The Bible, The Constitution and the American Gun

By the standards of a developed country, the American is a violent society though surely not only on account of guns. The US is one of the only developed nation–save Japan–with an active and busy death row. Over the past few years, it has ventured in more military interventions that any other western country, often playing the role of a geopolitical cowboy. To underwrite these adventures, it has built a massive military machine which for the first time in half a century begins too look too small and insolvent for its global aspirations. In some sense, the American way is the way of the gun, the sword, the punch and the stick. And if there are ever any carrots, the carrots are mostly use for target practice and to measure the sharpness of the blade.

But this is also the society of the book. Or rather, of the two good books: the bible and the constitution. And just like most of the pious America which takes theology lessons from Glen Beck and learns comparative religion by the scholars at FoxNews, the American constitution is also approached with passionate devotion and abysmal ignorance. This combination of brutality and piety issues in one of the most remarkable aspects of the American socio-political character: the moral justification of brutal violence. The American gods are bloodthursty and, needless to say, always right.

It is no surprise that a society historically bound to the morality of violent death will find ways to justify the conditions necessary for violent death. Even in the face of what for any other civilized human being would be an outrage of decency and common sense, in the face of the death by fire of children and teachers, movie goers and high-school students, almost half of the US insists that the instruments of death–guns certainly do not shoot themselves–should be preserved for the use of the civilian population. Why? Because of the always impending need to kill or prevent one’s own killing.

But, the political use of firearms among the civilian population is something of which the American society has no tolerance, even if militias and tea partiers insist that they do. These people are mostly adults playing make-believe games. The buy guns, move to the middle of the woods and roll around in the mood pretending to free a country from an enemy that they conjure in their minds. At a younger age, this can be adorable. With a severe midlife crisis and live ammunition, it is rather frightening though not for that matter any less ridiculous.

In fact, when in the 60ies and 70ies the US saw the emergence of groups brandishing weapons for political purposes (Symbionese Liberation Army or the Black Panthers) they recoiled and fell back in line with the political intuition of most adults. Societies are safer when the monopoly of violence is kept by the state. However, since those days are long gone and a black president has stirred the fears of the white heartland, the country has seen the escalation–rather steep–of civilian militarization. In fact, if we are to believe the latest statistics based on NRA new memberships, private arsenals have grown at a tune of a quarter million in just the last month. So Obama has done what any sensible individual would do if granted enough power and the 14 executive orders plus the legislative plans had the texture of the stuff American political movies are made of.

So will this measures end gun violence in the US? Well, the NRA does not think so and it seems that half the country agrees. But that half of the country need hardly be taken seriously. The majority almost never knows what best administrative practices are let alone public policy and governance. Take for instance the often repeated claim that gun bas have not worked in Chicago and New York. The statement is so inane that it is hardly understandable that anyone would advance it without blushing. Chicago and New York do not have customs and immigration officers controlling the flow of people and goods at the border. The gun you buy in Gary, Indiana you can shoot in West Wicker Park.  So while the ban in Chicago is nominal, it is, because of federal law unenforceable.  Making it impossible for anyone to find a gun from California to Bangor, would make chicago a gun free area by virtue of what we may call environmental profilaxis. If the neighbors are not sick, then it is unlikely that there will be contagion. This is particularly important with assault weapons.

Making assault weapons illegal ensures that law abiding civilians will not get them and reduces quite radically that chance the other types of civilians will find them. It is not a full-proof solution because the borders of the US are still porous, but eliminating access of civilians to assault weapons will have a significant effect in, well, reducing their presence in civil society.

Mostly this should go without saying, though in the US the ‘go without saying’ category has severely shrunk. This is nowhere as visible in the latest salvo by the NRA–pun intended. “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.” or so says Mr. LaPierre. We should not take weapons away from law-abiding citizens, the good guys. But it seems important to point out that the people that have used assault weapons in mass shooting over the past few years were by and large law-abiding citizens, until, of course, they no longer were. It is not Dr. Evil who was running  through the American small towns and big cities, robbing banks and shooting old laides with assault weapons.  Assault weapons were used in these cases by people that belonged to the average population. University students, dejected teenagers, etc. To wit, the problem with assault weapons is that people with no previous convictions, as was the case with Harris and Klebold, Laughner and now Lanza, can get them and use them. In other words, the very problem with assault weapons in the US is that it is available to law abiding citizens often with very little provisions and precautions.

Of course, for the NRA and its choir, these are de facto, ‘bad guys’ and who would want to disagree. These are the people against whom murderous violence is morally justified ut it is precisely this which should be kept in mind: these ‘bad guys’ against whom violence ought to be exercised, were, before unloading their weapon, good guys.

So then, there is the legalistic piety: the holly constitution grants the right to own gun and ammunition for the sake of forming a well-trained militia. Of course, these well-trained militias at the service of freedom from repressive military machines are not really there other than in the infantile mind of the boys with toys in Michigan and Montana. What a militia could do against Red Coats, no assault weapon can do against a professionalized army with a nuclear arsenal. The second amendment is entirely obsolete. If the grounds for holding onto weapons is preserving the state from a modern oppressive power then the constitution ought to be amended to permit private citizens to hold anti-aerial and ballistic misiles in their backyards. This would be the standard necessary for a well-trained and armed militia.

Thus, the constitutional argument is not an argument for anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the unfolding and evolution of legal statues. The construction of the constitution as all else is time sensitive and historically contextual, despite what Scalia in his drunken rants may believe. In fact, a modern democratic state, demands an informed citizenry that is capable of rectifying the legal sins and  juridical fossils that are inherited form times of olden.  Just as we have given up on the right to punish slaves in certain ways once we have given up on slavery–even if the constitution granted some the right to own other human beings–we have come to recognize that it is the state upon which we grant the right of the use of force. And it is from the state that we demand the right to use force under certain circumstances. But to demand by a reference to the 18th century’s political context the right to exercise political violence is an expression of complete political ineptitude.

Thus, the constitution is certainly not a sacred document–if there are any sacred document at all–even if half of the American public has the strange habit of approaching everything in the way that they approach religion–with ignorance and piety. These people, however, can rest assured that society is not a jungle divided between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Society is a much more rich and complex tapestry of social mechanisms which includes ‘deranged guys’ and an enormous amont of ‘stupid guys’ which mostly, seem to live below the Mason Dixon line. It is indeed not evil from which we must protect children but from ‘good intentions’ which the rode to hell is paved with. For this, it is important that the instruments for exercising such intentions be made sparse. The fewer assault weapons, the fewer bullets that can be fired a second by the pious, the deranged and the stupid. And to deal with the evil, Americans will have to learn the lesson that their parents and grandparents knew perhaps a bit too well. They will have to learn to trust the state.

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