Thursday, April 19, 2007

Repeal the Second Amendment from the Debate on Guns

First off, I know we already had a gun debate on this blog, and I am not necessarily looking for another one. Instead, I want to comment on the way we go about the gun debate, particularly the way it is discussed by, you guessed it, our politicians and our media. I will also say that I hope that if another debate arises, that it can be as clean and respectful as our previous one, as we acknowledge that in the end we all want what's best for our country.

Once again I will emphasize that I am not really interested in talking about guns, but rather I am interested in the way that politicians and the media talk about them, and whether it can be done in a more productive way. And now to dissentate.

I think the gun debate is too focused on the Second Amendment - literally, on the fact that it exists - as opposed to being focused on guns. While there are valid arguments for gun rights, most people who believe in them would rather just remind us that we have the Second Amendment. I would even say that people who continuously mention the Second Amendment are hiding behind it, and for no reason, since there are, I think, valid substantive arguments about gun rights.

Take John McCain for example. Now I think McCain is a smart guy and I can only hope to eventually provide a fraction of the service to my country that he has provided. But what about this quote about the VA Tech shooting:

"We have to look at what happened here, but it doesn’t change my views on the Second Amendment, except to make sure that these kinds of weapons don’t fall into the hands of bad people."

These are the words of a guy who is so focused on mentioning the Second Amendment that he doesn't even care what the rest of the sentence is as long as it includes the words "Second Amendment." I mean, look at the sentence, it makes no sense! Taken literally, it means that the shooting changed his views on the Second Amendment, unless I misunderstand the word except. What changed? Now he thinks that weapons shouldn't fall into the hands of bad people. This is a new belief for him. Now he couldn't have possibly meant that, but I think the quote does seem to illustrate my argument that all of this talk about the Second Amendment is taking the focus off of the substance and actually looking at the facts about guns in our society.

McCain continues:

"I do believe in the constitutional right that everyone has, in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, to carry a weapon."

This is just a kind of fancy way of saying "I believe that the Constitution exists, and a part of that Constitution is something called the Second Amendment, which I also believe, exists." I believe that too, but I don't think it says anything helpful to the debate.

We need to get the focus off of the Second Amendment and start talking about the facts about our country's current state of affairs. This is the only way to determine a sensible middle ground between outlawing all guns and making guns as easy to buy as cigarettes. The Second Amendment prohibits the former solution (at least for the Federal Government), and common sense prohibits the latter. But the Second Amendment doesn't really provide us with any further answers or guidance. Thus it is up to us to look at our experiences, and to respectfully debate based on what we have seen happen in our country over the last decade or so, and what are the best policies to keep us as free and safe (two goals that are often at odds with each other) as possible.

Although I am not optimistic for reasons to do with the current style of political and journalistic discourse, I hope we can leave the Second Amendment in its rightful place, and start talking about the substantive issues.


Cedric King said...

Apparently other people my age think about things as well...

I agree that a lot of the problem with the gun debate is that it is framed around the second ammendment. Perhaps in some respects this is intentional.

You could become a junior conspiracy theorist and suggest that the focus on the second ammendment is a tactical argument. Once we succesfully eliminate the weakest link in the Bill O' Rights we've set a precedent that they are no longer untouchable. What we would want to take away next I don't know... A master plan to force us to quarter British soldiers? We'll see...

I've personally never owned, fired or seen a gun. Though like many people in the wake of Virginia Tech, I've been reconsidering my opinion.

BostonDissentator said...

Hey, thanks for your comment!!

You make interesting points but I am not sure I understand them fully...

When you say that maybe the focus on the Second Amendment is a tactical argument, whose tactical argument is it? Conservatives? Liberals?

I agree with your classification of the Second Amendment as the weakest link, to me it can only make sense for the state of the nation at the time the Amendment was written and not for the 00s now that we have such a kick-ass army and police force (okay some of them are corrupt or whatever but no more than some random dude with a gun). So currently the Second Amendment just seems so out of place among all of the other rights on there which are still so relevant today.

That said, while I think the 2A is unnecessary now, I would be horrified at talk of repealing any of the other things on the BoR so I would have to think twice given your point about precedent.

