sort of protection from the British during the War of 1812. After that, the regular army became the primary military body in the country.

When they’re not pointing to an incorrect interpretation of the U.S. founding, or U.S. Constitution, gun advocates point to a romanticized version of the Old West, but it’s not altogether true. Right after the Civil War, and during the Indian wars, guns were more common, but by the 1880s, most cowboys were not heavily armed. Some were not armed at all. Ranch bosses didn’t like heavily armed hands–too much trouble. Small western towns often had gun checks because they didn’t want drunken cowboys shooting up the place. There were gunfighters (loathed by residents of the west)  and target shooters in western shows (who we think of when we think of the Old West), but for the average person, guns were inconvenient and expensive. The weapons, ammo, and required paraphernalia were heavy and bulky. A loaded gun, ready to shoot, was very dangerous during a bumpy horse or carriage ride, so no one would have carried one around just for potential protection. Also, average farmers, farm hands and cowboys could not afford lots of guns and ammo. The average gun of the time cost several months of cowboy pay, and farmers had a lot of other expenses. These people were  not part of an affluent middle class. There was no affluent middle class as there was no labor, employment or financial regulation, and up until the late mid nineteenth century slavery, and post-slavery black unemployment, and the panics of the post Civil War era kept wages and crop prices low.

All history taken into account, we live in the modern era. Gun advocates want us to live in some modern automatic and super charged, bizarro version the Gunfight at the OK Corral, the movie version where no one sees the blood. The solution to gun violence is more guns– arm everybody with automatic weapons–except in the buildings where the gun laws are made–and let everyone shoot it out. Teachers, store clerks, homeowners, passers by, and school children are supposed to take the law into their own hands, and dispense street justice. If you or your child gets in the way, it’s a cost of doing business. Not everyone is going to be a good and steady shots with good judgment, but a gun class or two will fix that, won’t it? To top it all off, it’s conceal carry in most places, so no one ever knows who has a gun.

And it doesn’t end there because with all the concealed weapons around, the police argue for military hardware worthy of an elite military squad. We’re left with cops using that equipment against peaceful protesters, tear gassing students, and tasing unarmed young men, grandmas and pregnant women because, after all, with any stray movement, they could be pulling out a gun.

The gun advocate’s vision for this country is the street-level, and concealed, version of mutual deterrence, the nuclear policy of the 1950s and 1960. That policy led to great ideas like duck and cover, if by great you mean greatly stupid, and unhelpful. Now there are so many nuclear weapons left over that cannot be easily eliminated that we have to worry about terrorists and rogue nations getting ahold of one of them, because one is all they would need.

And, alll this gets even worse because gun advocates are really telling us that, unless we want to be in automatic weapon  gunfight with any person who passes the very limited gun ownership requirements–or simply takes the gun from their mother, we should stay in our homes, stay out of malls, out of  movie theaters, out of libraries, out of meeting halls, out of schools. Sounds more like a good way to control people than the way of a free people. They want us to live under the threat of automatic weapons in every aspect of our lives, but just like the Founding Fathers who struggled with the unhelpful and dangerous militias, the western ranch bosses and small western town officials who struggled with armed drunken cowboys and lawless gunfighters, and nuclear powers that struggle with how to safely get rid of their warheads, we know that living at the business end of a deadly weapon is no way to live.

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