Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Would Call It "Things I Don't Get", but Sadly, I Get It


The recent Colorado shootings have had the proverbial guns blazing on both sides of the political fence regarding the place of firearms in our society.  

Gun laws in this country haven’t been this relaxed in decades.  There is more freedom to carry guns than there has ever been in my lifetime.   Still every day I hear the voices crying out that our gun rights are being taken away.  I have never heard President Obama speak out about tighter gun control laws, and yet gun enthusiasts continue to pillory him as the man who will take their guns away.

I just want to understand why guns are so important to so many.  Why do you want so badly to have weapons that kill people?  Don’t tell me, “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  Obviously a gun isn’t going to kill anyone without someone operating it.  I’m not that stupid.  What a gun does is make killing another person, or even a crowd, fast and easy.  There are guns that make it even faster and even easier.  Why do you want this kind of power in your hands so badly?  

Here is what the Second Amendment says:

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.

This is establishing a militia and points out that said militia should be well regulated.  Interpret that as you wish.  The Second Amendment is like the Bible.  Everyone thinks he or she knows what the “true” meaning is.

“But remember the Federalist Papers,” you cry. "We need to protect ourselves if the government turns on us." Okay.  Fine.  I get that. I also get that the framers of the Constitution were not all Federalists.   This was based around the fear that the young, untested government could potentially gain too much power, or even become a monarchy, if it didn’t face a threat from the general populace.  I think in revolutionary times this was a legitimate concern.  

How much of it is a concern now?  Democracy has proven to have worked, however imperfectly.  Are we really looking forward to violent revolution against the government?  Are your guns going to be adequate against tanks, nuclear missiles, grenades, and bombs?

Did the 20th century teach us nothing?  The last century showed us that revolution without violence is possible, and it works, thanks to the work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  On the other hand, I have seen countless coups in various countries in my lifetime and none of them have resulted in peaceful democracies.

The problem isn’t guns.  The problem isn’t lack of guns.  The problem lies within our society and everything we as Americans hold dear.

Is the United States the only country in the developed world with gun control laws?  No, it’s not.  Are there industrialized countries in the world with much looser gun control laws than the United States?  Yes, there are.  Regardless of the gun control laws in any of these countries,  the crime rate is lower in every case.  That goes the same for drug laws.  To say that countries with looser drug laws have less crime is irrelevant when you consider that there aren’t many countries that allow any and all recreational drugs and yet it is the United States that has the highest rates of drug abuse and drug related crimes.  Canada has more guns per capita than the United States, but you don’t see the kind of gun violence in Canada that you see here. Canadians seem like happy, peaceful people to me.

What is the difference between the United States and other developed nations?  Well, let’s start with our lack of accessible quality health care.  How about the fact that our educational system is going down the toilet and advanced education is becoming impossible for more and more of the population?  Children go to bed hungry.  The gap between the richest and the poorest continues to widen.  The public square is disappearing.   There are no affordable places and activities where people can gather and have a community.  Downtowns, places where local populations could gather, are being replaced by strip malls and cul-de-sacs.  

Americans are some of the most violent-minded, paranoid, and entitled people in the world.  I know the credibility of this blog will go down if I start citing Michael Moore, but Bowling for Columbine made the very strong point that the problem isn’t our guns.  It’s our attitudes.  It’s our fear of “the other”.  It’s our belief that we have to take what is ours.  

While on vacation last week I was chatting with a local friend and gun enthusiast who said he didn’t want to come to New York because the gun laws are too strict and what if he went into a store and someone tried to shoot him first?  I have lived in New York my entire life and have walked into countless stores and no one has ever tried to kill me, even despite the fact that I live in an area infamous for high crime rates. 

This is what we are reduced to.  The simplistic belief is that if all of us are armed, we will all be so afraid of the other person shooting first that naturally no crimes will happen.  This is despite the fact that we are more likely to be killed by people we know than by strangers, particularly if you are a woman (if a woman is found murdered, the first suspect is always her husband or boyfriend).   We believe everyone is out to get us and it is our right to shoot first and ask questions later.  Poor Trayvon Martin learned that one the hard way.

What I find so interesting is that so many hardcore gun advocates also claim to be Christians.  I spent a lot of time in church in my life and I have never heard Jesus advocating violence.  I never read it ever mentioned in the Bible that He carried a weapon. 

Put up again thy sword into its place:
for all they that take the sword
shall perish by the sword

You have learnt how it was said: 'Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.' But I say to you, Offer the wicked man no resistance. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him."

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy"; But I say to you, "Love your enemies and pray for those whose persecute you."

You must love your neighbor as yourself

I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me . . . I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.

Words of a guy who really felt that people should be constantly on the defense and ready to kill, no?
In 2005, the Journal of Religion and Society did a study that shows that among advanced democracies, the countries with the highest percentage belief in God also had the highest percentages of social dysfunction (teen pregnancy, drug abuse, homicide, abortion) and also the lowest life expectancy.  Correlation does not equal causation of course.  It does say something about the character of Americans though.

Religions can make us feel morally superior to others, thus making the heathen less worthy of life.  At best it tells us if we do something heinous, we are potentially forgiven.  At worst it justifies horrible acts in the name of God (abortion clinic bombers, Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11).  I know I'll be accused of "Christian bashing" by saying this, but I'm not bashing.  I'm just trying to make sense of why practitioners of a nonviolent religion seems to care so much about instruments of death.  It's not Christianity itself that does this.  It's just the way that Americans use Christianity to justify the same paranoid, entitled behavior that defines our national character. 

I'm imagining a world where most Americans desire guns and carry them at all times.  In our society we are constantly competing with each other for who has the best stuff: the fanciest car, the biggest house, the most expensive wardrobe, the most sophisticated home entertainment system.  Our highways are an arms race of whose SUV is bigger and tougher.  If that guy's gun can kill 10 people in one shot, then I had better buy one that kills 20 in one shot.  Just as we spend more than we can afford on electronics and clothes and cars, we will be spending on the biggest, meanest shiniest guns.  It will be just another status symbol, because Americans have a right to their status symbols right?

Gun laws are not the problem.  The problem is our society.  You can imagine your happy little fun world where everyone can buy whatever gun he or she wants and it will be a peaceful utopia free of crime and murder forever.  Guns, or even lack of them, have nothing to do with it.  We need to change society's ills.  We need to fix what's wrong with our attitudes.  What we need, in short, is an actual society and not just a bunch of individuals out for themselves.  Sadly, I don't see this happening.  The killing will go on.

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