The Grand Delusion

In a most interesting editorial from Der Spiegel passed along by that consummate blogger, Jill Dennison, we read how some of the folks across the pond view this political race — and especially Donald Trump. The editorial is unsettling to say the least. After talking about the man, it mentions the grave danger to the world if Donald Trump were to hold the nuclear codes; then the writer goes on to attempt to understand why Trump has garnered such a loud and large following:

But Trump’s supporters hardly misunderstand: Crushed by generational, technological and demographic changes and abandoned by a broken political system, they’ve been boiling from suppressed, not-so-secretly yearned-for violence for a while. They were just waiting for their leader.

They aren’t bothered by the fact that he lies pathologically and has no clue about world politics, domestic and economic policy or the intricacies of diplomacy. For too long, they’ve been living in an alternate universe where reality and delusion blur, where truth and lies are inverted. Trump has legitimized them and their worldview.

This is well put. The author measures the frustration experienced by those people who feel disconnected from a political process that has clearly broken down. They see Trump as a knight on a white charger, coming to the rescue. What the editorial does not mention is how deluded this view is. Trump is anything but a knight and there is simply no way he can fix the broken political machine — as he avows. That’s not how it works (when it does work).

We have seen how ineffective a president can be when he has to deal with a majority in the Congress from the other party (who have vowed not to cooperate with the man whatever he might want to do). If Donald Trump were to become president (God forbid) he would be totally ineffective, because he has zero credibility among the professional politicians whom he wants to coerce. Even a well-meaning man like Bernie Sanders would be ineffective in a system that ties the hands of the executive. It’s that way by design. The founders did not trust power and they wanted no part of a powerful president that would be king.

But that is precisely what Trump does want — to be king. He talks as though when he becomes president he will simply snap his fingers and there will be instant change. We know he is stupid, but the extent of the stupidity among his mindless minions who believe this nonsense beggars belief. They simply do not know anything about the political system they are a part of, except that has broken down and they cannot get whatever it is they want. Even under the best of circumstances — a bright and civic-minded president working hand-in-hand with a cooperative Congress — the president can only do so much. And given the fact that the corporations and special interest groups hold the strings that direct the actions of so many in Congress, even under the best of circumstances it is doubtful that much would get done to repair the broken machinery. Just imagine, for example, such a harmonious political executive and legislative body attempting to institute measures that would control the sale of weapons in this country. Is anyone naive enough to think that a president, any president, could take on such a powerful group as the N.R.A. and win the day? Surely not.

But if Trump were president (again, God forbid) there would be no harmony and the machine would work even less effectively than it does at present. He would get nothing accomplished and piss off a great many people in the process. Imagine how his frustration would mount and how that frustration might express itself! There is simply no reason whatever to vote for this man — and a great many reasons not to do so.

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Culpability

We don’t talk much about moral responsibility, or culpability, these days. We are big on “rights” but we fail to acknowledge that rights imply responsibilities. If I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that imposes a responsibility on my part to acknowledge your rights to the same. There’s no such thing as one-sided rights — except in the cases of  children or the mentality challenged who cannot possibly be expected to acknowledge their rights to those who are responsible for their welfare.

But in failing to acknowledge responsibilities, we have become experts at pointing fingers at others to avoid blame. “Mikey made me do it, Mom.” We expect that in children, but we have arrived at the point where everyone seems to be acting like a child, pointing fingers when blame is due. The N.R.A., and those gun manufacturers that support that group, are a case in point. They like to say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. This is a half-truth. It’s not altogether false, but it is not altogether true, either. To see this we need to distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions when assigning causes. For A to be the cause of B (and therefore responsible for B) A must be the necessary and sufficient condition for B. For instance, in order for me to have killed Sam who lies dead on the floor it is necessary that I have been there when it happened. If I was there holding a gun and there is sufficient DNA evidence that I shot Sam, then there would appear to be both necessary and sufficient conditions for me to have been the killer.

The N.R.A. is right in that if there were no people there would be no gun deaths. But, then, if there were no guns there would be no gun deaths, either. Guns are the necessary condition for the gun deaths to occur. There need only be a nutter or two, along with fear and rage, in order to realize the sufficient conditions for gun deaths to occur. And there are plenty of nutters, as we are finding out daily. Thus, those who provide the guns are at the very least partially responsible, culpable, for the gun deaths and cannot simply point the finger elsewhere. To be sure, many of those nutters would find another way to wreak havoc, but the consequences would not be nearly as catastrophic as they are when the nutter is armed with an automatic weapon supplied by the gun manufacturer who is at the very least partially responsible for those terrible deaths since he provides the shooter with a weapon.

