Let Us Ban Guns in the United States

The character-driven 2016 presidential campaign has given short shrift to vitally important issues, chief among them, climate change.  But threats to the peaceful transition of power has also pushed gun control toward the top of my list.  Civilians in the United States own more than 300 million guns—over 1,000,000 purchased since President Obama took office—and the most per capital in the world.  Under “normal” circumstances, 33,000 people kill others or themselves each year. With Trump and his Alt Right compatriots threatening to reject election results and, in some cases, to storm the barricades, the threat level may have risen exponentially.

In the short run, guns will remain on the street, in individual hands, and in the hands of self-appointed militias, who believe themselves to be fighting for their liberty in the tradition of Revolutionary War heroes.  Should a succession crisis arise, the United States government would have to deal with treasonous threats—and, of course, treasonous actions—by meeting power with far greater power.  In the long run, we need to deal with the economic and social discontent that fuels the threats.  In the intermediate run, we need to get the guns off the street and out of the mountains.

You would think that the case for gun control is both known and broadly shared..  Some is but some isn’t.  Advocates of gun control cite the violence in the streets, the danger of accidental shooting, and suicides in our homes.  They point out  that criminals and mentally ill people should not be allowed to own guns. Duh. They frequently make allowances for hunters.  And they accept what they have come to see as the Constitutional right to gun ownership guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

During the second debate, Hillary Clinton assured us that she believes in the Second Amendment and that she only seeks sensible safeguards to gun ownership.  This fearful, compromised bowing down to a false interpretation of the Amendment has become second nature for virtually all American politicians.  In spite of the fact that both Clinton and the majority of Americans want gun control, the prevailing belief among politicians is that you can’t propose banning buns or even severely limit their purchase.  It would be fatal to their careers.  In effect, they have acquiesced to a powerful political minority, led by the National Rifle Association’s Congressional lobbying and public intimidation campaign—allied to a general right wing agenda, and supported by millions inflamed, largely male voters who believed they are being sacrificed to the interests of corporations, minorities, and immigrants.

The gun lobby is hardly satisfied with the acquiescence in this line of thinking.  They maintain that Clinton and all those like her are pretenders.  Once in power, the Clintons of the world would seize the guns of patriotic Americans.  Two-faced politicians would deprive true Americans of their ability to protect their liberty.  This, the protection of individual liberty, has become the true north star of the Alt Right.  The gun lobby and its protectors bellow that regulation is simply the start of a slippery slope toward the banning of all guns.  Banning guns robs loyal citizens of their fundamental, Constitutionally sanctioned rights and leads ineluctably towards an oppressive federal government.  It’s a simple, cause and effect formula.

On this one point, I hope that the Alt Right is correct.  I hope that we can ban guns from civilian use, with the possible exception of hunting.  The case for banning guns doesn’t seem hard to make.  There isn’t enough time and space to document the argument in this essay, but I can summarize it.

To state the obvious,, guns enable violence.  Second, do not help us defend ourselves.  There is almost no evidence—amid much research—that guns deter violence.  .  Third, the apparent truism that the Second Amendment was written to protect the individual’s right to bear arms, is false, or at best a tenuous, modern reinterpretation of the Amendment.

Until the 1970’s, the NRA had been an association of hunters, dedicated mostly to gun safety.  As Jeffrey Toobin has written, during that decade,  “The NRA and conservative lawmakers engineered a coup d’état at the group’s annual convention in 1977 brought a group of committed political conservatives to power—as part of the leading edge of the new, more rightward-leaning Republican Party…The new group pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms…At first, their views were widely scorned. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger,” a Republican, “who was no liberal, mocked the individual-rights theory of the amendment as ‘a fraud.’”

