In Part One we traced the17th century English roots of the Second Amendment and how they were modified in the 18th century by one of our Founders, James Madison, who, in the American Bill of Rights, crafted the Second Amendment mainly to protect the Southern states’ militias (frequently used as “slave patrols”), making it yet another of those delicate political compromises which underpin our Constitution.
HEIRS OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT
In the 21st century, the Amendment’s “well regulated Militia” and “right to keep and bear Arms,” has been broadened from a “collective right” into a demand for an “individual right” to unlimited firepower in the hands of private citizens, mostly thanks to lobbying by the National Rifle Association. The unspoken hidden subset of this individual right is the right to insurrection (against the national government). Without the insurrection theory there can be no rationale for a civilian in America to own an arsenal of assault weapons with huge magazines.
I believe it is easy to see the continuance of those Southern state militias, that is slave patrols, in the night riders of the KKK, and in most of the skin-head militias today; the insurrectionist theory is in full bloom among today’s states’ righters. They vigorously deny any racism, but are clearly the heirs of the plantation culture of the original states’ righters in Philadelphia in 1787 in their deep suspicion of the federal government. For most of them, their new home is in the Republican Party and its fringes.
GUN MYTHS AND HIDDEN DESPAIR
Embedded now in popular culture is the narrative of the minuteman, of the pioneer protecting his family on the frontier, and of the good guy Western gunslinger killing the bad guys like a John Wayne movie. Former President Bill Clinton himself recently warned Democrats that guns have a special emotional resonance in many rural states, recalling that many Democratic lawmakers who voted to ban assault weapons were roundly defeated in the 1994 mid-term Republican wave because of that vote. He clearly has a wary regard for the political clout of the gun lobby.
On the other hand, flamboyant investigative report Greg Palast, writing about gun control in Vice Magazine (19 January 2013) pointed out that, of the “31,672 gun deaths in America in 2010, the majority—- 61 percent—- were suicides.” In his view, “the real killer is despair,” because, he says, the American dream has turned into a nightmare for too many folks whose jobs have gone to China, homes are in foreclosure, and pensions have been stripped and are now fattening billionaires’ accounts in the Caymans—- “so, they’ll be goddamned if they’ll let you take their guns.” The danger, he says, is not from assault rifles, but from “the assault on working people… by a dangerous group of jackals whose weapons are the IMF… JP Morgan, ‘austerity,’ and the ‘debt ceiling.'”
He has a point. It strikes me that there is a vast pool of anger seething just under the surface of American society, which manifests itself overtly in our gun culture, in the popularity of violent video games, sports, and movies, in the stunning numbers of suicides, in the proliferation of bizarre conspiracy theories and hate groups, and especially in anti-government propaganda (some of which unfortunately bubbles out of one of our two major political parties). Our society seems to be producing a lot of unhappy people, who show their despair as anger and fear, and are comforted by the security blanket of owning their own weapons. In the UC-Davis Law Review Dr. Bogus notes:
“The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world in which tens of thousands of citizens are killed or wounded by guns every year… The public more or less assumes that the Second Amendment prohibits the kind of gun control regulations that effectively protect public safety in other countries.”
WHY ARE CORPORATE ELITES SUPPORTING THE PRO-GUN MANIA?
Many members of the global corporate elite lavishly fund conservative think tanks and ultra-conservative candidates who promote the whole paranoidal syndrome (deficit hysteria, Obamaphobia, austerity obsession, anti-environmentalism, misogyny, bigotry, militarism, attacks on entitlements and labor, rabid religiosity, and now, unlimited guns). At first glance, many of these causes provide no obvious benefit to corporate powers, so why do they give money and approbation to the purveyors of such discordant themes?
I suspect the reasons include profits; more guns, more profits to manufacturers from foreign as well as domestic sales (America is the world’s biggest purveyor of arms). I also believe that many other issues, which are not obviously to the benefit of the new global elite, are promoted by the Big Money interests as a diversion to distract the people, so they do not recognize and go after their real enemy, i.e, those very same corporate interests. They let such hare-braned manias like Obamaphobia and unlimited guns run their course, while the elites are following their own agenda of destroying effective democratic government and replacing it with corporate feudalism. If an alert citizenry defeats the gun lobby, even a little bit, who knows what might happen next— they might notice what’s really going on, and decide to go after something really important to the corportists.
ANSWERS WITHOUT SOLUTIONS
All countries have the occasional psychopath who goes on a rampage. We can never foresee when they may act out, like Brevik in Norway, but we could try keeping an eye on them, put them on a watch list, or even institutionalize them where they can do less harm. What I find unsettling is how many borderline unstable personalities are among us, functioning at some level, but every bit as dangerous as the psychopath. They are not on anybody’s watch list, we have no way in a free country of dealing with them in advance, even if we could pick them out, yet they have easy access to high caliber weapons.