The Republican Convention runs this week and we are told that, since Ohio is an “open carry” state, there is a number of New Black Panthers and White Supremacists on hand, fully armed and ready to fight if the occasion arises. It’s a volcano primed to erupt and we can only hope that the occasion does not arise. But if it does and if people are killed, as they most certainly would be, then those who provided those militant people with weapons are at least partially responsible for the results. They will have provided the necessary conditions for the event to happen, if not the sufficient condition. Those who promote this sort of behavior with inflamed rhetoric must also be regarded as partially responsible for the results.

When we are screaming about our “rights” we must remember that those rights imply responsibilities as well. And we might do well to recall that the so-called “right to bear arms” is a right, under the Constitution, that is guaranteed to militia — not White Supremacists or Black Panthers (New or Old).

Nervous Times

The satirist Tom Lehrer once said he felt like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. We are all learning that feeling as the news keeps getting worse and more and more slugs rise to the top of the mud that Donald Trump has stirred up with his hate and fear-mongering. He seems fit only to lead a mob, certainly not to lead this country. There can be no doubt that (a) the slugs were there all the time and (b) Trump’s rhetoric has given them the courage to speak and act their bigotry openly. These are, after all, the forgotten ones, the ones who find themselves among the discarded of society, the bottom-feeders, unsuccessful and frustrated by a system they blame for their own shortcomings. They see this man as the one who can deliver them from their despair and bring them a brighter day. He gives them license to voice their opinions openly and act out their hatred.  After all, if a “successful business man” says those things, they must be true. He has somehow managed to give bigots the conviction that their way of hating is perfectly acceptable.

There are so many problems with this scenario one hardly knows where to begin. But the extent of this phenomenon must be addressed. It’s easy to say, as I have in the past, that much of it is the fault of a flawed educational system. But that’s only a part off the problem and it doesn’t appear that it will be fixed in the near future — especially since those who can fix it are products of that very system and they see no problem.

The same remains the case with gun control, which is another part of the problem — a large part. There are so many guns out there in the hands of nervous nutters that even if a law were passed today prohibiting the purchase of automatic weapons there would remain a monumental problem, one that law enforcement is probably unable to deal with effectively. And, given that many of those in law enforcement are clearly fearful (and with good reason), one cannot ask those men and women to solve our problems.

Those who might take steps to gain some control of a system that is clearly out of control, the Congress, is paid by monied interests not to think (and they do that very well) and to simply pause in their daily activities from time to time to say a silent prayer for those who have been brutally killed in the name of hatred and bigotry.  They fiddle while Rome burns. But it would take strong laws preventing the sale of all automatic weapons together with a recall of such weapons already sold, coupled with enforcement of those laws by the National Guard, to begin to make inroads against the rising tide of hatred and fear.

I tend to be pessimistic when it comes to the motivation of most of my fellow humans, but I like to think I am being realistic when I say that a solution is possible only if the Congress is radically altered in its make-up and the leaders are courageous enough to take on such powerful entities as the N.R.A. Until that happens, until some sort of leadership and courage are shown at the Federal level, the situation will remain the same or even get worse. There are growing numbers of fearful people who are frustrated by their lack of power and the unwillingness of those in power to take any steps to improve their collective lot and these people are armed and will continue to act in haste and wreak havoc. If cool heads don’t prevail, we may well become an armed camp in which might makes right.

We need to remind ourselves that the appendix can be removed when it is inflamed and the pestilence that pervades this country at the present time can also be rooted out. But it will take decisive and courageous action on the part of those with the power to effect change. Until such people are elected to Congress we can simply expect more of the same. And the appendix may well rupture.

 

Death of Affect

The title of this post is words borrowed from J.G. Ballard and they put me in mind of the fact that one of the things that sets our era apart from preceding ones is the various movements that have resulted in the widespread death of millions of innocent people. We use words like “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” to describe those movements, but those words hardly describe the systematic elimination of whole groups of people — such as an estimated 22 million souls under the various programs initiated by Joseph Stalin in the last century. And it behooves us to mention the current use of drones by this country to “take out” terrorists while killing thousands of innocent civilians. Indeed, the inclusion of ordinary citizens in the death count in recent wars is something relatively new in human history. In order to distinguish these events from the systematic “removal” of eight million Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe under the Nazis the term “Holocaust” was coined in the mid 1960s and it does a fairly good job of establishing the uniqueness of the events surrounding the “Final Solution” that was carried out by such people as Adolph Eichmann under Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s.

