Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Constitutional Crackpots

You know, I really don't want to get into this whole gun control debate thing - it's strictly none of my business as it is a US problem and people just get so heated about it - but I keep seeing stuff posted on my social media feeds which really disturb me.  I keep seeing people I otherwise respect taking up extreme positions on the issue, trying to to treat it as some kind of matter of 'principle' that US citizens be able to own as many guns as they like, even when they themselves aren't actually pro gun.  Personally, I feel that the greater principle at stake here is innocent parties' right not to die at the hands of some other citizen exercising their inalienable right to own a firearm.  The 'inalienable' bit of the equation being the problem, of course.  All of the arguments concerning the 'principle' of gun ownership rest upon the Second Amendment of the US Constitution which, its advocates feel, puts the right to gun ownership on the same level as those individual freedoms, including free speech, freedom the press and freedom of assembly, guaranteed by the first amendment.  But the problem is that whilst the issues addressed by the first amendment are essentially universal and timeless, the second amendment was framed purely within a specific historical context: the aftermath of the War of Independence and the British government's attempts to repress the nascent revolution by restricting colonists' access to firearms and ability to organise militias.

Clearly, the situation has changed radically since the amendment was framed: the US has its own, long established, democratically elected government - neither the King of England nor anyone else is in a position to threaten this.  Which raises the question, who or what is the exercise of the second amendment now meant to protect US citizens from?  What threat do they need to protect themselves against?  Their own government, which they themselves elect?  The United Nations?  Let's be honest here, the only actual 'militias' you can find in the US now are bunches of right wing, often racist, crackpots who have to keep devising ever more bizarre conspiracy theories, like the UN as a nascent world government, to justify their firearm fetishes.  But hey - it's their constitutional right!  I guess than when you have to hide behind the US Constitution rather than engage with the real issues, it is a sure sign that you've lost the moral argument.  I've been disturbed by the way the perfectly justified concerns of the students who saw their friends and acquaintances gunned down by a nutter exercising his constitutional rights, have been so frequently airily dismissed by those defending the second amendment.  Constitutional or not, it is surely quite obvious that the US's gun laws are deeply flawed.

The fall back position of the pro gun lobby is that it isn't guns that kill people, it's people: gun ownership isn't the problem, just the people who own them.  Which, ironically, is surely the point their opponents are making?  The problem in the recent Florida school shooting wasn't, the gun lobby claim, the fact that firearms are freely available, but that the user had mental health problems, so you should be looking at his psychiatric problems rather than the fact that he legally owned guns.  Which, surely, is to put the cart before the horse - neither the perpetrator nor the authorities could necessarily help the fact that he was mentally ill, but in the majority of countries in the world, he wouldn't have been able to own firearms.  Again, the gun lobby always wails on about the impossibility of checking every potential gun owner for such things as mental health issues, but that simply reinforces the case for radically restricting gun ownership,

Anyway, like I said at the beginning, this isn't really my argument, although I think that the continued entirely avoidable deaths of so many people should be of concern to everyone.  As should the absolutism of those defending the status quo in the US.  I'll leave you with this thought, if the legal possession of guns is not itself a problem, a threat to law and order, then why is it that back in the days of the Old West (an era which the gun enthusiasts look back on with nostalgia), it wasn't uncommon for City Marshals to enforce ordinances requiring that all guns be left at the Marshal's office when arriving in town, to be collected on their owners' departure?  Reputedly, the likes of the Earp brothers used to enforce such rules and I'm pretty sure that they weren't bleeding heart liberals.  Just a thought.



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