Monday, March 25, 2013

March 24, 2013
Fox News has added to the inventory of absurd excuses to arm everyone. During a discussion with Lou Dobbs on March 22,[38] someone named Angela McGlowan blurted, "What scares the hell out of me is that we have a president . . . that wants to take away our guns, but yet he wants to attack Iran and Syria. So if they come and attack us here, we don’t have the right to bear arms under this Obama administration, if he gets his way." Leaving aside the lack of any program, intent or ability to take away guns and the absence of any expressed desire to attack Syria or Iran, how does she suppose that Syrians and Iranians are going to come here, and do so in a manner that they can be defeated by small-arms fire by civilians?
Did Dobbs point out those small flaws in her argument? Hardly; he agreed and added his form of paranoia: "We’re told by Homeland Security that there are already agents of Al Qaeda here working in this country. Why in the world would you not want to make certain that all American citizens were armed and prepared?" Does he anticipate that al Qaeda will attack his house? Or does he plan to march up and down in front of the nearest power plant?
Dobbs went on to say that his notion that all American should be armed is a "right" enjoyed in Israel, and that we should have the same right. Another panelist claimed that a number of terrorist attacks in Israel have been stopped by private citizens with firearms. If so, a few of those citizens have been very active. Access to firearms reportedly is strictly limited in Israel,[39] and the notion that all Israeli civilians are armed, or that more are armed than here, or even that many are armed, is way off the mark: the US is first in the world in per capita private gun ownership; Israel, which faces real, not imagined terrorists, in one listing is tied for 79th.[40] Whatever the exact number, Israel doesn’t provide us with an excuse.
If gun nuts and others who suspect plots, fear the government, and think that they live in the less-civilized regions of the nineteenth century weren’t provided with daily reassurance that their warped views make sense, they might wake up or at least subside.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17, 2013
The opposition to gun control is baffling and, at least in most of its manifestations, it seems irrational and hysterical. It makes no sense too oppose such measures as background checks and an assault weapons ban when the potential for harm is so obvious, and the proposed restrictions are so limited. Some of the arguments for gun possession are so ludicrous that they would be amusing if not so dangerous, such as self-defense against attacks by turkeys [33] or protecting a church service from disruption by Mexicans.[34] Others are less silly, but no more persuasive. Before looking at them, let’s consider the alleged basis for opposition.
The constitution preserves the right to "bear arms," almost certainly a military reference. It makes that focus clear: "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." Militias no longer are the first line of defense, so the Amendment, properly interpreted, may be largely obsolete and meaningless. (That would not be unique: the Third Amendment, against quartering troops, is covered in dust). However, the Supreme Court, in its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller , gave it new life, in the process getting the intent and meaning entirely wrong and transforming its impact.
Ignoring precedent, logic, grammar and common sense, the Court, through the alleged originalist Justice Scalia, found that the reference to militia duty is irrelevant and that the Second Amendment instead protects possession of guns in the home for self defense. To reach that result, the Court had to overrule U.S. v. Miller , which held in 1939 that the Amendment did not protect non-militia possession. The Miller Court, almost laboring the obvious, had ruled: "With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces [militias], the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view." Apart from encouraging the anti-control forces, Heller seems to have had little effect on their rhetoric; they still rely on the militia reference when that suits, and go far beyond demanding guns in the home for self defense.
Stand-your-ground laws, enacted in many states, expand the perimeter of self-defense, essentially sanctioning lethal force anywhere one is menaced, or claims to have been. Such laws are an invitation to overreaction, irresponsibility or just plain execution; the first two are illustrated by the Trayvon Martin case. Self-protection also escalates into protecting others, but often under conditions which may create more danger than is avoided. Wayne LaPierre’s argument that "gun-free zones" such as schools should be converted into armed camps is an example. South Dakota now has enacted legislation authorizing teachers and staff to carry firearms in their schools, although the law apparently allows school districts to opt out.
The Martin case, involving a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, involves another rationale: vigilantism. This may be dressed up as a desire to help the police, or to supplement them, or more or less to replace them, on the theory that they provide inadequate protection, but posses roaming the streets won’t increase public safety.
Another element suggested by the Martin case, although not an admitted rationale, is racism. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "patriot groups" increased form 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009. The level of invective aimed at President Obama indicates that the increase is not merely coincidental.
LaPierre’s shoot-it-out theory, that "[t]he only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," leads to proposals to permit guns in various public places, including churches, then to allowing concealed weapons anywhere, and finally to a general open-carry law, essentially proposing that we return to the Wild West, or to someone’s fantasy of it.
