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GUNS AND RIGHTS December 24, 2012

Posted by wmmbb in Nonviolence, Social Environment, Terrorism Issues.

Following the appalling massacre of school children and their teachers, who selflessly sought to protect them, in Connecticut, the  National Rifle Association has unilaterally declared a ban on “semi-automatic assault weapons” and ammunition must not be considered.

These measures were described as crazy. A recommendation, suggested by the NRA, was to have a register of the certified insane, which in there view was an unproblematic suggestion. It is an interesting illustration of how scapegoating works. We have a real problem, one capable of rational, but perhaps not immediate solution, so lets characterize another group of people, with no individual agency, as the incarnation of evil. If we can remove them and the problem they represent, the disturbance will be settled.

Judy Woodruff at PBS News Hour provides the balance of four views:

As in all things American we begin to hear the underlying racist framing of the world and reality. The plague of deaths and the rate of imprisonment of young African-American males in poor neighbourhoods of large cities is not an issue. I suppose that since there cannot be by definition any “good guys”, “bad guys” can reign supreme.

Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, declares that “guns are a tool”. A tool like a knife, a hammer, or a chainsaw. What he omits is the sole purpose of a military gun is to kill people, and as many as possible. It is more a weapon of murder, than a means of self defence, and the evidence seems to be, not unexpectedly, such weapons are likely to cause harm to their owners and immediate family.

Furthermore, such a weapon is useless without ammunition and training. The latter is important, and I have not seen it described. It would seem that is the important connection with with the violent culture of the media and video games. The effect on alienated and isolated people caught in a gun technology that targets and dehumanizes within a set of cultural norms is not a surprise. It is notable that the US Military, where the process is systematic, more people died from suicide than combat.

The principle here is clear: violence works for the powerful, not the powerless. When the powerless assert power that might threaten the social power structure they will be met by violence, regardless of whether violent or nonviolent protest is deployed. As is well known, but seldom stated, violence creates violence. We have to use technology to feed the fury created in the lower brain amygdala and related areas, rather than develop frontal lobe processing.

Meanwhile, the next gun massacre that captures the media spotlight, and it subsequent inaction in the face of the ongoing tragedy in the US, is certain. Money rules over the Presidency and the Congress. Leadership would help but it will not be forthcoming, on this or any other issue.

The US Constitution and specifically the Bill of Rights distinguishes them from other countries, even Common Law ones, such as the UK and Australia. Robert Parry looks at the right to bear arms and its historical framing. He argues that is “a false historical narrative that Founders wanted an armed American public that could fight its own Government”. He writes:

The Second Amendment dealt with concerns about “security” and the need for trained militias to ensure what the Constitution called “domestic Tranquility.” There was also hesitancy among many Framers about the costs and risks from a large standing army, thus making militias composed of citizens an attractive alternative.

So, the Second Amendment read: “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.” Contrary to some current right-wing fantasies about the Framers wanting to encourage popular uprisings over grievances, the language of the amendment is clearly aimed at maintaining order within the country.

That point was driven home by the actions of the Second Congress amid another uprising which erupted in 1791 in western Pennsylvania. This anti-tax revolt, known as the Whiskey Rebellion, prompted Congress in 1792 to expand on the idea of “a well-regulated militia” by passing the Militia Acts which required all military-age white males to obtain their own muskets and equipment for service in militias.

In 1794, President Washington, who was determined to demonstrate the young government’s resolve, led a combined force of state militias against the Whiskey rebels. Their revolt soon collapsed and order was restored, demonstrating how the Second Amendment helped serve the government in maintaining “security,” as the Amendment says.

Beyond this clear historical record – that the Framers’ intent was to create security for the new Republic, not promote armed rebellions – there is also the simple logic that the Framers represented the young nation’s aristocracy. Many, like Washington, owned vast tracts of land. They recognized that a strong central government and domestic tranquility were in their economic interests.

So, it would be counterintuitive – as well as anti historical – to believe that Madison and Washington wanted to arm the population so the discontented could resist the constitutionally elected government. In reality, the Framers wanted to arm the people – at least the white males – so uprisings, whether economic clashes like Shays’ Rebellion, anti-tax protests like the Whiskey Rebellion, attacks by Native Americans or slave revolts, could be repulsed.

Closer to home and in retrospect, John Howard’s role in effecting a ban of guns, with strong bipartisan and public support, following Port Arthur, appears more commendable. In this case, we do not merely feel safer, we are safer, including less deaths due to suicide. One of my neighbours observed at the time of a thankfully unsuccessful attempt at suicide, that he was not thinking straight. Many of us can be at times overwhelmed by the experience of grief and anger. Guns are more likely to be instruments of finality. We all might be better able to recognize the predisposing symptoms, such as severe depression, although they are not always easy to deal with.

The gun issue has not gone away. The NSW Government has apparently decided to allow private shooters into National Parks, despite departmental advice that risk the lives of park visitors. I hope,even forlornly, that such decisions are made only after due diligence. Much like the opening of water catchment areas to coal steam gas drilling below the water table this does not appear to be the case. Ideology, framed for popular consumption as them versus us, rules.



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