Anyway like I kind of say in my post, it doesn't have to matter if we adopt an interpretation of the 2A that says: we can't outlaw guns but there's nothing wrong with making them a pain in the ass to acquire, which would of course reduce the supply of guns out there and would of course reduce the chances, and dare I say, the amount of gun violence. Now you or someone else might disagree with me on that, and if you do, then we are having a debate about the facts and the actual state of the world/the country, and we can and should have it without mentioning the Second Amendment. But just think how much we could accomplish and learn from each other if we didn't just go back and fourth with Second Amendment this, Second Amendment that. Hey gun owner that has never broken a law in your life, why not pay a little bit extra and wait a little bit longer to get your gun if it makes others safer and even saves their lives? Maybe a lot of gun owners would go for this exchange, and maybe that's why people in and connected to the gun industry keep the focus on the Second Amendment so we never get to these substantive issues for fear that if people start thinking about these things the gun industry is going to lose money.

Also, at the end, when you say you're reconsidering your opinion, is that your opinion on gun control, or your opinion on whether you want to own, fire or see a gun? I guess it's probably your opinion on gun control. Well what is interesting/scary to me about that is that for many Americans it takes something like this to get people to even consider the issue, let along consider it carefully. But this really shouln't be the case, as there is gun violence every day in this country. Of course we ignore it when it happens to certain groups of people that we aren't a part of and it normally doesn't affect us. We've heard the argument before but that's becasue it's true. Even when these things do affect people who we thought were safe from gun violence, like the students at Columbine, or the six-year-old who shot another six-year-old in 2000, we make a big deal about it for a while but then we seem to forget about it. I guess this is because it was a freak incident, and freak incidents are rare but, when they happen they are inevitable, so, oh, how convenient, we can't do anything about it so we don't have to. Not to mention that our society likes to place all of the blame on the shooter (those bold enough to admit that a person's brain (& actions) is influenced by other things aside from itself will even go as far as to blame the parents of the shooter), further strengthening the apathy and our obligation to do nothing about things like this.

Of course some people do do some stuff about it and they should be commended but I'm pretty sure most of us just shrug it off and go get a beer.


Cedric King said...

Sorry for any clarity issues. I'd not had too much sleep at that point, at least now I've had coffee and a class.

My conspiracy tangent was probably more joking consideration than anything. Thinking that increased gun control is a traditionally liberal stand, I'd have to stretch my opinion of the Democratic platform in order to give it any weight.

When I speak of my own re-consideration of the issue. The most recent example of using the 2nd Ammendment more or less succesfully was with the emergence of the Black Panthers in the late 60's.

The image of angry black radicals taking advantage of an Oakland law allowing for the brandishing of assault weapons? Kinda makes police/fire departments rethink breaking out the dogs and hoses of the Civil Rights Era. It was this issue specifically that led me to at least allow for some allowance that when you burst into the state assembly with a gun, the government listens a little closer.

Whether this scenario could occur in our current society is doubtful, but I have no clue what loopholes there are in the law for our modern day revolutionaries.

I agree with you entirely that just because you have the right to a gun doesn't mean it should be as simple as going to your local gun show. If people kill people, perhaps we should be a little more careful about which people get guns?

Not because we in any way doubt the guns intention of filling only deer with dozens of bullets in under thirty seconds, but because some veeps are getting a little older and don't aim as well as they used to.

As for the displacement of blame, it frustrates me as well... I accept that it's natural that after such an event people start looking for someone to blame (the inaction by the university, a broken system or "he was on medication of some sort"). Problems tend to be rooted in more than one place and it'd be better to consider all factors rather than focusing on the "I always knew he'd be a shooter" classmates.

BostonDissentator said...

Hey, you raise some interesting issues which I would like to explore further.

When you say that the Black Panthers used the 2nd Amendment successfully, I guess by "the 2nd Amendment" you mean guns, and by "successfully" you mean to promote civil rights.

It is a fact that if you are not part of the wealthy or powerful classes of society it is much harder to get your voice heard, hence your comment that when you burst into the state assembly with guns, the government listens a little closer. But my response is, sure, they will listen closer, but we might not like their ultimate response, as it will be driven by fear. I think recent events have been a pretty good demonstration that fear and violence only lead to more fear and more violence.