The term “Holocaust” enjoys special status and has not (yet) been borrowed or stolen by historians or social scientists in their efforts to describe other such events — such as the more recent “ethnic cleansing” in Eastern Europe. But it matters not. What happens is that we hear the word, or the words, so often that we become inured to them. They cease to have any real meaning.  How can any of us imagine, for example, what the words “twenty million” even mean when applied to the death of civilians who have done nothing whatever to deserve those deaths, except that they were different? We cannot.

Eventually, the words cease to have any real meaning and, worse yet, the events that those words are supposed to describe cease to have any reality for us. Those are things that happened to other people somewhere else. We adopt what has been called a “survival strategy” that protects us from such harsh realities. We exhibit “selective apathy, emotional disengagement from others, renunciation of the past and the future, a determination to live one day at a time,” as Christopher Lasch said in describing the mindset of those in the death camps who had given up all hope. After all, if a nation decides to systematically “remove” its own citizens what recourse does anyone have? The only option is to focus exclusively on one’s own survival. Nothing else matters.

The point of all this is to draw attention to the distinct possibility that we may already be adopting the same strategy in the face of the facts and descriptions of the mass killings that fill our newspapers and television on a daily basis — not to mention the constant reminders about world-wide terrorism and the violence that has become the order of the day on television, video games and American movies. After a while, those words and those events take on an abstract, unreal existence. We turn into ourselves and focus attention elsewhere rather than confront the terrible fact that there are maniacs who, heavily armed as they all seem to be, can decide who will and who will not live. As happens with medical doctors and policemen, after a while these events become the norm and our feelings shut down.

It is quite possible — he said, risking the charge of conspiracy theorist — that the powers that be in this country (mainly such powers as the N.R.A.) — are quite content that we should become desensitized to the daily mass killings by maniacs with automatic weapons who kill indiscriminately. It’s hard to turn on the television, or turn to the computer, or read a newspaper, without being told about another killing of numerous people by another maniac. And the hope may well be (one I do not share) that eventually we will become so desensitized to this news that we will stop paying attention altogether and cease to be concerned. After all, what can we do in the face of such powerful entities as the N.R.A. that has the Congress in its pocket and tells it how to vote?

This, it seems to me, is one of the most serious problem we face: that we will become so desensitized to the fact of grim and violent death that we will no longer care. It will be something for someone else to worry about. Instead, we worry about more important things, such as how the local sports team is doing and whether it will make the playoffs this year.

Small Victory

A recent Supreme Court decision seems to give those of us heart who want some sort of control on the sale of guns in this country, some restoration of sanity in what has become sheer madness. A Yahoo News story suggests that the Court realizes that the sale of such things as assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons was never any part of what the Founders had in mind:

Washington (AFP) – The US Supreme Court appeared on Monday to back lawmakers who want to restrict the type of guns such as semi-automatic assault weapons used in recent mass shootings.
In a 7-2 vote, the high court’s justices refused to take up a challenge to a Chicago suburb’s ban on the sale or possession of semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The court’s move is a small victory for activists against the spread of such guns, which can potentially kill many people in a short period of time.

Predictably, the two Justices who voted in opposition to the majority were conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. What is interesting to me is that Thomas claims to be a “strict constructionist,” one who  thinks the country needs to stick close to the intentions of the Founders. But, as I have said on these blogs repeatedly, a close reading of the second amendment to our Constitution states clearly that the “right” to bear arms is designed to guarantee the ability of a militia to defend the country against possible insurrection. The amendment doesn’t guarantee all of us the right to bear arms, only the militia. And since we no longer have a militia it would follow that the so-called right is no longer applicable. Further, the Court in years past has ruled out such things as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns on the grounds that these are not protected by the Second Amendment. So there is precedent.

