Tag Archive for Second Amendment

Teaching peace: Muzzling America’s gun culture

A traveling salesman was lost on a lonely country road and stopped to ask a farmer for directions. The farmer thought a few minutes and finally replied, “You can’t get there from here.”

That conclusion matches how I feel about the current argument over the right to bear arms. Will gun control legislation reduce gun violence? Maybe. Maybe not. The situation is a lot like that farmer’s horses already out of the barn before the door is shut. There are enough guns circulating to give everyone, toddlers and above, at least one. And arguments against gun control laws whittle down proposed legislation using barn-door logic. It’s too late, why try?

Let’s think bigger than magazine capacity and assault weapon necessity. The “gun lobby” is about sales not rights. Just because the Second Amendment is in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is necessary. It is not. The Constitution has been changed 27 times; the Founding Fathers didn’t foresee everything that would require amendment centuries down the road. Excellent arguments have been presented on this opinion page documenting the fact that in 1791 a citizen had to bring his own gun to a militia call-up; one was not provided.

Gun guns and more gunsToday, the Second Amendment is superfluous. Assertions that citizens must be ready to overthrow tyrannical government are insulting to city and state law enforcement, the National Guard, and five branches of the Defense Department. Lost causes like that of rebel states in the Civil War are made by those who despise government in any form, especially the promise in the preamble to the Constitution to provide for a more perfect union. The “militias” of today hide behind stockades out in the woods hoping to evade taxes.

Bigger thinking today requires asking different questions. For example: Why is there a general perception that the NRA has congress by its short hairs? A recent survey shows the NRA’s Victory Fund spent over $11 Million on candidates in the 2012 election, with 0.44 percent supporting winners.

Peace sign - rainbowOr, how about a better question: How do we change our culture of violence? Arguments about gun rights divert our attention for a paradigm shift away from our role as the world’s policeman. Got trouble? Call in the Marines? Need military backup? We’ll build a military base anywhere. And we have. Need to overthrow a tyrant? We’ve got spies for that.

We’re built to fight and we expect to win. Why not? We invest in weapons from pistols to nuclear war heads inventoried by the thousands, enough to obliterate civilization five times over and leave the handful it will take to neutralize minor rogue states.

That farmer wouldn’t puzzle too long before realizing another you-can’t-get-there-from-here conundrum. Our culture is full of violence. Too much of our “entertainment” is based on killing whatever moves. And finally, we talk a lot about mental health, but leave out actual dollars to improve it. Many argue vehemently against a human right to healthcare, a fact staring each of us in the face, while insisting on an archaic right to bear arms and overthrow a tyrant king of the 18th century.

Longmont is a “happy town” because we have been teaching peace since 1996. It can’t be said too many times. The opposite of bearing arms in a culture of violence is community action to steer young offenders to law-abiding lives of peace. We even have a book for that written by Beverly Title called Teaching Peace. It is relevant today and tells the story of our restorative justice program now known as the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP). And partnership is the key word. Residents like you and me are working now in partnership with our police, our schools, and city government. Longmont is not sitting back waiting for the state of Colorado to act or Congress and the White House to decide magazine size or the necessity of assault weapons.

Here is relevant fact: Each year hundreds of our youths are referred to a community justice circle. They take responsibility and repair any harm done to victims and the community. The success rate is phenomenal. There is a 98% satisfaction rate by all involved in the circle, including community volunteers, offenders, victims, and the police who participate in 85 percent of all circles. This is our teaching peace process. Historically the recidivism, repeat offense, rate is about 7 percent compared to Boulder County’s 50 percent and a national rate much higher at around two-thirds!

Join us, stack arms and learn how to teach peace. Visit www.lcjp.org, or call 303-776-1527.

Bill Ellis is a Longmont Community Justice Partnership volunteer teaching peace.

The Fantasy of Absolute Safety

Ira Chernus

The following first appeared in Huffington Post and is reproduced here by permission of the author.

My son was spending the night in Aurora, Colo., when all hell broke loose just a few miles away. He wasn’t in the Century 16 theater. But he might have been; he loves those opening nights. And there wasn’t a thing I could do to protect him.