Maybe the Black Panthers did exploit a loophole in the law, and maybe they wouldn't have gotten much attention without the violent aspect of their organization, but do you think it's impossible that they could have been just as or even more successful without the violent aspects, which got them more attention but made them a lot of enemies and generated a lot of problems for them? Of course there's no way of knowing for sure.

As far as the option of bursting in with guns being unavailable today, and what options are available for our modern day revolutionaries, I say to you, why should the Black Panthers be the standard? What about Dr. King? What about Gandhi? What about Lincoln or RFK? These people all inspired millions to promote civil rights, and they did it peacefully. Granted, each one was assassinated, but their influence lives on forever.

Finally as to the placement of blame regarding the VA Tech shooter, just the fact that everyone immediately jumps to blame someone is upsetting. In immediately seeking to blame some person or people, we ignore the more important, broader question of how and why these things happen. The answer to that question is larger and more complicated than blaming one or a few individual people. But we live in a country led by a man who likes simple explanations, so maybe many of us do too. Placing blame on someone else also means that we are not responsible, that we can go on with our lives and feel sad for the victims but not feel sad for the state of our society and for the fact that it could happen again (if it happens again, it will be some person or peoples' fault for screwing up, which we can't control). This actually makes us feel better, so it is understandable that we do it. But we have to realize that these problems come from larger societal issues. We are an incredibly individualistic society, and when people fail in whatever aspect, professionally or socially, we seek to blame that person, and to ignore all of the conditions under which that person was operating and what challenges and obstacles they faced that others who succeed don't have to face. But we ignore that, and blame the person, and since it's that person's fault, society doesn't need to do anything. Furthermore, prevailing sentiment goes, if society did do anything, this would be less incentive for that person to do the right thing because they will be lazy if society is there to help them. This is capitalism, laissez-faire, the invisible hand, but we forget it is still a hand and is anyone else not creeped out by the idea that we are being touched and our actions guided by an invisible hand? I bed if we could see this hand it would be wearing some kind of a Rolex.

I am not saying place no blame on the shooters, but I am saying that they are only the tip of the iceberg as to why these things happen. People have an inherent desire for attention, and when they are ignored by those around them, they can become broken. When we deny our potential to help others and thereby refuse to do so we contribute to social problems.

So what am I proposing? First we need to see things for how they are and think of what we can all do to help others to do the same, and then we need to all think of how to help the situation. Blaming and shaming seems counter-productive towards coming up with new ideas and implementing them enthusiastically. Improved counseling is an obvious place to start, and schools need good psychiatrists and need to do a better job making sure kids don't fall through the cracks. As for the rest it is up to us to figure out and implement.

Cedric King said...

I agree entirely that there were many non-violent methods of protest that were succesful. Non-violence was very succesful, but it literally ended with all of its' leaders being killed or imprisoned.

As a tenet, non-violence is supposed to raise consciousness of the population that the oppressors must answer to. Perhaps if the Panthers had been non-violent, the tradition of turning the other cheek may have continued. Would they have survived their movement? Would yet another generation take the non-violent route after them?

I think the recogntional success of the Black Panthers is in their radicalism and their threat of violence. Their methods only worked because they were in contrast to the non-violence of the previous movement. While the Panthers threatened violence, they were for the most part never went beyond threat of violence. There was a fear of whether or not they would actually use the weapons. They get silenced in similar ways as the Civil Rights leaders, but the country is left with a fear of what could be around the corner.

Had the Panthers existed before the Civil Rights movement, they'd have hurt more than they helped. Having appeared after the silencing of non-violent voices, the Panthers could be viewed by the government as more than a group of extremists.

I doubt a non-violent response to the violent end of that leg of the Civil Rights movement would have been succesful. I think that popular support for the continuation of marches and the likes had dissipated, people were looking for a new leadership and the radical voice spoke loudest.

In South Africa, at the death and imprisonmeny of their non-violent leaders, Winnie Mandela rose with a more violent and radical voice than had been previously heard. Winnie's message isn't considered succesful because it seemingly caused a rift in a society that wasn't ready to stop non-violently protesting. In America the lack of a powerful alternative to the Panthers indicates that we may have been in a different point of our protests.