One would expect that the Supreme Court is not subject to the threats and pressures the N.R.A. can bring against elected officials — by guaranteeing that those who are “uncooperative” have brief political lives. The justices are appointed for life and the original idea was that as such they would be above political infighting and cajolery. And in the past, the Court has shown that it can rise above political infighting; even the present Court has done so on occasion. Such is the case here, one would think. It is a small step. But when most of the steps we have been taking recently seem to be backwards, it is a sign of hope that there is a way forward.

Joe The Plumber

If we are interested in such things, we can read in Wikipedia the following text about one of America’s “heroes.”

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known by the nickname “Joe the Plumber“, is an American conservative activist and commentator. He gained national attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential election when, during a videotaped campaign stop in Ohio by then Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, Wurzelbacher asked Obama about his small business tax policy. Obama’s response included the statement, “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” Obama’s response was seized upon by conservative media, as well as by Obama’s rival, Republican nominee Senator John McCain, as an indication that Obama was interested in the redistribution of wealth and had a socialist view of the economy. Wurzelbacher is a member of the Republican Party.

Since he expressed to then Senator Obama that he was interested in purchasing a small plumbing business,Wurzelbacher was given the moniker “Joe the Plumber” by the McCain–Palin campaign. The campaign subsequently took him to make several appearances in campaign events in Ohio and McCain often referenced “Joe the Plumber” in campaign speeches and in the final presidential debate, as a metaphor for middle-class Americans.

Wurzelbacher became a conservative activist, commentator, author and motivational speaker. In 2012, he ran on the Republican ticket to represent Ohio’s 9th congressional district in the House of Representatives, losing to Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur.

And, so I have heard, he became the darling of Fox News. He’s supposed to represent your typical American as embraced by the Republican Party and represented by ordinary folks like Mitt Romney. The reason one might be interested in recalling this name is because it is again in the news; the man has opened his mouth again and showed us that there is really nothing between his ears. After the shooting deaths of three students and the injuring of thirteen others in a Santa Barbara Community College earlier this month, Joe declared that “As harsh as it sounds — your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” There are two things about this inane comment that are disturbing.

To begin with, of course, is the crass self-assertion that rubs salt in the wounds of the parents of those who have lost their children to another senseless shooting in a country where such things are becoming alarmingly commonplace. I couldn’t possibly write a better response than did Erica Lafferty, the daughter of one of the women slain in the Sandy Hook shootings in December of 2012. Her comments can be read in their entirety here. But the second point has to do with this man’s typical misreading of the U.S. Constitution. I have held forth a number of times on this topic and will not repeat here what I have said in previous blog posts, except to say that retired Supreme Court Judge John Paul Stevens has expounded on a point I have made in those posts, to wit, that the second amendment to the Constitution does not guarantee people like Joe the Plumber’s so-called “rights” to keep and bear arms. It guarantees the rights of members of the militia to keep and bear arms.

This point cannot be made emphatically enough, since the widespread misunderstanding of the Constitution has led to the irrational attempts to justify the presumed rights of every American of every age and political persuasion to own automatic weapons that are designed to kill human beings on the grounds that they have a Constitutional right to own such weapons. The usual argument is that once such weapons are banned then “they” will take away our hunting rifles, though I have never heard anyone claim that hunting weapons should be taken away from people. Those who argue for some sort of calm and reasonable approach to gun control simply want to help remove those automatic weapons that are clearly designed for killing human beings and are readily available from the sporting goods department at Walmart, among other places.

In other words, folks like Joe the plumber who reveal their arrogant self-righteousness about their presumed “rights” and the determination of “liberals” to take away their shotguns and 22’s are guilty of what logicians call a “red herring.” There is no such movement. Second Amendment aside, no one wants to take hunting weapons away from Americans.  But the attempt  by folks on both the political left and right to bring light to an issue where there is at present so much heat  is thwarted at every turn by the immensely powerful gun lobby whose only goal is to keep producing and selling expensive weapons of all descriptions behind their appeal to a Constitutional amendment that was never written to guarantee them such a right in the first place. And the N.R.A. has shown repeatedly that they have enough politicians in their pocket to keep any sort of meaningful gun control issue from even being raised in Congress.

But, that’s the issue, isn’t it? How does one shine a light on such darkness where greed, irrationality, hatred, and fear dominate and reason can find no purchase?

