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Thursday, June 26, 2008


high court asserts american individual right to gun ownership

i don't know that i've ever commented on gun ownership here.

it's very clear (or should be) that the gun culture of the united states results in some hundreds of otherwise preventable deaths in this country. every comparable developed nation has crime problems; every developed nation has a black market for drugs; none other than the united states has a private gun culture. so when examining the astonishing differences in the per capita figures of violent injury and death between the united states and comparable civilized nations, it should be fairly straightforward that gun ownership is facilitating a counterculture cult of violence here.

that said, i rather have to agree with the decision today by the supreme court, for the first time articulating as constitutional law a right to private gun ownership. more (and better) via scotusblog. indeed, i think that in fact to talk about the right to keep a gun around "for self-defense" misses the point entirely.

the guns are for shooting politicians, soldiers and paramilitary police officers. they are the guarantors not of safety from one's neighbors but of liberty in the face of one's government.

the american power elite know this even if they dare not give it voice, and it does not set well with them. the debate over who should possess weapons and why has slowly, over time, migrated from a conversation about the ultimate check on the authority of a governing body to a question of personal safety. in doing so, it has been caught up in the rampant growth of the broader culture of fear so trenchantly analyzed by british sociologist frank furedi and taken on a far larger place in the american public discourse than perhaps it merits -- having become in some ways the visceral maximalist expression of the unsettled and fearful consideration with which the postmodern american views his neighbors.

statistically, there are something like 30,000 gun deaths in the united states annually. that is very high in comparison to other developed nations -- but also just 1.2% of the 2.4mm american deaths in 2002. much is made of the threat to children from firearms, and yet in 2002 there were just 436 firearm deaths of children 14 and under. for context, there are some 300mm americans of which some 60mm are 14 and under.

another way of saying this is that the chances of a child 14 and under being shot and killed in the united states in any year are about 1 in 137,615. another way of saying that is to say that one could reasonably expect to grow to the age of 15 almost 10,000 times without getting killed by a bullet -- or, you could have about 10,000 kids before you should reasonably expect one of them to get shot and killed before they hit 15.

these are very, very long odds -- indeed, the chances of your kid being killed in a car accident are about six times greater.

longer odds still apply to accidental death by firearms -- the category that eliminates the child homicides that are usually perpetrated by parents -- where just 86 kids in 60mm were killed. if you don't plan on shooting your children, the chances that they will be killed by a gun are nearly zero.

overall, just 776 accidental firearms deaths were reported in 2002 -- 0.8% of all accidental deaths, 0.03% of all deaths. can someone rationally explain the desire for trigger locks given these facts? at such low returns on legislation, why not ban scissors?

some among the obtuse, the paranoid and the unfortunately experienced would disagree -- but these are the concrete truths about gun deaths. vastly more children die each year from accidental drowning, and yet we don't outlaw swimming pools. vastly more children die each year from accidental fire and smoke inhalation, and we don't issue licenses for matches. almost twice as many children accidentally die in snowmobiling and offroad motorbiking/fourwheeling incidents, and there is utterly no outcry here.

but the gun has a special power to give expression to our fears about our society and our neighbors in a period of massive social upheaval and a breakdown of traditional norms regarding social interaction. the gun is the primary symbol of our insecurity about ourselves which we project onto others. this symbolism is why guns play such an outsized role in cinema and literature, and so have become as much a central counterculture iconograph to the nascent 21st century west as the muslim crescent was to the 13th. indeed it stands as the ultimate counterculture icon.

against the irrational fear of guns that permeates our society, we have to set its role in a society as virtually the solitary basis of resistance against government. with all due respect to mahatma gandhi and acknowledging that i do not now and may never own a gun on general principle, nonviolent resistance has severe limits when the government is shameless -- and governments are reliable in experiencing periods of shamelessness. it is this thinking -- and nothing to do with personal safety -- that underwrote the second amendment. the federalist papers offer some eye-opening excerpts on just how far off the original reservation we've already gone.

... [A]mbitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm. Every government would espouse the common cause. A correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted. One spirit would animate and conduct the whole. The same combinations, in short, would result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the dread of a foreign, yoke; and unless the projected innovations should be voluntarily renounced, the same appeal to a trial of force would be made in the one case as was made in the other. But what degree of madness could ever drive the federal government to such an extremity. In the contest with Great Britain, one part of the empire was employed against the other. The more numerous part invaded the rights of the less numerous part. The attempt was unjust and unwise; but it was not in speculation absolutely chimerical. But what would be the contest in the case we are supposing? Who would be the parties? A few representatives of the people would be opposed to the people themselves; or rather one set of representatives would be contending against thirteen sets of representatives, with the whole body of their common constituents on the side of the latter.

The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition. The reasonings contained in these papers must have been employed to little purpose indeed, if it could be necessary now to disprove the reality of this danger. That the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterrupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads, must appear to every one more like the incoherent dreams of a delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit zeal, than like the sober apprehensions of genuine patriotism. Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it.

The argument under the present head may be put into a very concise form, which appears altogether conclusive. Either the mode in which the federal government is to be constructed will render it sufficiently dependent on the people, or it will not. On the first supposition, it will be restrained by that dependence from forming schemes obnoxious to their constituents. On the other supposition, it will not possess the confidence of the people, and its schemes of usurpation will be easily defeated by the State governments, who will be supported by the people.

a variant of the contest here envisioned was later fought between 1861 and 1865, with the northern union states in league with the rump of a deeply divided federal government against the southern confederate states. but the salience of the logic is still copious: the federal government shall be subject to the people, or it shall be defeated by the people. securing the means of that defeat for the preservation of liberty under law is the essence of the second amendment. forgo it, and in time you will have cleared the path of tyranny.

as such, the desire of many among the elite to restrict the private ownership of weaponry is easily explained as a means to challenge their authority in the last resort upon which every previous resort is predicated. they today feel that challenge more deeply than ever, as we all do in the culture of fear, given the clear decline of traditional institutional authority. it seems to me that even the majoritarian revolutionaries that form a minority cabal on the bench of the high court are conflicted in their implementation of the spirit of the amendment -- this decision applies only to federal gun ownership bans such as the one that held in washington, dc, and as such does not rule particularly on the constitutionality state or municipal gun laws.

but the establishment of a firm constitutional penumbra protecting private gun ownership is nevertheless a major interpretation which will echo through gun legislation for a long time to come. so much the better, it seems to me -- for though we pay a price for the enforcement of our liberty, i think it a relatively minor and altogether necessary one.

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"the american power elite know this even if they dare not give it voice, and it does not set well with them."

Indeed. One can only look in wonder at the phenomenal amount of taxpayers money the power elites spend fortifying their offices and presumably valuable filing cabinets from any "assault" instigated by those very same unwashed beknighted taxpayers.

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gm, excellent piece. great analysis. too many morsels to comment on, but, imho, here's a good abstract:

nonviolent resistance has severe limits when the government is shameless -- and governments are reliable in experiencing periods of shamelessness.

again - - brilliant.

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