That coup d’etat, with sturdy support from an obedient Congress, established the norms that persist today and overwhelm majority opposition.  The Second Amendment reads as follows: “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.”  Until the 1970s, the interpretive emphasis was on militias, not individuals.  The United States had been a loose confederation of states, each jealously guarding its own interests.  Having come together to fight the British monarchy, they were wary of federal power—the establishment of a new monarchy.  To guard against the powers of a central government, they argued for states’ rights.  And to protect the integrity of states, the Bill of Rights, written by the nation’s founders, empowered state militias.  Individuals could own guns in the service of these militias, which could be mobilized when states rights were encroached upon.  This is the key:  Individuals could own guns in the service of militias.  And, of course, to hunt.  This was the 18th century, after all, and people hunted for their food.

We are now a nation — no longer a loose confederation of states.  There would be no contest between the federal armed forces and local militias, no matter how many assault rifles they could mobilize.  What’s more, the thousand or so militias currently active no longer correspond to state boundaries.  With the obvious exception of the Civil War, the democratic process established in the 18th century has allowed us to resolve our differences through debate and voting.  Throughout this period, political majorities win and minorities fume but, eventually the minorities become the majorities.  The cycles of liberal and conservative victories represent our triumph, not our failure.

According to the standards proposed by both the Constitutional Originalists, like Antonin Scalia, and those who see the Constitution as a living document that must adapt with the times, there is no logical, legal argument that favors individual gun ownership, and certainly none that favors assault rifles and other military weapons.  The Founders wanted to arm militias.

We, the people of the United States, have a right and, I believe, a duty to ban the civilian use of weapons.  It will save lives and it will thwart violent revolution. With the possible exception of our own American Revolution, revolutions have not solved anyone’s problems.  In the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, to name a few, violence begat violence; and violence, in turn begat tyranny.

It will be difficult, but not impossible, to ban guns.  It will require a sustained grass roots effort throughout the country.  It will require our belief that it is the right thing to do.  It will require stamina and courage for a long struggle. I invite all of you to think with me about how to build much greater momentum so. In the fight against guns.

 

 

 

 

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I Can’t Wait for this Campaign to End

I am dying for the presidential campaign to end so that I can relax; and I’m sure that many of you feel the same.

Most of all, I want to know the outcome.  It needs to be Hillary Clinton. The anticipation is hard, like waiting for your baby to be born.  You can’t wait.  It’s beyond exciting, but you also carry that little bit of dread until you count her fingers, hear her cry, hold her in your arms.

The campaign has held me captive.  Like an addict needing his next fix, I have watched TV news much more than ever before.  I have read the newspapers and online journals like a starving man in search of food.  Often, there’s nothing healthy to eat but I’ll eat anything.  With each passing week, the need grows.  Even as Hillary Clinton’s lead grows, I search everywhere for reassurance that this cruel, narcissistic, unstable man will not assume our nation’s mantle.

Do you recognize me in yourself?  I’ve not only grown addicted and anxious, I feel dirty, fouled by his words, fouled even by looking at him.  He is disgusting.  I can’t stand to see his face.  I can’t stand to hear his voice.  I can’t bear reading his words.  Yet I do.  I read and I watch and I listen until I feel slightly nauseated.  Sometimes, I feel like I can’t catch my breath and my heart starts to pump too quickly.  I want to bring my pulse down.

Is this neurotic?  Maybe.  But the campaign has invaded our consciousness and polluted our minds.  People tell me that they dream about it.  It’s not just how dishonest and nasty he is, how much he speaks in word salad—has he ever spoken a coherent paragraph?—how mocking and preening he is, how dismissive he is of others.  It’s that we are compelled—no, impelled—to watch.  We choose even when it doesn’t entirely feel like it.

We are pulled into a world of misbehaving children.  He responds to criticism as a child does.  If you criticize him, he comes back at you: you do it too; you’re worse than I am.  You are Putin’s puppet, Clinton says.  No, you are, you are, you are, he responds in that whiny, accusing voice of his, trying to obliterate her message.  No matter what you say in criticism, he’s right back at you and he’ll say anything.  We are pulled into a playground with a big, big boy who lacks impulse control.  We are ready to laugh at him or run from him or confront him—all at the same time.  At the very least, he should have a “time out.”  What a relief that would be.

