DREAMIN’ OF THEM GOOD OLD DAYS

30 07 2010

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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!.”