30 07 2010


Or, “I Ain’t a Bum As Long As I Got My Gun!”


Recently I was asked to explain why I’m against the notion that everyone should be able to bear arms just as much as he pleases.

Happy to Oblige.


First, the Second Amendment

The language of the 2nd amendment explains itself:

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.

It the only amendment that has this characteristic. That fact suggests very strongly that the right being given was, just as the language says, only for the purpose of making a “well-regulated militia” possible. The early USA had no standing army. It had to have such a militia in order to have any military capability at all. Therefore a rational reading of the 2nd amendment would be, “As long as you’re a member of the national militia you have a right to keep and bear arms”. This is how the amendment was read by the Supreme Court for many decades. The recent decision of the Supremes that the right to bear arms extends to everyone under every condition is as inexplicable, under the plain terms of the amendment, as the recent decision of the Supremes that corporations, being “persons” under law, have a right to spend unlimited money on elections.

Both those decisions are only explicable as telltale manifestations of “judicial activism”, right-wing variety.


Second, What Gun Ownership Costs Society

Widespread gun-owning is incredibly costly to this society. The murder rate here is between three and four times that of Britain, where gun ownership is tightly controlled.* The widespread availability of guns has produced a brand new all-American cultural rite: “going postal”. When you decide that you’ve been intolerably “done wrong”, usually by your place of work, you, after brooding over that mistreatment sufficiently, can just grab your gun and go a-shooting. It happens all the time.**

Further, our police are trigger-happy out of the knowledge that anyone at all they attempt to collar may have a gun; and in public buildings and events we’re subjected to intrusive, burdensome, and often incredibly expensive “security” procedures and limitations — both largely due to widespread exercise of the 2nd amendment right.


We Want Our Guns Anyway, Damn it!

Oh really?

All this contorting of the Second Amendment and ignoring of blood and money wasted! For what, exactly?

…So a bunch of guys who have guns tangled up in their sense of their own manhood due to having been taken hunting a lot by their dads can continue to feel that warm manly glow as they loll in their recliners? Does that REALLY seem enough to justify all the social ills of gun ownership to you?

…Or is it so we can rebel against the gov’mnt if need be? Hmmmm…. Do you think our brave American revolutionaries could ever prevail against all those tanks, etc. that our bloated military now has? Guess not, huh? So why incur the immense social cost of unrestricted gun ownership then?

People who live in the country need guns to shoot varmints and defend themselves from unwelcome criminal visitors.  When most of America was rural, most people needed guns for the above reasons and, more importantly, to put meat on the table or fight Indians.  Understandably those folks of the 17th through early 20th Century would have gotten very mad at the thought of losing their guns. But today most of America is urban or suburban, and most people — RATIONALLY speaking — no longer need guns. Long guns are now only the toys of occasional hunters. Handguns, as toys, have even less important uses, and, as tools, are only good for killing people. Ordinary people very seldom NEED to kill people. They may think they might someday have that need, but common sense tells us that they almost certainly won’t. So why are a vociferous and thoroughly lobbied-up minority perpetually screaming about the need to protect gun ownership in the USA of this new century?

Wild passion in defense of a thing that has little real value is a tell-tale sign that that thing is not cherished for itself, but as a symbol of something else. And most of the “save our guns” brouhaha in America today does come from a pretty small group of right-wing, very passionate activists who have made this their make-or-break issue.

Ultimately, I think they’ve done THAT because the USA has gone kind of nuts over the last three decades. Lots of us have long been and remain a bit crazed from mourning something wonderful that’s we can now increasingly see is lost beyond redemption. For many generations, we Americans were all unusually “free”, due to having a frontier we could go live on whenever we found we didn’t like society much anymore.  It was the very best kind of freedom too, because the free frontier was situated right next door to civilization; so if you went adventuring there it wasn’t like being irrevocably stuck in a trackless wilderness or something. For over 200 years all Americans were free every day, in principle, to decide anew which way of life they really liked better, gun-totin’ self reliance, or well-policed social order, and to go live where they could live that way.***

Now America has unquestionably lost that frontier freedom for good. Every year that passes it becomes clearer that this is a modern urban society, and there’s no part of the country in which to escape its limitations and demands anymore. Furthermore, ever since around 1980 a brand new loss of a similar weight has loomed in the lives of many of us. The social position and income of working class and lower middle class people — the majority of Americans — has been declining relative to the rest. ****  Many members of that big group of our folks have a great deal of emotion invested in the notion that they are free, independent individuals who need no economic or other help from any quarter. Yet in fact they are mostly  getting poorer every year, and every year they seem to be hemmed in by more rules-on-top-of-rules, at work and elsewhere, that they must obey, on pain of an economic or legal whippin’.

