Thursday, December 20, 2012

The guns thing

I CAN'T HELP WANTING to add a few comments of my own to the gathering millions of paragraphs, though I know I can't really comprehend the problem, let alone comment on it rationally; and though I know whatever I write (or anyone says or writes, for that matter), reasonable people will find a way to find fault with it at best, with me even more likeley.

Still. Some points simply have to be addressed. I think the problem arises in three distinct areas — related, no doubt, but distinct enough they need to be considered and perhaps acted upon distinctly: Guns; Violence; "Mental Illness."

•GUNS: Whatever the "framers" may have had in mind with their Second Amendment, they made a mess of it. I've read and heard a number of explanations: that they were remembering the first battle for independence, which erupted over the British intent to seize weapons at the Concord militia armory (or was it Lexington?). That it was slaveholders who knew they needed their arms to prevent insurrection. That it was states-righters who feared the imposition of a tyrannical federal government which would have to be overthrown.

Whatever the reason for the drafting of the Second Amendment, it seems clear enough to English-major me that it expressly states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms will not be infringed, because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of the state.

Note that there's nothing here about individuals having the right to keep arms to secure their own individual security. It's all about the community. (It's possible, even likely, that the right of individuals to have arms for their own private protection was simply not at issue, of course.)

(I leave the question of hunting equipment out of the formula for the moment; and I suggest that the concept of "sporting firearms" would likely have been thought odd by most rational men in the late 18th century. Unless you count duelling, perhaps.)

In any case it seems clear the "framers" might not have had automatic or semi-automatic weapons in mind.

What I would do: 1) ban the manufacture, importation, sale, and holding of large clips or magazines, over, oh, say six shells, before reloading is necessary. Do this immediately, by executive action if necessary.

2) Begin a Congressional discussion, with input from panels and commissions, on the question of the manufacture, sale, export, import, and holding of automatic and semiautomatic firearms, and perhaps even nonautomatic firearms over a certain caliber.

3) Simultaneously, a similar investigation into hand guns, which are responsible for a great many killings every year.

•VIOLENCE: The United States is addicted to violence — real violence, symbolic violence, depicted violence. Playful violence and serious violence. Ours is an adolescent nation, impatient and impulsive; and it is also a nation devoted to a sense of entitlement, thinking itself exceptional and all-powerful. We need to simmer down. I have no idea how this can be done on an institutional level. Clearly we should scale back both our desire and our ability to engage other nations and societies in violent action. We should also stop using depictions of violence as entertainment and commercial advertising. But it's hard to see how legal action can address the latter, or how political action can address the former.

We can, however, address the problem individually and in small local groups. Nonviolence was a potent force in the advancement of civil rights. Perhaps the most basic civil right is the right to security, from violence of all kinds but especially human violence. We should demand this right.

•"MENTAL ILLNESS": I set the term in quotes, because I believe it's a bogus term: health and illness are a continuum, and what one person considers pathology another may well see as mere eccentricity. Clearly a murderer is pathological. But to turn immediately to a concern for mental or emotional or developmental "health" or "illness," in the wake of a monstrously violent assault, threatens to be merely a diversion from action that should be taken on immediate practical issues like ammunition control.

Furthermore, it is unfair to the vast majority of those who are thought to suffer some form of mental illness. Some are violent; most are not. Of those who are violent, some may turn to firearms; most cannot.

Further: many who take up arms in a violent fashion seem to me to do so in what many would consider a perfectly rational manner; or, if not rational, then merely impetuous. A violently angry person is not necessarily mentally ill.

AND THEN there are other questions: suicides; accidents.

There have been suggestions that the arming of good people will discourage the use of firearms by bad ones. I don't think we should ask innocent people, let alone the teachers of small children, to arm themselves and to kill intruders, not even armed ones. I think the current craze for the carrying of concealed weapons, even loaded ones, is antisocial on the face of it, and that any society that encourages such behavior is irrational at best, hypocritical in any case.

There. I feel better now.

1 comment:

Curtis Faville said...


Everyone knows that in any sampling of young people, or adults, there will be some who turn to violence. This is true in all societies.

The issue now is access to the means to express that violence.

The man--or boy--who killed the children in New England gained access to those weapons from his own mother's household. She was a "gun freak" who had an irrational fascination with them.

The fascination with weaponry is a symptom of the craze encouraged by the NRA.

When I was a boy of 10, I took the NRA safety course (and passed it). In those days, hardly anyone imagined that one day ordinary citizens would have access to military style repeating weapons. But this has come to pass. That's a change which has occurred within my lifetime.

We must roll back the clock with respect to the kind and number of guns. We're trending towards a situation in which guns are everywhere--in homes, public buildings, schools, modes of transportation, even on the street.

This is an intolerable situation, and we should not allow ourselves to be bullied by the NRA and all its running dogs.

I sense in your hesitancy a fear that you will be regarded as unqualified even to have an opinion about this, as if the problem were so complex that ordinary people couldn't figure it out, or because just speaking up about it is a presumptuous and futile gesture.

But we all need to speak up. There should be a national debate, and all of us do need to speak up. It's later than we think.