 

The Second Amendment

James Madison, who wrote the Constitution in close association with his friend Thomas Jefferson, did not think a Bill of Rights was necessary. Alexander Hamilton agreed and said in a lengthy discussion of a possible Bill of Rights in Federalist Papers #84,  “The Constitution is its own Bill of Rights.” These men worried that if a list of such rights was drawn up something would be left out or, worse yet, folks would think those were the only rights that citizens have. Indeed, Hamilton went on to note that a Bill of Rights is both “dangerous” and “unnecessary,” since he thought such rights are clearly implied in the Constitution itself and need not be specified or if specified could be circumvented by devious minds. Hamilton assures his readers that “Here in strictness people surrender nothing [by not having their rights specified]; and as they retain every thing they have no need of particular reservations. . . . [the Constitution] contains all which in relation to their objects, is reasonably desired.” Further, the men thought that citizens’ rights were self-evident, a favorite concept of Enlightenment thinkers.

But since several states were reluctant to ratify the Constitution without a specified Bill of Rights, Madison eventually drew up a list of twelve such rights that were soon pared down to ten. The one that is most talked about these days is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, the Second Amendment. This right was specified because the Founders regarded militias, raised by the states and paid by the states as the need arose, as essential to the freedom of the American people. Their model, in all likelihood, was Cincinnatus, the citizen/farmer in the early days of Rome, who fought when the need arose and then went back to his farm when the danger had passed. The founders were known to have greatly admired the Roman Republic, using it as a model for their own government. And given their experience with the constant presence of the red-coated British, they were very concerned about the possibility of a standing army — even their own army — that would strengthen the government and weaken the people’s freedom.  Indeed, when they were considering ratification of the Constitution, Hamilton had to assure his New York readers, in Federalist #24, that they need not fear the presence during peace time of a standing army: it simply wouldn’t happen.  The states would retain the power to raise militias when necessary and disband them when the danger had passed: they would be “well regulated.” Thus, in order to avoid a standing army, state militias were essential. Not only had the conjoined militias won the Revolution after all, but, during Washington’s presidency, a collection of several state militias amounting to 17,000 men was quickly rounded up and, led by the President himself, headed West to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania. The word got out that the militia was headed their way and the Rebellion broke up. At that time it was determined that the militias could safely protect the citizens of the new nation.

The point of this little history lesson is to show that the Second Amendment was less about the right to keep and bear arms than it was about the need for armed militia. Indeed, when, much later, in 1934, the Congress passed the National Firearms Act to keep such things as sawed-off shotguns out of the hands of gangsters, the case eventually went to the Supreme Court whose decision clearly centered around the Founders’ express need for a militia. In their decision, they reasoned that “The Court cannot take judicial notice that a shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches long has today any reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, and therefore cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon.” Might not the very same thing be said of today’s automatic weapons?

In fact, if you read the Second Amendment carefully, you will see that it presents us with a compound statement in which two clauses are interdependent. It reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In other words it states that since a militia is necessary to defend freedom, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The statement is quite precise: one thing necessitates the other. If there were no need for a militia — as, say, if there were a standing army, navy, marine corps, air force, and national guard — then there would be no grounds for the so-called “right” to keep and bear arms. And, conversely, the right to keep and bear arms need not be recognized when the need for a militia disappears — because of the presence of a standing army, for example.

The relentless attempts by the arms manufacturers — for the most part — to bully this Congress and the Supreme Court into allowing any and all weapons in the hands of any and all citizens, regardless of age, flies in the face of the Second Amendment as it was written and understood for many years. The arguments by groups such as the NRA tend to focus exclusively on the “right” itself, and ignore the explicit concern for militias. But, assuredly, the fact that state militias are a thing of that past implies that the right to keep and bear arms can no longer be said to be protected by this Amendment. Perhaps in the end Hamilton was right — certainly with respect to the Second Amendment: it has proven to be “dangerous.”

More From the N.R.A.

The NRA is at it again. They want the Supreme Court to read the Constitution the way they do, to agree that the Second Amendment permits minors to carry guns outside the home. The story reads, in part:

The Second Amendment, at its core, spells out not one, but two, rights when it protects “the right of the people.”  There is a right to “keep” a gun, there is a right, to “bear” a gun.  There is an “and” between the two in the text, so that might well be taken as a significant indication that these are separate rights.

The Supreme Court in 2008 made it clear that the right to “keep” a gun is a personal right, and that it means one has a right to keep a functioning firearm for self-defense within the home.   But it has refused repeatedly since then to take on the question of whether that right exists also outside the home.  If there is a separate right to “bear” a gun (and the Court, in fact, did say in 2008 that the two rights were separate), it has not said what that means.

