Saturday, August 11, 2012


When people tout American “exceptionalism,” they should not fail to tout America’s extraordinary love affair with punishment and death. America has larger percentages of its population in prison, of firearms per capita, and of homicides by firearms than any other country with an advanced economy. By privatizing prisons, merchandizing firearms, and misusing them to commit crimes, settle scores, or secure celebrity status, America ensures that it will remain exceptional for a long time to come.

Violence in America may be more American than God, mom, and apple pie. What other country’s constitution grants citizens the right to bear arms? What other country’s anthem celebrates a flag surviving a battle in a war to protect home and hearth? Why is its second choice the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”? Why does America not have an anthem celebrating democratic values like equality and freedom?

Americans love violence. Boys get toy or real guns for Christmas which teach them what peace on earth, good will to men means: guns are the real peacemakers. Teenagers playing computerized games for hours press buttons which fire weapons to kill enemies different in appearance and thus presumably evil, but painlessly and bloodlessly, and, best of all, without collateral damage.

Boys will be boys even as men. Armed with military rifles, clad in military-style garb, equipped with military gear, and practicing small-unit tactics, they spend weekends to protect America from “tyrannical government,” the Muslim Brotherhood, or who knows what other imaginary threats to “the land of the brave and the home of the free.” The men play out the games which they learned to play as boys.

But armed youths and militiamen do not keep us safe. Instead, they kill as many Americans with guns every six years as the Viet Cong killed in the entire Vietnam War.

Nevertheless, critics of military-style weapons in the open market prompt a defensive hullabaloo. Some defenders argue that the Second Amendment precludes any regulation of any individual firearms which any individual might “bear.” I have no quarrel with the Second Amendment, but this argument defies law and fact.

All Constitutional rights are liable to restriction if their exercise does or threatens more harm than good. The First Amendment does not protect disclosure of classified information, incitement to riot, defamation of people, fraud, perjury, or yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

Likewise, the Second Amendment need not preclude reasonable regulations about purchasing, owning, or selling weapons of mass murder. Indeed, it does not preclude the regulation of individual weapons like bazookas and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. So it could prohibit multi-round, semi-automatic or automatic weapons designed and intended to kill many people quickly, not for hunting or protection.

Others argue that if more people carried weapons, they would deter or stop mass murderers. The nonsense of this claim raises doubts whether zealots have a clue about such situations. For those carrying weapons have no training which could prepare them for mass-murder situations like the Aurora massacre. Training in arcade games or on target ranges, whether the shooter or the targets are stationary or moving, is no preparation for a shooting attack in unexpected, crowded, and chaotic situations.

When I received basic infantry training, I demonstrated that I was a crack shot, even better at night than during the day. In one nighttime range exercise, I was surprised by, and missed, the first moving target, then hit the next nineteen targets. The range officer, sure that I had cheated, demanded that I repeat the exercise on a different course, and, with two other officers, watched me from behind. I hit all twenty. The infantry tried to lure me away from my assigned branch and probably wanted me to be a sharpshooter.

But I do not think that, were I armed, I could deter or stop an attacker in a movie theater. I would not want to try or even be tempted to try. Because the advantage is always with the attacker, I would be as much surprised and disoriented as anyone else in the audience. I would have virtually no chance of getting off a clean shot at him because people would be bumping into me or running between us. Any shot would make a bad situation worse because most people in the panicking crowd would think that I was another attacker. In these circumstances, I would risk wounding or killing someone else.

So those planning an attack would probably want armed vigilantes in the audience to make things worse. And those thinking to stop it should think about their responsibility if they wounded or killed someone else. Would they rely on the confusion to conceal such consequences? Would they excuse them with their good intentions?

The millions of responsible gun owners who need firearms for hunting or for self-defense should support regulations limiting firearms for those purposes. They should stop paying NRA dues to support the firearms industry, criminals, soldier boys, and whack-jobs.

No comments:

Post a Comment