Sunday, April 21, 2013

We got Guns, they got Guns, all God's Children got Guns

These words were sung to the tune of the old spiritual by the Marx Brothers (and nameless others) in their masterpiece, Duck Soup, in jubilation as the fictional country of Fredonia went to war under the inspired leadership of Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly.  Perhaps it should become a theme song, if not the anthem, of our beloved Republic.  It would at least be easier to sing than that most difficult of songs.  Singing it after the anthem at public gatherings may be appropriate in any event.

Although I'm mindful of the Stoic maxim that we should treat things that are not in our control as indifferent, I can't help but feel a sad weariness, if not despair, over the failure of the Senate to adopt at least some kind of regulation of the sale and possession of firearms.  Accepting the Second Amendment to be what it is (and all that it is; an amendment to the Constitution) does not mean that the right to bear arms cannot be regulated, and it is foolish to maintain otherwise.

If it is possible to speak of a militia in these times, and if that word is to be taken into account in interpreting that amendment, it is also necessary to note that "militia" is referred in the amendment as "well-regulated."  This qualifying language indicates that to the extent the right to bear arms is founded on the need for a militia, it was recognized that such a militia should not merely be regulated, but should be well regulated.  The Fathers of this country were as well aware of the dangers presented by an armed citizenry as they were of its benefits.

One has to wonder just why the compromise presented was rejected.  Nobody was seeking to take guns from those who are so fond of them, or even from those who merely have them legally and do not have the fetishistic regard for them others plainly do.  Concerns that a national registry would be created seem unfounded; that one would be created as a consequence of new laws, or that the new laws proposed were a planned prelude to the confiscation of guns, seem to be motivated by a kind of paranoia.

Claims that we should enforce existing laws are well and good but do not require the inference that no further laws should be adopted.  Why not enforce existing laws and adopt new ones that are not duplicative?  Claims that new laws won't prevent criminals or the mentally irresponsible from acquiring guns are not persuasive.  We may learn that is the case, but it is impossible to know that now.  In that event, the laws can be modified.  But criminals by definition violate the law.  It doesn't follow that laws should not be adopted, or that efforts to enforce the law should be abandoned.

The arguments against the compromise that I have heard are so flimsy that it is tempting to assert that those who voted against it did so because of avarice (for money and power) or out of fear.  The claim being made that we should all arm ourselves seems exceedingly cynical coming from those who have become mere shills for gun and ammunition manufacturers, and is senseless given our history of using whatever weapon is at hand to harm others when we become angry.

But there may be other reasons we are all too ready to resist any attempt to regulate guns, and it may be that one of them is a sense of entitlement (such a naughty word these days in conservative circles) arising from an absolutist and even miserly interpretation of the Second Amendment and other legal rights (or perceived rights).

When we believe we have a right to do something, too many of us believe there is no reason to admit even the possibility of limitations to that right, regardless of whether its exercise would needlessly inconvenience or harm others.  We take a selfish and dully self-righteous satisfaction and pride in claiming we have a right to do something and it doesn't matter whether others like it or not or are adversely impacted--we're going do it anyway, even if we don't have to.

There is something ignoble in such an attitude.  It is a mean and petty conceit in all cases, but it is particularly so when dangerous weapons are at issue. 

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