The National Rifle Association, and some of its members, are now pressing the Supreme Court to answer that question.  They are doing so in two cases testing whether the federal government and the states can restrict the rights of minors to possess a gun outside the home.   The Court is expected to take its first look at those cases later this month, to decide whether it will hear either or both of them.   The federal government, once again, is urging the Court to bypass those cases, as it has done with perhaps a half-dozen others seeking clarification of the Second Amendment’s scope.

In a case from Texas, the NRA’s lawyers have reduced to elementary constitutional logic the question of what a right to “bear” guns means: “The explicit guarantee of the right to ‘bear’ arms would mean nothing,” the NRA’s filing argued, “if it did not protect the right to ‘bear’ arms outside of the home, where the Amendment already guarantees that they may be ‘kept.’   The most fundamental canons of construction forbid any interpretation that would discard this language as meaningless surplus.”

Now there are two things about this that strike the attentive reader right away: the NRA wants kids of any age to be allowed to carry guns and they want them to be able to do it outside the house. Got it? In their argument they show a painfully careful reading of the Second Amendment that, they insist, allows not only the “keeping” but the “bearing” of arms. Thus, they say, the latter permits taking weapons anywhere and apparently at any age — though I honestly don’t see where the lack of age restriction comes in. Perhaps it’s somewhere in the small print.

However, in their close reading of that Amendment the NRA lawyers seem to have ignored altogether the antecedent of the hypothetical sentence. It says that “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” I have blogged about this before, but apparently the NRA lawyers don’t read my blogs. And that’s a pity, because the entire case for the so-called “right to bear arms” rests on the supposition that there will be no standing army and because of that we require a militia. But we do have a standing army (and then some). It follows that the right to bear arms is not protected by this Amendment, since there is no need for a militia. The two are conjoined in the Amendment which the NRA lawyers claim to have read so carefully.

Of course this is the group that stood by silently when the Congress was debating the possibility of outlawing certain types of weapons to keep them out of the hands of the militant blacks during the turbulent 1960s, and said nothing when Congress actually passed The National Firearms Act in 1934 prohibiting such things as sawed-off shotguns during the days of Al Capone, a law that was later upheld by the Supreme Court as Constitutional. If you read the decision of the Court in 1939 regarding the National Firearms Act, titled United States vs. Miller, it is clear that the Court regarded the necessity for a militia as the key ingredient in the Second Amendment. Their reasoning was as follows: “The Court cannot take judicial notice that a shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches long has today any reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, and therefore cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon.” Not only can the NRA apparently engage in selective protest, but also selective reading. So much for matters of principle and a genuine concern for what the Founders actually said. And, seriously? Kids carrying guns?

Craving Violence

Brace yourself. LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Hulk, smash.” That’s what Captain America tells the Incredible Hulk to do in “The Avengers,” and that’s what the Marvel Comics superhero mash-up did at the box office, smashing the domestic revenue record with a $200.3 million debut.

America has always had a love affair with violence, and it makes sense that the biggest film on record epitomizes that love affair. It is surprising, however, that the movie is also a big hit overseas, which gives one pause: is love of violence contagious? It wouldn’t be surprising and as the world becomes increasingly cramped, we are likely to see more and more violence — and, of course, the media will be there to report it and even to glorify it. Which will, in turn, generate more violence. So it goes.

I mentioned in an earlier blog the interesting difference between the way the British treat their heroes — such as Sherlock Holmes — and the way Hollywood treats the same character. Note the mega-upgrade in violence in the latter — though the recent series on BBC called, simply “Sherlock” has considerably more violence than the series that ran previously with Jeremy Brett. The current hero comes complete with a Dr. Watson who is a retired army medic who packs a handgun (?) wherever he goes and is a crack shot. But as a rule, the British seem to prefer their heroes to have brains rather than brawn, at least until recently.

There has been endless debate about the causes of our love affair with violence, including a Michael Moore film that came to no conclusion whatever after leading up to an embarrassing “interview” with Charlton Heston in which Heston spent most of the interview making sure he said nothing. Heston, of course, leads the NRA into battle at every possible opportunity — in the name of the second amendment to the Constitution, which does not say anything about the NRA or about hand guns, or oozies. Or Charlton Heston. Or Moses. It does, however, talk about a militia and the absence of a standing army, which are why we have a right to “bear arms” — to protect our home and country. But the latter element of the amendment seems to have fallen by the wayside in the heated discussion about whether we should have a right to shoot our neighbors in the street, or our backyard — or while on “neighborhood watch.”

