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?

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Freud On Violence

In my effort to understand violence and the reason why Americans seem to have a penchant for violent acts, I have previously alluded to Hannah Arendt’s suggestion that violence is a result of a sense of powerlessness that leads to frustration and finally to a violent act. This strikes me as entirely plausible. But there is a deeper and, perhaps more compelling analysis that we can find in the writings of Sigmund Freud — and it seems to complement Arendt’s analysis.

Before looking at what Freud said about violence, however, I must apologize to those who think the man himself was quite mad and obsessed with sex. I had a colleague in psychology at the university where I taught who had a picture on the bulletin board in her office with a red circle and a line through the silhouette of the father of modern psychotherapy. I have always thought that strange, since the man was historically important in her field, but she was convinced that he was the patron saint of misogynists and she simply couldn’t get past the fact that Freud insisted that all women suffered from (among other things) penis envy. She refused to teach any of his doctrines to her students. Welcome to the postmodernist age!

Be that as it may, Freud had some very interesting things to say about human sexuality and about the human psyche generally and rather than toss him on the dust bin of dead-white-European-males with the rest of many of those who created Western Civilization, it might be worth our while to listen to what he had to say. With that in mind, let’s take a quick peek at what he had to say about violence.

Freud was convinced that humans develop a conscience, or what he called the “super-ego” as a result of repression. Parents say “no” to the child and the child represses his natural urges toward aggression and destruction. Thus, what we call “civilization,” in the form of parental and societal repression, thwarts the natural instincts common to us all and they are turned inwards toward the self and become what we call a  bad conscience. We feel bad about doing those things we were told not to do as we grow up.

When the restraints of civilization are loosened, as they are in a permissive society, the aggressive instincts turn outwards again in the form of violence toward others. Given the fact that, thanks in large measure to a misreading of Freud, ours is an increasingly permissive society where we rarely say “no,” we can expect to see increasing levels of violence. We no longer turn the aggressive instincts toward ourselves in the form of a bad conscience, we turn them loose on others in the form of rage and violent actions: we let it “all hang out.” When guns are readily available, as they are in this society, this can easily take the form of an increase in what we call “gun-deaths.” Couple the lack of repression with a growing sense of powerlessness among people used to getting their way as children and we can begin to understand why violence is on the rise in this country.

So those who say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people are half right. People in this increasingly permissive society are more and more inclined to violence and would doubtless find a way to express that violence — though they can get vicarious release by watching violent sports such as football. But when they (or their mothers) can buy an assault weapon and some hand guns from Walmart, the temptation is to reach for those weapons when angry rather than, say, a baseball bat or a knife.

There’s not much we can do about the permissive nature of the society in which we live. It seems to be a fact of modern life. But we can certainly do something about the availability of weapons that allow the expression of our violent tendencies to take the form of mass killings — if we have the will. And by “we” I mean, of course, the Congress of the United States.

Sacred Cows

I have remarked from time to time that we might take an important step toward reducing our national debt and climbing out of our economic hole if we simply cut some of what we euphemistically call “defense” spending. This pie chart tells us that our country contributes a very large part of the money spent in the entire world on what is accurately called the “military”:

As we know, the military takes a disproportionate amount of our tax money in order to maintain this ascendency I am ashamed to say. We also know that our country leads the rest of the world in providing bellicose people with arms and ammunition to fight their wars. But when it is suggested that we cut some of our military spending in order to help balance the budget we hear an uproar. Clearly the military is a sacred cow in this country — much as sports are a sacred cow on the local levels when there is talk about balancing school budgets. Some things simply are not considered in the discussion: they cannot be touched. In the case of “defense” spending it’s not clear why, unless we probe the psychological depths of those who regard the military as essential to their well-being. The word that springs to mind is “fear,” but then I am not a psychologist. I do, however, recognize fear when I see it and I also know how our emotions frequently impair our reasoning abilities. Whatever the reason, what  we spend on the military is positively obscene.

Be that as it may, it is certainly the case that the military is the largest customer in this country for miscellaneous goods which may have nothing whatever to do with defense such as electronics, food, housing, recreational equipment, and clothing — not to mention arms and military equipment (such as planes and tanks) which clearly do. Last week the Department of Defense signed defense contracts with such companies as Boeing, Textron, Honeywell, Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrop Grummen, and Oceaneering International. As a recent report reveals, in part,

The number of contracts reached 90 for the week, ranging from weapons and vehicle development to night vision set replacement across different branches of the military.

The company realizing some of the largest contracts is Boeing (BA). The DoD agreed to pay Boeing $500 million to transition into post production of the C-17 jet because their need was being met. The company is likely still responsible for parts and maintenance for the fleet of C-17s.

Given this situation, when we talk about cuts in “defense” spending we are talking about cuts in the flow on great sums of monies to other segments of the economy that seem to have nothing whatever to do with killing other folks or keeping the world safe for democracy. We are dealing with a giant weed with a multitude of twisted roots that go deep into the economy of this country.

What this means, then, is that the pie chart above reflects the pie-in-the-sky thinking when we have the audacity to suggest cuts in the military. It would appear that the military keeps the economy afloat (though it seems at present to be in need of water wings). It’s no wonder that Republicans, especially, shout “foul” when they hear talk about cutting “defense” spending. It is, indeed, a sacred cow: it is the source of much of their livelihood.