14 February 2013


I haven't blogged for quite some time. I've been relying more on Facebook - where I have a great many more "friends" than I have followers here on my blog. That makes me feel remiss. I like my blog better than I like Facebook, though it is less immediate and less gratifying in the responses that I get. Still, here I can blather on at a length that seems unseemly on Facebook.

What I am going to climb onto my high horse about today is guns. Here's what I've got to say:

The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to apply to the right of individuals to own firearms. That horse has left the barn and there is no way to get it back in there unless the Court revisits and revises its decision - which is possible but unlikely - or Congress votes to amend the Constitution in regards to the matter, and then two-thirds of the states ratify that amendment - which is so unlikely as to be pretty much impossible.

But in all the carryings-on over defending the 2nd Amendment, people seem to ignore the words "well-regulated." Those words mean that the individual right to bear arms can be regulated by, for instance, restricting the ownership of certain types of weaponry - bazookas and tanks come to mind, fully-automatic weapons and by extension semi-automatic weapons or ammunition magazines over a certain size, or age requirements or background check requirements or a requirement that to purchase a gun a person needs to take a gun safety course first. There is nothing whatsoever unconstitutional about any of those regulations. You might not like them, you might be against them, fine, write your congressional representatives, but the constitutional argument against them doesn't hold water.

No constitutional right is absolute in any event. The classic example is that in spite of the guarantee of freedom of speech, you cannot yell "fire" in a crowded theater. Free speech, free press, freedom of religion (even if it's part of your belief system, you can't stone adulterers to death) are all regulated by the common good and common sense, and much of that is encoded into law.

And to be effective, those regulations need to be national, not state by state or city by city. Gun rights advocates love to point the finger of scorn at Chicago - a city with some of the strictest gun regulations in the country and a city with a horrifying amount of gun violence. See, they say, regulations don't work anyhow.

My sister lives in the heart of Chicago, right near Wrigley Field. The closest gun store to her is 3.7 miles away, just outside the Chicago city limits. The closest gun store to me, here in Los Angeles where there are fewer restrictions on guns, is 2.6 miles away. That's why Chicago's gun regulations don't work - if my sister wants a gun, I doubt that extra 1.1 mile drive is going to discourage her. It's not the regulations that don't work, it's the lack of coherence in them that doesn't work.

But, I have heard far too many people say, the right to bear arms protects all of our other rights, so it is the most basic, most essential right there is. If the government becomes a tyranny, how else are citizens to take matters into their own hands and overthrow it. To that I say - YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME. It's a romantic notion, but it's a fantasy.

Here in Los Angeles ex-cop turned cop-killer Chris Dorner took up arms against the tyrannical LAPD. He had extensive police and paramilitary training. He had a large arsenal of extremely powerful weapons - all of which, by the way, were obtained legally. (Even the fully-automatic weapons he used were legally bought semi-automatics that he had converted to full-auto with legally purchased kits to do just that.) He didn't last long and certainly didn't manage to change anything.

I actually read on Facebook, from several different people, that if only the Jews in Germany and Poland had been armed in the 1930s, the Holocaust wouldn't have happened. A couple of people cited the Warsaw Uprising as an example of what an armed citizenry could do in opposition to an oppressive government. Don't these people read history? The armed Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were heroes, certainly, but they were just as dead heroes by the end of it as the unarmed Jews in the extermination camps. It didn't work. It took other, more powerful, more populous, more technologically advanced governments to stop Hitler.

Even before the advent of modern weaponry controlled by the central government, the Confederacy took up arms in rebellion against the United States. They mounted huge armies, commanded by talented generals, possessed of weapons that while somewhat inferior to the Union troops, were closer to equal than any modern day insurgency could possibly employ against the government. The rebellion caused incredible bloodshed and destruction, but you might recall that it failed. It achieved, finally, only an unconditional surrender to the powers that be.

In fact, despite the occasional victory by groups of dedicated, armed insurgents against the generally overwhelming power of a government - the American Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, Vietnam - it usually goes the other way. And when the insurgents win, it is almost always because they are fighting off foreign occupiers, so they have tremendous support from the whole national population, or they are fighting a government that is barely clinging to power having lost all credibility with its citizens.

On top of which, other than the American Revolution, how many armed insurgencies can you name that resulted in a better country after they succeeded than the one they overthrew? Most of the people I know who are staunch defenders of gun rights sure as shit aren't about to pipe up with "Cuba, Vietnam..." And you sure as hell can't come up with any examples of a democratically elected government being overthrown by armed insurgents where it turned out for the best.

The thing about a democracy, even a flawed republican version of one like we've got, is that it is inherently vested with credibility by most of its citizens. Maybe you don't like President Obama, that's your right, but he was elected by a majority of voters in an election that no one has seriously claimed was in any way rigged. And his power is heavily constrained by something called the separation of powers. Perhaps you've noticed that he hasn't been able to do a whole lot of the things he has said he wants to do, because Congress won't let him. That's how it works. And in four years he will be gone and you will have your chance to elect your own President who plenty of other people also won't like, but too bad.

Our rights in this country are defended by a whole slew of things other than private citizens and their guns. By our laws. By our courts. By the separation of powers. By the fact that our population is so diverse, rather than homogenous - so it is very hard for any one group to gain full power over the others. (One of the arguments in favor of immigration that has, sadly, been lacking in the current discourse is that it helps protect our democracy and our rights.) By our culture of individualism and self-reliance. By the police, who are often called upon to defend even free speech that they might not like, but they know it is their duty to do so.

Sure, if in some fantasy dystopian future the president turns himself into a dictator and Congress and the courts allow it to happen and enough of the military and police forces go along with it to enforce it, I'd want to do what I could to overthrow that tyranny. But the chances of that are slim, while out of control gun violence in this country is all too real and immediate. And the chances of armed citizen insurgents succeeding against the armed forces of the U.S. are laughable.

1 comment:

Val Woods said...

Eric, this is awesome! This should be spread far and wide...a very cogent argument that touched on so many overlooked points. "Well-regulated" indeed! Thanks. I will share your link on FB.