What can we do, within, that is, the current political climate?
What is already on the table is the usual NRA type of response, which says the answer to gun violence is more guns, like arming teachers, and perhaps reining in violent video games, while insisting that expanding gun checks or abolishing assault rifles is unconstitutional. This approach is losing a little traction, and so the gun lobby is also trying to turn the problem into one of mental health (while Republican legislators are simultaneously de-funding mental health nationally and at the state level, because, they say, such frills are wasteful nanny government and we must cut the bloated budget so as to concentrate on reducing the deficit). Many progressives want to tackle those root causes outlined by Greg Palast, which would mean reducing unemployment by creating high-wage jobs, by narrowing the growing income gap, and by revitalizing the middle class—- all good policies, but also, sorry to say, a pie-in-the-sky, slow-motion long-term agenda which is anathema to Republicans and our global corporate moneymen. It would require an almost total replacement of most members of Congress; such a wrenching change of direction would take some time to achieve, no matter how desirable.
Finally, we have President Obama’s plan, which includes:
* Require background checks for all gun sales, and strengthen the system of background checks
* Pass a new, stronger ban on assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds
* Get armor-piercing bullets off the street and give law enforcement more tools to prosecute gun crime
* End freeze on gun research
* Make schools safer: more resource officers and counselors, more nurturing climate in schools
*Ensure quality coverage for mental health, especially for young people
There is nothing unreasonable about any of these proposals, but there is knee-jerk opposition from Republicans in Congress because, well, because they come from Obama— so it is all about “Obama is taking our guns away!” “The Second Amendment!” and “Socialism!” In other words, the right to insurrection rears its head. Obama’s proposals will have a hard slog in the 111th Congress, even if, as the President hopes, average Americans demand action on them. Even some rural state Democrats, mindful of Bill Clinton’s remarks, are nervous about supporting Obama’s proposals.
Johns Hopkins University “convened more than 20 of the world’s leading experts on gun violence and policy to summarize relevant research” and make a report to help lawmakers and “concerned citizens” identify policy changes. Mayor Bloomberg wrote a foreward to their report, Reducing Gun Violence in America, which is available through the HFS Fulfilment Services (phone # 410-516-6965) for $9.85 (plus shipping). Some of their recommendations:
• Set up universal background check system for “all persons purchasing a firearm from any seller”
• Expand set of conditions that disqualifies a person with serious mental illness
• Appoint a “permanent director to ATF… with authority to develop… sanctions for gun dealers who violate gun sales or other laws”
• Provide financial incentives to states to mandate childproof or personalized guns
• Ban future sale of assault weapons and “large capacity ammunition magazines”
• Provide adequate federal funds to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, NIH, and National Institute of Justice for “research into the causes and solutions to gun-violence”
The report includes a high-level discussion oif the constitutionality of the suggestions, and a poll showing that the majority of Americans, including gun-owners, want stronger gun policies. Governor O’Malley (D, Maryland) says
“Gun violence is a public health problem… Perhaps there is no way to completely prevent the next tragedy, but that cannot be an excuse that keeps us from commonsense things… This isn’t about ideology. It’s about dignity.”
He may be right, but I myself believe it is about ideology—- and profits for the arms manufacturers. This potent combination can only be overcome by a determined, aroused citizenry which keeps up the pressure, and does not falter or go AWOL for the next election.
THE CRUCIAL 2014 MID-TERMS
I believe the entire 2d Amendment gun issue is going to be used by the Republican Party asa big issue, perhaps even The Issue leading up to the 2014 mid-terms, exactly as Obamacare was used in the 2010 mid-terms. Remember the town halls from hell? That will be the template. The deficit dance of death, the battle over entitlements, the fear of socialism, America’s “decline,” and terrorism will all be rolled together, of course, but guns will be the flagship emotional cause symbolizing the Republican campaign—- all about rugged Americanism and personal liberty. I expect the immigration issue will be de-fanged by the time of the mid-terms; despite Tea Party opposition, establishment Republicans, understanding the demographics of the 2012 election, will force some sort of compromise Dream Act on their reluctant right-wingers. That will leave them looking for another emotion-laden issue to fire up their base.
The Republican Party somehow always picks the issues and defines the debate, and 2014 will be no exception—- unless, that is, Obama and the Democrats don’t go on vacation as they did in 2010, and somehow manage to defuse or otherwise dispose of the gun issue in advance… and also manage to get out the same universe of voters who showed up in 2012, to the delight of Democrats and the astonishment of the GOP.