Wednesday, April 10, 2013

GUN CONTROL: WHOM DO UDALL, HEINRICH, AND PEARCE REPRESENT?


[Note: A new title reflects new developments this Friday after I posted this blog on Wednesday.  Senator Heinrich has changed his position on the pending Senate legislative proposal from opposition to support.  As I wrote his press secretary, "I am glad to learn of Martin's change of position--I hope that it also reflects a change of heart--on this modest gun control package and promises favorable consideration of future 'gun restraint' legislation.]

The question should be absurd.  But once it is asked, it prompts a tangle of nasty issues, the first of which is the nature of American democracy.  With few and local exceptions, American democracy is representative, not direct, democracy.  Direct democracy can work either when polities have numerically small, geographically concentrated populations, including those with franchises restricted by age, race, gender, and citizenship.  The New England town meeting is more the stuff of myth than of reality in most of America.  For its large, dispersed, and diverse population, America has relied on representative democracy; people elect representatives to state and federal legislatures.

The second issue is the most important.  Once elected, representatives have to balance everyone and everything which they can represent.  The possibilities are many and interwoven: many different groups and many different interests of different groups.   Elected representatives serve the public interest, but there are many competing publics which have interests: city, county, state, and, for some, country.  They also serve partisan or parochial interests: businesses or consumers, management or labor, schools and teachers, hospitals and doctors and nurses, veterans, environmentalists, artists, farmers, hunters—the list goes on.  It includes their campaign contributors and their personal interests, whether political, religious, or pecuniary.  Juggling these often competing interests is hard work, but only for those who are not in thrall to some special interest or rigid ideology—for whom, all issues are resolved by their pocketbooks or prejudgments.

Almost all candidates for public office are as committed to the profession of politics as any career-driven person is to their vocation.  Unlike most careerists, however, they must appeal to the electorate, so, in most cases, some degree of prudent consideration of the opinions of the electorate enters into most political decisions.  On controversial issues usually characterized by a closely divided electorate, representatives know that any decision will divide the electorate but balance what is good and bad for them.

Consider abortion.  Although a small majority of Americans in the country and in almost all states favors a woman’s right to choose abortion, legislators at the state and national level pass legislation restricting it and survive the risks of offending voters because they are closely divided by, and now accustomed to votes against, the majority.  Moreover, most Americans accept that representatives must, in some cases, vote their consciences.

But, in any consideration of gun restraints, one confronts an entirely different and anti-democratically perverse response by most elected representatives.  One of its many issues, universal background checks, the majority of voters favors by nine-to-one ratios, plus or minus a few percentage points, across all surveyed groups.  This virtual unanimity is almost unparalleled on any domestic issue; only Congressional votes on war approximate such ratios of support.  Nevertheless, most Congressional representatives are not supporting legislation to implement this modest effort, among others, to provide greater protections against gun violence.

The reason for this widespread support is clear: most people believe that reasonable requirements for registering arms and restricting their kinds and capabilities are responsible means to reduce the number of episodes and the magnitude of the effects of gun violence.  I doubt that they believe that such requirements will eliminate gun injuries and deaths any more than they believe that legal speed limits end speeding and accidents.  I assume that they believe that criminals will continue to retain or acquire arms—they always have—but that such requirements and restrictions make it more difficult, with benefits to society in terms of injuries and deaths avoided.  The arguments to the contrary, if taken seriously, imply that no laws make sense because people break them and will continue to do so.  The rejection of imperfect means to a worthy end makes the perfect the enemy of the possible.

Representatives who are not supporting gun restraints often invoke or accept appeals to the Second Amendment.  I set aside what I have argued at length is a bogus reading of this amendment to allow the unrestrained access to arms of all kinds and all capabilities.  Pseudo-Constitutional appeals to the Second Amendment perversely assert that the Bill of Rights explicitly recognizes the right to “keep and bear Arms” without acknowledging the right, perhaps because not explicitly stated in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, of the living to keep doing so.  Indeed, the advocates of the means to harm or kill others regard the right to own pistols and rifles more important than the right to life of the people whom they might kill.

Thus, representatives who refrain from supporting gun restraints are ignoring the overwhelming majorities favoring reasonable gun restraints, are accepting bogus arguments against any gun restraints, and are countenancing the inevitably larger numbers of people who will be injured or killed as the inevitable consequence of unrestrained access to arms of any kind or capability.

So, with this knowledge aforethought, our local representatives—Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich, Representative Steve Pearce—cannot deny that they care little for the opinions of the majority of their constituents, little for reasoned argument, and little for human life.  Their care-less-ness reflects a radical rejection of American democracy, New Mexicans, and, quite literally, their lives.  Whatever their other political positions, on this one issue, they oppose the interests of the living in their support of the interests of the merchants and merchandizers of death.  If Udall, Heinrich, and Pearce are not themselves killers, their opposition to reasonable gun restraints makes them enablers of killers.

(Note: I find the following incident an illustration of rough, though tragic, justice.  No gun restraints can prevent stupidity, but they might remind people to take greater care of their arms if they wish to think themselves “law-abiding.”   See:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/josephine-fanning-dead-shooting_n_3042312.html?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=040913&utm_medium=email&utm_content=FeatureTitle&utm_term=Daily Brief.)

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