Back on 22 July 2012, I posted an analysis on the continuing affliction of American gun violence, noting the fact that there is a connection between the privately held three hundred million firearms in the U.S.A., and the country having the highest gun-related homicide rate in the developed world. It is now April of 2021, almost nine years later, and the problem is still with us. Unfortunately, for this plague, there is no vaccine. Thus, after two recent mass murders in a row, I have been led to update the older essay originally titled, “American Motto: Free, Armed and Stupid.”
Part I –The Gun Violence Epidemic Continues
We are still at it. On 16 March eight people were killed at three Atlanta, Georgia, massage palors, and on 22 March 2021, 10 people were shot down in a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store. This is nothing new in the Land of the Free. Among the more notable victims of the nation’s love affair with deadly weapons have been Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan and, of course, John Lennon. Then there are the ongoing mass murders of which the March shootings are but the latest. For instance, 49 killed in Orlando, Florida, on 12 June 2016; 58 killed in LasVegas, Nevada, on 1 October 2017; 25 killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on 5 November 2017; 17 killed in Parkland, Florida, on 14 February 2018; 23 killed in El Paso, Texas, on 3 August 2019, ad nauseam. Indeed, “since the Columbine shooting in 1999, there have been 114 mass shootings with 1300 victims. ” All of this happening in a country in which there are more guns than people and where laws are enacted that make it easier to buy a gun than to vote.”
Part II — Excuses
It is profoundly depressing that in the face of mass slaughter, there is a very powerful gun lobby, institutionalized in the National Rifle Association (NRA) and solidly allied to the Republican Party, that resists even the most moderate tightening of the nation’s presently useless gun laws. As we will see, there are deeply irrational reasons for this stance — ones tied to a perverted notion of freedom and an anarchistic fear of government — and these evoke strong emotions when challenged. In other words, from the gun advocate’s point of view, this is not an issue open to reasoned debate. They refuse to make a connection between their advocacy and the 40,000 Americans killed by gunfire yearly. This failure to approach the topic of guns in a sane fashion undermines the logic of the excuses they use to defend their position. Here are those we hear most often.
Excuse number one: Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
It is certainly true that while sitting on a shelf, locked in a drawer, or carried in a holster, guns are inert pieces of machinery and, usually, it takes a finger to pull the trigger. Yet this fact is actually beside the point. It’s not relevant because guns are not manufactured to stay on shelves, in drawers or in holsters. That inert status has nothing to do with why they exist or why most of us choose to possess them.
So, we can go on and ask, why are guns manufactured? Why do they exist? Primitive firearms were invented in China sometime in the 12th century. They were invented to be used in warfare, that is, to kill and injure other people. As the technology spread westward, first into the Arab lands and then to Europe, it was improved, but the weapon’s reason for being, to kill and injure others, stayed the same. In most cases, guns became a monopoly of the state. However, some exceptions to this trend evolved. Particularly in the U.S., guns diffused into the population as a whole.
In the United States, this process of diffusion was and continues to be tolerated based on the gun lobby’s misinterpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment states, “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.” At the time the amendment was passed (1791), those who enlisted in “well regulated militias” usually supplied their own weapons. That is why the right to “keep and bear arms” was included in the amendment. However, the situation was quite different when the 1903 Militia Act turned militias into state-based national guards funded and equipped by the federal government. Thus by the 20th century, there was no longer any connection between a “well regulated militia” and “keeping and bearing arms.”
Here is another way to interpret the Second Amendment. Note that the part of the amendment referencing infringement is an independent clause modified by a phrase referencing the the maintenance of “a well regulated militia.” Apart from the National Guard, the modern U.S. does not maintain “regulated” militias — though, unfortunately, there are a lot of unregulated ones out there. And, most of the membership of the NRA, along with the other gun-toting tough guys walking the streets of (particularly) the western and southern U.S. states, don’t even belong to a national guard.
The hard truth is that guns were originally invented, and still today are primarily made, to shoot people. There are other uses: in hunting; to put holes in paper targets which often take the form of outlines of human bodies; to blast clay projectiles out of the air for fun; and to give a person a false sense of security; but these remain secondary to the gun’s original and primary purpose.
So the argument that “guns don’t kill people” is ahistorical and really a red herring. Guns are essentially our partners — intimate accessories if you willing what is often criminal activity, facilitating the efficiency of acts of homicide, assault and suicide. At the rate we pursue these activities, we just couldn’t maintain the modern level of mayhem without them.
Excuse number two: Guns are most often used for self-defense.
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