I suspect I know what causes violence. Aside from dementia, which plays a part, I suspect since men are the usual culprit it is the testosterone they are filled with combined with the increasingly crowded living conditions that tend to lead all animal species to violence. Why should we be exceptional? Also, our inclination to violence is certainly influenced by our love of violent movies and games — including the “Avengers” who solve every problem by violent means and don’t seem to share a brain among them. The fact that America leads the world in violent acts is a fact that may soon have to be corrected after recent events like those in Norway — and the popularity of this particular movie around the world. We shall see. Personally, I like my crime solvers to use their minds and will prefer to watch “Inspector Lewis” (who doesn’t carry a gun) and wonder why humans continue to act like the other animals when they have a conscience and might just as readily care about their fellow humans. But then, as Christopher Lasch points out, in our increasingly permissive society children frequently fail to form a super ego.

Gun Control

One of the truly hot topics in America for years now is the issue of gun control. I never really understood why the topic produces so much heat. After all, it’s not about gun elimination, it’s about gun control at a time when we desperately need a bit of restraint, as recent events have shown. The favorite mantra of the N.R.A. and those who want no controls on the use of guns is the chant “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is one of those half-truths that saturates our thinking and keeps us away from the whole truth — so far as we can ever grasp that.

The second amendment to the Constitution was written in 1789 and adopted in 1791 and it reads in its entirety “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It was written by James Madison, and please note the careful wording. The statement begins with what logicians call the antecedent “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State….” The remainder of the statement is the consequent. In effect, it reads “Because we need an armed militia, we must protect the right to bear arms.” The two sections of the statement must be taken together.

The Bill of Rights was passed as a rider after the Constitution was adopted in order to persuade still reluctant individuals to come on board. As Madison said at the time, “I believe that the great mass of the people who opposed [the Constitution], disliked it because it did not contain effectual provision against encroachments on particular rights, and those safeguards which they have been long accustomed to have interposed between them and the magistrate who exercised the sovereign power: nor ought we to consider them safe, while a great number of our fellow citizens think these securities necessary.” Initially it was felt that the Bill was unnecessary because no civilized country should need to spell out the rights of the citizens. Further, if they were spelled out there might be others, not mentioned, that would therefore be ignored. But these arguments were eventually dismissed and the Bill became part of the Constitution of these United States. At that time, there was considerable concern over an armed force on the continent — given the fact that the Colonies had been an occupied country for many years. In a word, the Founders didn’t trust armies. But, as was the case during the recent Revolution, men with weapons in their homes (muskets, of course) who could be called upon to defend their country was the acceptable alternative.

Thus, the reason the second amendment was adopted was to persuade those who were still reluctant to accept a constitution they thought would deprive them of states’ rights, but with the understanding that none of those supporting the document wanted a standing army. The “right to bear arms” was specified because it was believed that the country was better off being defended by men who were, in effect, defending their homes.

So much has changed since that time, needless to say. We now have one of the largest armed forces on earth and the need for an armed Militia no longer exists. Further, the Founders never envisioned hand guns and automatic weapons that could kill large numbers of people in a matter of seconds. It is true that someone must be holding a weapon for it to kill someone else (or the holder himself). But it is also the case that when these weapons are so deadly and so many people might die in such a short time, the likelihood increases that someone will die when the guns are fired. It’s a matter of simple probabilities. In a word, if there were no guns, no one could be killed by the accidental or intentional discharge of a gun. So, people kill people, but with fewer guns fewer would die or be maimed.

It’s impossible to read the minds of those who wrote the Constitution, though reading the Federalist Papers takes us back to the period and lets us see what sorts of things those people were thinking at a time when states’ rights were the central issue. One thing comes clear, and that is that these people lived in much simpler times and though they were just like us in so many ways, their technology was in kindergarten compared with ours. It is hard to imagine that they would have written and adopted an amendment like the second amendment given today’s conditions — the large stranding army and the advanced weaponry.

In any event, when the N.R.A. or others of their ilk defend the “right to bear arms,” they should also at the same time argue for the dismantling of the standing army. The two conditions go hand-in-hand.