A human brain can’t long endure this degree of conflict between its sense of self and the reality of the society around it. So lots of the traditional guys do what is within their power to do about this unique cognitive dissonance that haunts modern America: They cling to SYMBOLS of the old frontier freedom — the most powerful by far being GUNS — in order to be able to  go on denying the fact of their permanent sentence to the grueling daily labor of negotiating their way through a highly complex society that is slowly abandoning them.



* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_rates

** See The Significance of the Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Jackson_Turner

* Here’s the most recent going postal incident, which happened just 4 days after this blog post was entered: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/nyregion/04shooting.html?_r=1&hp

***See this July 30, 2010 article in the Financial Times http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1a8a5cb2-9ab2-11df-87e6-00144feab49a.html

or see my earlier post “So THAT’S Why We Both Have to Work!.”


7 08 2009




How many stories like the one in the url above have you read or heard about over the last 20 years? Think back. The first case I remember where a “disturbed” guy set out to shoot a lot of strangers was back in the 1966 — the “Texas Tower” incident at the University of Texas in Austin, in which a man on top of a high building with a high-powered rifle killed 17 and wounded 31 innocent people before he was stopped.

I remember how surprised and horrified all us high school kids were  — and the teachers even more so. After we’d all talked it to death for a few weeks we decided it was an amazingly unique awful thing that would never happen again, and we forgot about it.

The joke was on us. Today no-one (at least no-one who is awake to the world around him) is surprised, by these shoot-em-up events, which seem to happen more frequently each year.*

Today, in fact, when life gets so infuriating you just can’t stand it any more, you need not always just decently kill yourself. There was never any real satisfaction in that traditional form of relief anyway — at best it merely freed the angry brooder from the burden of continuing to be his implacably resentful self.

Now, luckily for the terminally disaffected, the means to go far beyond suicide and wreak real revenge on the unsatisfactory world are available everywhere. Your right to access those means is jealously guarded by the National Rifle Association, and by millions of “traditional males”, who would never think of restricting the availability of this toy of theirs in order to frustrate a relatively few multi-murderers.

Since it is too obvious to need stating that the ready availability of guns in the USA, due to their ability to kill a satisfyingly large number of folks quickly from a distance, is probably going to increase the number and success of rage-induced massacres here, I have to assume that the smarter gun lovers take note of this and then routinely say, in essence, “Hey, those [strangers’] lives are the price we pay for freedom!”

It’s a price that will inevitably grow over time. Over the last forty years I’ve watched the gun multi-murder become an established part of American culture. We even have a special term for it, “going postal.” I wonder how high the kills-per-year numbers will have to get before the traditionalists will let something be done about it?**

And, in the meantime, will growing fear of such rage events gradually turn our schools, offices, and now health clubs into armed fortresses? Guards are everywhere already, including where I work. And my recently-constructed office building is laid out so you have to swipe your keycard at two different doors to get from outside to in. The place is a prison turned inside out, and you can’t help but feel like a prisoner as you go about your business there.  Meanwhile on the streets, policepersons walk around on hair triggers always — with predictable results.

To me it all looks a lot like the days of the Cold War, when the best defense was a good offense. Both sides piled up more and more weapons, but somehow neither America nor Russia ever felt any more secure. Will the mounting misery and irritation of our new, domestic cold war always just be dismissed as the “price paid for freedom”?  Or will it instead finally be the death of one of our most basic freedoms, the freedom to move about in the world unchallenged by authority?


*Here’s a site that shows the number of “mass” (victim death count of ten or more) murders for the years 1948 through 2007:


The page has a point of view, but the data are straightforward, and I doubt that they have fudged the numbers.

I’ve been unable to find any site that tabulated all multi-murder incidents over time, including incidents with a death toll of less than 10.

**Hint: It’s taken seventy years for the ever-increasing death and suffering caused in the USA by another of our traditional American practices to just POSSIBLY be about to end in reform at last. How many lives have been destroyed by our you-get-what-you-pay-for health care over all those years?