The non-violent movement may have been more succesful if it hadn't ended in such disillusionment. I would place our inability to maintain a non-violent approach on par with our need to find singular accountability for a problem. I don't know that any culture doesn't suffer from these faults, but believe they are shortcomings of our global society.

This discussion has triggered a few questions for me to further consider though. In South Africa, non-violent student protests were being met with violence. It is my understanding that there was still popular support for non-violent protest after the death of Biko and the imprisonment of Mandela. What if King had been impriosned in America instead of assasinated. If the day before his shooting, he were simply arrested by an oppressive state and held for a decade? In what way does America's political freedom actually result in a society that would be left with what they felt to have no recourse but extremism? What if Mandela had had been shot? Would Winnie's message have been more popular?

(Glaring differences being that South Africa's government would have killed Mandela, where as I don't believe that the US Government killed Dr. King or Malcolm X...directly (have to make room for the unknown)...I guess I'm pondering the "good" side of an oppressive state if measured only on the loss of lives?)

BostonDissentator said...

Hey, sorry it took me so long to reply to you. To be honest, I was hoping that the Capetown Dissentator was going to chime in given the discussion of South Africa, but anyway if you are still tuning in, here are my thoughts.

I still stand by my general gut feeling that violence is never the best option because it stirs up fear and anger and these emotions prevent people from seriously or carefully considering the other side's views, and instead provoke a response of more violence. If people can't make an attempt to understand another's situation, then they will never want to support them, and once violence enters into the picture it seems to discredit people in would-be supporters' eyes.

Interestingly, you describe the Black Panthers as a movement that kind of had it both ways: they were mostly non-violent but with the threat of violence, which got people to notice them. First off, I think that the Panthers, and the violent aspect of the organization, was just as much if not more a response to prior violence on the part of police in Oakland and elsewhere in the US than it was the inevitable result of the failure or disillusionment with the prior, non-violent civil rights movement, so I think it's more complicated than just disillusionment with non-violence and non-violence having achieved its potential for that time period.

I also think that we'll never know if the Black Panthers could have achieved the successes they achieved without violence, because, as you say in your comment, the most radical voice speaks the loudest, so they chose to include violence in their movement.

But the radical voice doesn't speak the loudest because it's the smartest or "correct" voice but because it stirs up the emotions by taking the easy way out and doing or saying something extreme and offensive (like violence or anger/fearmongering rhetoric of nationalism or racism). So I think a big part of the reason for the violent movements are that people want to act and be influential, but it is so much easier and faster if you incorporate some violence or threat or fear or anger to mobilize everyone. It is just so much easier to get everyone riled up and mobilized using those emotions, while it is much harder and can take much longer when using a platform based on hope and cooperation and understanding, but it seems that looking back on history, those revolutionaries that have used hope and non-violence like MLK and RFK etc are more influential and respected today. Sure I guess this is partly the man wanting to encourage non-violence, but it is also because non-violence and understanding and cooperation are intrinsically appealing in a way that anger and fear violence are not, especially when we look at all of the times that anger, etc led to such horrible outcomes, even when some of the people who started violent revolutionary movements started out idealistic.

As far as imprisonment by an oppressive state versus assassination by some lunatic in a freer state is that I think that whether a revolutionary gets imprisioned or assassinated, I'm not sure whether that makes much difference in the long run. One person can only take a movement so far, and new revolutionaries (who they hopefully create before or after their imprisonment/assassination) must take over. Whether they are imprisoned or assassinated, people will feel frustrated and powerless and will consider violence as a response, although in neither situation is violence inevitable.

I think in the end it comes down to what the revolutionaries are going to do to try to affect change. If you choose non-violence and hope there is the risk that no one will ever notice you, whereas it's pretty much guaranteed if you choose anger and fear and violence you are guaranteed some sort of attention and following. Thus it is no surprise that we have many instances of people taking the easier path and they have at best led to mixed results of support from some and a violent backlash from others.

Personally I hope the next revolutionaries will be patient and clever enough to find a non-violent solution to not only stir up their base but also make the oppressors/those in power carefully consider and understand the situation so that cooperation is possible. This would probably take multiple generations but it would still be a small span of time compared to that during which we have been going back and fourth with violence.