We watch him the way we’d slow to watch a terrible car accident.  It’s awful but we seem compelled to see the wreckage.  There’s also a serious reason: he might win.  The thought of him in the White House parrying childishly with foreign leaders, Democratic politicians, “advisors,”—all potential ‘enemies—is chilling.  But that’s what would happen if he were not the center of attention, when he couldn’t have his way, if people don’t like him.  Treaties and policy would be decided on a simple basis: you like me or you don’t. Hillary Clinton says we can’t trust him with nuclear arms.  True.  But, day by day, we cant trust him to deal decently or intelligently with the business of leadership.

Against our better judgment, we keep watching, as though the very act might stop him.  Unconsciously we feel compelled to watch because we might be the last barrier to his destructive ends.  We are afraid to turn away.  He might say something to offend or endanger people we care about or encourage those who might endanger us.  On the lighter side, he might miss him saying something so awful or stupid that we would miss our opportunity tell our friends.  Gallows humor fills our conversation.

We can’t stop because he says that he won’t abide the peaceful transfer of power, the cornerstone of democratic leadership.  He talks about the end of civilization and rallies his troops to revolt.  He is preaching insurrection.  We are too close to the era of Mussolini and Hitler, who rose precipitously to power by refusing to recognize the legitimacy of constitutional rules and processes, not to take his threats at least a little seriously. We know that insurrection, even in this great nation, is possible.  We can’t stop watching because, however slim the chance of mass insurrection, it is possible. We need to be prepared.  Crazy and paranoid as it may sound, we watch so we can sound the alarm.

He is so frightened of losing and being seen as a loser, that he won’t concede the election even after Clinton wins it fair and square.  He calls on his followers to lift their arms to fight this outcome.  He calls for “watchers” to intimidate voters.  Much of these messages are barely coded are crystal clear to those who heed his call.  The call to arms, the evocation of a Second Amendment army, is treasonous.  It is dangerous.  And I have to admit that I have occasionally wondered whether President Obama has a plan to put down the rebellion, to arrest those who violently oppose the legitimacy of a new president.

Some, maybe most people, believe he’ll calm down after the election.  Or back off because he doesn’t like to work so hard.  But I think he’s bitten Eden’s apple, that his craving for attention has been jacked up exponentially and that he’ll need it as badly as ever. Imagine what he’ll have to say and do to keep the attention focused on him as much as it now is.

In other countries, maybe even at other times in the United States, his treasonous stance would have led to arrest.  It is ironic and it is fortunate that President Obama—and Democrats in general—won’t play the third world game of jailing their opponent.  They won’t fall so low.  They also don’t want to spook the election process which is finally going well.  I would do the same.  But even this kind of restraint is tiring.

Just being mature can be wearing.  Any parent knows that sustaining a quiet, calm, and loving presence in the face of a child’s tantrums can be trying and tiring.  It takes discipline, which we lovingly exercise with children we love.  It takes even more discipline with other people’s children.  And it takes a great deal of effort when the tantrum comes from a child we don’t particularly like.  Like the presidential candidate.  It takes work to remain calm, to remember that we love our country and its democratic values more than we dislike the candidate.  So the discipline is extremely important.

Our vigil is exhausting.  It is exhausting in the way that wears down battered children and wives.  They know to be vigilant, to keep their guard up.  They need to be focused and awake to the potential for danger. There is no rest.

Throughout my life, I have been spared this kind of experience.  I have been spared the experience of sexual assault.  I have not feared deportation and imprisonment.  I have not been afraid.  But I think I can identify just a little better with all of his victims and potential victims.  And I want to be free of this exhausting vigilance.

Last night’s third debate feels like it may be decisive, and I already feel a little relieved.  I find my body a little calmer.  I am obsessing a little less about the campaign and its aftermath.  I hope I’m not premature.  Anything can happen.  And, to show my true colors, I hope I’m not jinxing the campaign.  It needs to conclude well.  I need to be freed from its captivity.  How about you?