For some reason or another, on Saturday, this past weekend, I found myself watching an old western, a John Wayne movie, “Chisum”. I did not just stop there; I went on to watch “Red River.” It seems I was on a western roll, so to speak. which was quite callous of me, given that the previous day, a twenty-something year old self-confessed vegetarian, who couldn’t stand killing to feed people, committed one of the most horrific massacres in the history of the United States, against some of the most treasured, youngest victims of a massacre. Ever. In the history of the civilized world.
In the aftermath of the massacre, even as the families lay to rest the now departed innocent angels, the debate on whether there should be an assault weapons ban, or some gun control bill, has begun in earnest. It seems that there is something that we collectively find horrifying in the gunning down of twenty children aged 6 to 7 years. I am not sure that anyone would fail to find this horrific. Conversely, it has been reported in the media that especially after President Obama spoke on Sunday evening in Newtown, Conn., gun sales saw their highest numbers on record over the past four years or so. It has also been noted that gun sales have increased every time President Obama won the election. Over and above the argument that President Obama, a democrat, was going to push for gun bans (which he should do), one wonders whether someone is planning to shoot someone else. Just a thought.
In the same token, over the same horrific weekend, it was reported that an Indiana man had 47 guns in his house, and had threatened to go on a shooting spree at the local school – which is about 1,000 feet from his house. At the same time, he threatened to kill his wife by setting her on fire, which makes one wonder whether it would not be crudely economical and gorily efficient to just shoot her with one of the forty seven guns. Thankfully, or not, the gun lobby was smart enough to realize that this was one they could not defend: the gun lobby and its representatives in Washington stayed away from the Sunday talk-shows (choosing instead, perhaps, to stock up on more guns). It is one thing to argue the point on any given day, but on a day after twenty kids were shot, supporting gun rights is a losing proposition.
Of course, there are those staunch supporters who think that the adults in the Sandy Hook School should have had guns to take out the shooter. As one NYT reader observed, the shooter was between the Principal’s office and the room where the meeting was going on, so the Principal would have needed to go through the shooter anyway. I am not certain that the principal’s principal job was to wear a hip holster and go to a meeting with a 6-year old and their parent. In addition, in the history of massacres, no one private citizen has ever taken down a shooter. That is the recipe for a massacre.
The argument for allowing teachers to carry guns can be supported, I suppose. However, teachers are not law-enforcement. We hire them to teach. It would make more sense to suggest that each school has two full-time police officers, armed, on guard all time when the school is in session, than to arm teachers with AR-15 rifles they will tote as they go to class. Besides, we don’t subject teachers to mental health examinations either, so what is to suggest that some teacher will not go berserk and shoot up a whole class with that automatic that they are toting on their hip just on the off-chance that someone might show up with a loaded gun? And aren’t we better off then, getting police officers to teach the classes instead of paying them and paying teachers…?
The Second Amendment to the United States constitution 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.
There are two major ways to read this: one is that every individual has the right to keep and bear arms, which the NRA argues for vigorously. The superficial weakness I see in this is that in the context of the US Constitution, “the people” has been seen to mean “the body politic”, not individuals. Otherwise, one runs into the obvious conflict of the defensibility of “people” as individuals on the one hand where we are discussing gun-laws, but excludes women, slaves and African Americans where the same constitution discusses the rights to vote, or even rights of individuals. Taken in this context, I would favor a meaning of “people” as inclusive of the collective body, not individuals. The second reading is the more generalized one; that as a collective citizen body that institutes a militia, that the said militia has the right to keep and bear arms in defense against the King and other sundry that would seek to subject “the people” – the citizens of the United States – to some form of oppression or servitude.
The NRA further argues that arming citizens ensures peace, tranquility and the possibility of self-defense in the event that there is a mass shooting, invasion of personal space, privacy et cetera. This view, carrying firearms, assures that other un-like minded persons will think twice about perpetrating a crime. As law enforcement goes, the United States has one of the highest percentages of law enforcement officers per 1000 residents (and conversely, also the highest number of prisoners per capita and by sheer numbers). One would think that give these statistics, it is possible to maintain law and order without arming every citizen with an AR-15 Bushmaster.
Which brings me to the “Chisum” movie and the Wild Wild West. It occurs to me that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The 21st century America is beginning to look (and sound) more and more like the Wild Wild West, where arguments were settled in a gun fight (call it a drive-by shooting), where the horses have been replaced by cars, but where a citizen’s welfare depends on whether they have a gun or not, backed by perceived laws (such as “stand your ground”). In this 21st century, when it takes the police and other first responders under 7 minutes to get to your house or to the crime scene, we are more progressively arming the citizens, with a whopping 90 percent of all the guns on this planet. And we are civilized.
Maybe there is something in the psyche of the American that is predisposed to violence, and although this will sound callous again, maybe we are paying the price of progress. What in us, in our culture, makes a gun an extension of our bodies? More importantly, why do we need a 30-clip magazine? The deer are not shooting back.