On guns and the Second Amendment.
Well, it’s happened again. Another “lone gunman” takes an instrument of death—the fetish of choice in the US—and kills 8 people at a shopping mall in Nebraska and then himself. The tragedy of this particular instance will be superceded only by it’s repeat, again and again, until the Second Amendment is finally interpreted for what it was meant for, a militia to guard against invasion. In other words, our armed forces. We’ll have to leave it to the Supreme Court to make that decision (doubtful in my sad opinion) but we can hope. My own experiences and thoughts about this matter have a long history.
Sometime around 1965, I was eating a hamburger with my father and brother in New York City when we heard a number of very loud pops! and, with most of the other restaurant patrons, ran out side to see what had happened. There on the ground lay an African-American man, visibly shot at least 4 times and leaning against a fire hydrant, bleeding profusely. I was 6 years old.
As a child, I remember my father, a Navy veteran of WW2, argue passionately against the Vietnam War and the nuttiness of guns in everyone’s possession. He was no shrinking violet, mind you. He had killed and helped others kill. But because he had seen what guns and violence do (serving a couple years of Occupation Duty in Japan afterwards) he hated it all.
In Miami many years later, where my parents had moved us to escape from drugs and violence (!) as a teen I was near several terrible shootouts that were part of a wave of violence associated with what was then called the “cocaine cowboys”. The last time I ever hitchhiked, I was with a friend who had sat in the front passenger seat while I sat behind the driver who picked us up. His car was a Lincoln Continental and we presumed he was a drug dealer, which we suspected would be a “safe” ride actually. Under the driver’s seat was a box, which held a visibly plain pistol. “Is this r-r-real?” I asked the driver. “Oh yeah” he replied. “Can I look at it?” I asked, as he pulled up to a red light.” “Sure” he said, and I lifted it up at which point he turned around and said, leaning back “Here, let me show you something”--and without a moment’s hesitation, he took the gun from my hand, pressed it to my head and pulled the trigger. CLICK. Nothing. I couldn’t speak. I carried on as usual that day. But I have not once forgotten that moment.
There have been a few articles of late, reflecting on the incongruity between what appears to be a pervasive and rising frustration with USAmerican political life, and the seeming lack of effort made by most people to rectify this sad state of affairs. Complaints that ”everybody I know hates the way things are but it seems no one is doing anything” or variants of this theme abound.
Because of the Supreme Court’s agreement to review a case which has implications for gun rights supporters, gun control advocates and Constitutional scholars alike, a surge of writing has appeared, surprisingly in the Left press, extolling or subtly supporting the anachronistic and repeatedly misinterpreted Second Amendment “right to keep and bear arms” as enshrined in the US Constitution. While many would argue that messing with the Constitution can be a dangerous thing, others are arguing that, given the execrable performance of our recent administrations, and the very real challenges posed to democracy, retaining that Second Amendment seems a necessary, just-in-case insurance policy should things get worse and a “revolution” is needed yet again.
But I think not.
Surely, we have not forgotten that perhaps the most successful social revolutions of the last hundred years, Gandhi’s campaign for Indian independence and Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights movement were both non-violent resistances to terrible structural violence--and they won. Oh, there were flaws in both movements and neither has fully completed their great promise, but it was precisely those promises, of building a new way forward, away from the violence that had brought us to those sad places in both cases, that makes those movements rise above almost anything we can morally match today.
But yet...it’s those guns.
Perhaps it’s our Wild West mentality. Perhaps we have enshrined cowboy violence into our hearts because we know how much quicker it is to kill one’s opponent than to find a way to transform them so that together we both can move forward, liberated and get on with our lives as neighbors. I don’t have an easy answer. But guns are certainly not one of them.
Europe has seen perhaps more violence in the past one hundred years than any place on earth. But the people in all those countries, whose elderly remember the last World War and (and a few the first one still) appear to have understood something Americans still don’t. That the scale of violence in war makes Hell on earth. That the depths of depravity that raw, gun centered power brings, will always kill and eat at the souls of men and women, producing a destruction that knows no internal or external boundaries. Yes, there remain ethnic tensions, racism, bullies and potential tyrants among the Europeans. But centuries of war have made diplomacy and talk, argumentation and discussion far more important and honorable than the resort to violence. Nobody wants “to go there.” And most of the people don’t “keep and bear arms.”
Everywhere I travel in Europe I walk differently than just about anywhere I travel in the States. The truth is, I have never felt freer than when I was not in the United States. Free from this pervasive fear that some random act of violence, like what happened in Nebraska this week, might happen to me or somewhere close enough to me to affect me. A stray bullet fired on the street, a pissed off car driver shooting at another over some perceived slight, a convenience store hold up gone wild, for example. When I visit the US twice yearly, I notice how much fear is seen in the average street, how much tension and anxiety pervade even the simple exchanges that take place in the dark and I later read how often those kinds of exchanges turn to violence because one or both parties were armed.
Now we see States lobbying for schoolteachers and possibly even students to be allowed to take weapons to school? What kind of madness is that? When will the NRA stop? When every single USAmerican has a gun and wears it on their hip? Will that be enough? And what is it about putative Leftists who support this insanity? When did we stop envisioning (and actively working towards) a world without violence instead of accommodating ourselves to the macho strut of some High Noon-ish fantasies?
Yet, what the apologists for the US´s most bizarre fetish miss is that no revolution is ever legal. When Americans defied the British, one can be sure that having personal arms ensured greater success on the battlefield, (all lived by farming and or hunting) yet no one would suggest that what they were doing was legal. It was, in fact, a crime punishable by death. But they won, because they stuck together. Not simply because they had guns. When peasants in Okinawa were forbidden weapons, the development of unarmed combat was introduced to the world. It didn’t stop them from resisting Japanese colonialism. Look at Vietnam. The greatest military power on earth subjected those people to unimaginable privation and vast destruction, but outgunned, completely out-armed they prevailed. Why? Because they stood together. Look at Iraq today. There is regular talk of how the US´s military is strained beyond any sustaining point and, short of killing every single person there, no one really thinks (despite all politically expedient rhetoric aside) the US will “succeed” there. Why? Because despite some visceral hatred for each other, nobody likes an occupier. And they will stick together to drive them out. They always will. The French in Algeria, the Bolivians at Cochabamba, the list is endless. When people stick together, changes occur.