A variation on the theme is that if everyone packed heat, we’d all be more civilized and polite, as well as safe. Jeffery Snyder apparently has become popular with the anti-control set, through a book of essays entitled Nation of Cowards , which reproduces an essay of the same title written in 1993. (George Will wrote a sympathetic, if skeptical, review of the essay in a Newsweek column of November, 1993). Snyder quoted with approval from Beyond This Horizon , a science fiction novel of 1943: "An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life." Will appropriately tied that quote to one allegedly describing the old West (from The Virginian , 1902): "When you call me that, smile!" "Such was politeness," Will observed, "in the armed society of 19th-century Wyoming."
There is a group called The Polite Society which, according to Wikipedia, "is an American organization that holds shooting events designed to test defensive skills with a handgun." The name is borrowed from Beyond This Horizon , and the Society emblazons the "armed society" quote across the top of its web page. It claims that its logo (top hat, cane and pistol) "reinforces [a] vision of the armed warrior gentleman (or lady)." Its targets are humanoid; the perfect "reactive" target would be one "that requires multiple center of mass shots but only a single head shot . . . ." Such is politeness in the armed society of 21st-century America.
One of the favorite excuses for opposing any controls is that they are the first step to confiscation. This ignores the absence of any such proposal, the impossibility of such an undertaking, and the Court’s gun-friendly interpretation of the Second Amendment. Nevertheless, LaPierre warned that President Obama, if re-elected, would confiscate guns.
Militias have not disappeared from the popular imagination, and while some people believe that by being armed they can somehow fulfill the role of the early militias, most of the rhetoric along this line emanates from self-styled patriots who are preparing to resist a tyrannical federal government, or the UN, or some other evil force. The gun culture and the interest in militias are mixed up with the states-rights fantasy. Of the 512 "patriot" groups identified by the SPLC, 127 were classified as militias. Many of the nullification proposals are aimed at gun control.
The League of the South, described by The Southern Poverty Law Center, as "a white supremacist secessionist group based in Alabama," issued this statement in January:
The League of the South, the premier Southern nationalist organization, will not comply with any diminution of our God-given right to keep and bear the sort of arms a free people need to remain free. This means "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines. Moreover, we will view any attempt to deprive the Southern people of these tools as a criminal act by a criminal regime.
League President, Michael Hill, noted: "Those in positions of power who exceed the limits of lawful authority ought to be made to live in mortal fear of their transgressions. . . ."
The League of the South is an advocate for a free and independent South. Therefore, we understand that a free people is an armed people. And, as Hill puts it: "We intend to be free from the destructive clutches of Washington, DC, sooner rather than later, God willing. And that will necessitate us being armed to defend our liberty for those who would deny it to us."[35]
The League web site advertises a conference captioned "Southern Independence: Antidote to Tyranny." It will feature "practical workshops and speeches promoting Southern independence and practical responses to the current tyranny.[36]
There seem to be two psychological threads running through all of this. One is the notion that being armed is manly. Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the rifle which was used at Newtown, ran a promotion featuring "man cards" and an ad showing the gun and saying, "Your man card reissued." The claim that manhood equals being armed may be based on the feeling that manhood depends on being armed; much of the insistence on being armed does seem to reveal timidity.
The other theme is the frontier, or lone man in the wilderness, myth. Irving Howe, in a essay entitled "Anarchy and Authority in American Literature," addressed the tendency in literature to yearn for a more primitive condition. Discussing William Faulkner, Howe referred the notion that primitive America "was paradise, the last paradise."
For Faulkner, as for many other American writers, there is a radical disjunction between social man and the natural world. The wilderness is primal, source and scene of mobility, freedom, innocence. Once society appears, it starts to hollow out these values. And not one or the other form of society, not a better or worse society, but the very idea of society itself comes to be regarded with skepticism and distaste.
This is not an invention of authors; it reflects American beliefs:
This myth is lent credence by the hold of the frontier on our national life. A myth of space, it records the secret voice of a society regretting its existence, and recalls a time when men could measure their independence by their physical distance from one another, for "personal liberty and freedom were almost physical conditions like fire and flood."
The gun culture, the "patriot" mentality, the fear of confiscation, the paranoia about impending tyranny, the nullification and secession fantasies are what Howe saw as "anarchy,"
a vision of a human community beyond the calculation of good and evil; beyond the need for the state as an apparatus of law and suppression; beyond the yardsticks of moral measurement; beyond the need, in fact, for the constraints of authority.
[T]he American imagination, at its deepest level, keeps calling into question the idea of society itself.[37]
That is the state of nature, which Hobbes described as the war of all against all. In a country with well over 200 million privately-owned guns, that is not a happy prospect.


34. Churches are offering gun classes in order to increase attendence.
37. Irving Howe, Selected Writings, 1950-1990, pp. 103, 107, 116
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