[NOTE: I return to the subject of gun control, with a column (Sun-News, 23 Feb) using some of the material appearing in my two blogs on the subject. Whatever my argument on the subject, I have one common theme: in the absence of sensible gun control, American society, by failing to protect its citizens from one another, especially disproportionately women and children, is a failed society. The foundational obligation of society is to protect the lives of its members and to promote the benefits of life in it. Second Amendment rights are subordinate to that obligation.
Wayne LePierre knows so. Otherwise, in advancing a Second Amendment argument for military-style arms, he would go for a Citizens-United-type decision ending limitations on "arms." The NRA's case would argue against laws restricting possession, ownership, and operation of (50-caliber) machine guns, Browning automatic rifles, bazookas, recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, artillery, rockets, bombs, and who knows what-all else. All of these arms would be important for civilians to have to defend themselves against "government tyranny." LaPierre's silence reflects his awareness that the obvious absurdity of allowing private individuals to have such weapons would work against the kind of military-style arms used in school, college, theater, and mall massacres, and in field exercises by paramilitary paranoids rehearsing attacks against government forces or targets.
In the months since the Newtown massacre, I have been in communication with several of my elected representatives, with dismaying results. All of them are mum on their views about what they want to do or intend to do about gun control. Before their election, they had no trouble promoting themselves as leaders and trying to persuade citizens to vote for them; after their election, they have nothing but trouble performing like leaders by trying to persuade their constituents to accept safe and sensible gun-control policies and legislation implementing them. Even if gun control is a lost cause, it is the kind of cause for which one, as a matter of conscience, must fight as a good fight. The alternative, seeking to do the popular or the politically safe thing to do in the matter of life and death to 30,000 or so civilians annually, is to countenance murder for personal convenience. I cannot think of a clearer measure of political cowardice and moral bankruptcy.]
Gunboys—What Is Their Problem?
The claims and counter-claims about the sense and safety of civilian- and military-style arms—weapons and ammunition—reflect divided responses to a complex and dynamic psycho-social problem. From one moment to another, people can be rational or irrational, intellectual or emotional, calm or crazed, about guns.
On the one side are reasonable citizens, some of whom like target shooting, enjoy hunting, or need protection of homes and businesses in high-crime urban or rural areas. They do not deny that most civilians should be able to own and use arms—single-shot rifles, double-barreled shotguns, small-clip handguns, or revolvers—for those purposes. They do not believe that background checks, registration, and licensing infringe on the ownership and operation of such weapons, or that society is wrong to want such procedures as modest means to protect itself from the crazed and the criminal.
I speak only for myself, but I do not live in fear that someone is going to shoot me, or in the fiction that, if I possessed arms, I could significantly increase the chances of protecting myself, my wife, or others from someone trying to shoot me, her, or them. I do not want to live in fear or pretend to effectiveness. And I certainly do not want the moral and criminal liability of wounding or killing a non-participant in a gunfight—a point which almost everyone ignores.
On the other side are unreasonable citizens who defend the ownership and operation of military-style arms as the necessary means of vigilantism or self-defense in the name of freedom against “tyrannical government.” They believe that any restrictions on the types and numbers of arms which they may own, and any administrative requirements on purchases and possession, disguise imagined government efforts to confiscate arms and render the populace defenseless against government tyranny.
Such imagined confiscation and encroachment by government they mean to resist. They fantasize that a family or group with an arsenal of military-style arms can defeat numerous, well-trained, and better-equipped police, FBI, or military forces—or, if not, that they, their families, and their friends can die in a noble fight for freedom. Some politicians, media commentators, and leaders of special-interest groups are reinforcing their fears of oppression and fantasies of resistance by endorsing the need for “Second Amendment remedies,” another American Revolution, or “bloodshed” every two centuries or so. Threatening words could become terrorist deeds.
They justify themselves by high-sounding appeals to the meaning and history of the Second Amendment—total twaddle accepted and alleged with religious-like zealotry. In defiance of sense and history, they claim that the Founding Fathers intended the Second Amendment as a government guarantee of the right of citizens to bear arms to protect themselves against the government guaranteeing that right. They naively believe that a tyrannical government would uphold that right!
But, when the Founding Fathers drafted and ratified it, and when state or federal military forces were weak, small, or remote, they had one purpose: to allow citizens to have arms for use in militias in defense of homes and communities from foreign troops or hostile Indians. They did not approve it in 1791 to legitimize insurrection, when, just years earlier, as they met to write the Constitution, federal troops suppressed Shay’s Rebellion. So the Second Amendment right is justified, yet limited, by the need then for a “well regulated militia,” not any need now for a mob of malcontents or a rabble of weekend warriors gussied up in camouflage garb and strutting their stuff.
Their fanaticism prompts me to consider who they are. I call them “gunboys,” my neologism for immature males of any age. Virtually all are white, most are rural, and many live in southern, south-central, or western mountain states. They believe that military-style weapons, ammunition, and paraphernalia prove their manhood and patriotism. Beneath their bravado are the bully’s insecurity and fearfulness. Their responses opposing what most people believe are common-sense restrictions on arms are ignorant or, for purposes of persuasion, deceitful; express anger and hostility; and make not-so-subtle threats of violence in resisting imagined confiscation and oppression. I see these responses as displaying precisely the emotional and mental disturbances which should disqualify them from owning and using arms, especially the military-style, rapid-fire, multi-round weapons of mass death. Luckily for them, the First Amendment protects political paranoids.
Their paranoia derives from their race and region. Gunboys fear the cultural and demographic changes which are marginalizing them because of their educational and socio-economic deficiencies, and making a majority of whites into a minority in a country with a majority of non-white minorities. As poor whites who owned no slaves fought to defend the privileges of their skin in the name of states’ rights, so gunboys are fighting to sustain white supremacy in the name of the Second Amendment. In the raging controversy over gun sense and safety, reasonable adults need to realize that they are dealing with scared little boys.