I’m a professor at the University of Colorado (though not on the campus where James Holmes studied). I’ve surely had quiet students who were deeply troubled but, like Holmes, drew no attention to themselves. So there wasn’t a thing I could do to help protect them.

The movie theater “was supposed to be a safe space,” as Monica Hesse wrote in The Washington Post. But now it feels like “no space is safe; maybe that’s what’s shocking.” Surely that’s what’s shocking, I’d say. Yet a moment’s reflection tells me we can never make our public or private spaces absolutely safe — neither for our children, our students, nor ourselves — no matter how desperately we want to.

We could make our spaces relatively safer by one simple political decision: No civilian should have military style weapons — AK-47s, semi-automatic rifles, or the Glock semi-automatic pistols so favored by mass killers.

There’s only one problem: Political reality. It isn’t just the clout of the National Rifle Association, which is real but over-rated. A bigger problem is that this is a democracy, and a majority of us do not want stricter gun control laws. The number of Americans favoring stricter gun laws has fallen by nearly half in the last half-century.

That shocking statistic reflects the long post-’60s rightward shift in the national mood. “Gun control” is widely seen as an idea by and for liberals. By now less than a quarter of us will wear that badge. It’s impressive that even 43 percent of us would support the liberal cause of “gun control.”

And the number who want guns laws eased has risen even more dramatically since 1990: from 2 to 11 percent. Yes, even in this conservative era a mere 11 percent of us want less regulation of guns.

What’s more, support for specific gun control measures — waiting periods and background checks for gun buyers (even at gun shows), banning assault weapons, registering all guns with local government — remains very high. A slim majority even support limits on the number of guns a person can own. (Most gun owners have several, and most mass killers are caught holding many guns.)

So here’s the real political problem: Ask people about specific, common-sense gun control measures and they strongly approve. Ask them about “gun control” in the abstract, and a growing majority says no, though almost half say yes. We, the people as a whole, want controls but we don’t want them.

When nations, like individuals, try to go in two directions at once they get paralyzed. That’s where we are on the politics of gun control.

Our national contradiction is an old story. On the one hand, we’ve got a tradition as old as the U.S. itself: If you want to be safe, get a gun; if you want to be absolutely safe, get a lot of guns. That’s why Americans once built forts and stockades and included the right to well-regulated militias in the Constitution.

Since World War II, we’ve made our quest for absolute safety our number one national priority by far, under the banner of “national security.” That’s why we built a nuclear “shield” of tens of thousands of bombs that can each destroy a whole city. It’s also why we have a military nearly as big as all the rest of the world’s militaries combined.

Now we call it “homeland security.” We’ve enshrined it as our sacred national myth. And that’s why, with the eager help of the military-industrial complex, we are awash in a sea of military weapons — a sea that on tragic occasions turns to blood in our own homeland.

Yet we also have another tradition as old as the nation itself, inscribed in the very first words of our constitution: to provide for the common defense, which most of us now take to mean absolute safety. The longing for absolute safety is certainly as strong, and probably stronger, among conservatives as it is among liberals. Across the political spectrum most of us want stricter specific gun control laws, which we expect will keep guns out of the hands of “evildoers” at home just as we hunt down and annihilate the “evildoers” abroad.

We’re caught in a crossfire of competing cultural traditions and beliefs that make it very difficult to mobilize the public in any clear direction when it comes to guns. Paralyzed by our ambivalence, we can’t mobilize for political change. So we leave it easy for anyone to get weapons of mass slaughter.

The result: a growing fear that no space is safe any more, that at any moment our longing for absolutely safety could be shot to pieces. Fear is even more paralyzing than ambivalence. When Americans do manage to act on their fear, their most common response is to chase the fantasy of safety by getting another gun, or at least allowing others to get more guns. Fear will override common sense most every time.

In the movies we see the most fantastic military-style weapons deal out measureless blood and gore. Audiences applaud it all, because they trust that the good guys on the screen will end up with their absolute safety restored. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in real life — not even in movie theaters.

The root of the problem is our dedication to the fantasy of absolute safety and security. The sooner we recognize that as our national fantasy and stop arming ourselves to the teeth in pursuit of it, the safer we all will be.