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The Wait-Just-A-Goddam-Second Amendment

9:40 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Musket

The Revolutionary War-era musket is not a semi-automatic weapon

The Second Amendment to the U.S. 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.”

George Mason’s original draft reads:

“That the People have a Right to keep and to bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free State; that Standing Armies in Time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided as far as the Circumstances and Protection of the Community will admit; and that in all Cases, the military should be under strict Subordination to, and governed by the Civil Power.”

Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights had put it this way 12 years earlier:

“That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

The Right-To-Bring-Assault-Weapons-to-School Second Amendment turns out to have its origins in an attempt to avoid maintaining standing armies.  In place of standing armies, the states of the new United States were to create well-regulated militias.  The first half of the Second Amendment explains why people should have a right to bear arms:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State … “

Bearing arms in a well-regulated militia did not mean bearing guns that can reliably shoot well, since such didn’t exist.  It certainly didn’t mean bearing guns that can kill entire crowds of people without reloading.  It didn’t mean bearing arms outside of the well regulated militia.  Much less did it mean bearing arms in school and church and Wal-Mart.

By “free state” many supporters of this bill of rights meant, of course, slave state.  And by “people” they meant, of course, white male people — specifically people who would be taking part in well regulated militias.

The Third Amendment reads:

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

The Second and Third amendments originated as restrictions on what we would later create and come to call a Military Industrial Complex, a permanent war machine, a federal tool of abusive power.

The militias of the Second Amendment are meant to protect against federal coercion, popular rebellions, slave revolts, and — no doubt — lunatics who try to mass-murder children.

The descendants of those militias that we call the National Guard are meant, in contrast, to recruit ill-informed young people who imagine they’ll be rescuing hurricane victims into endless occupations of oil-rich lands far from our shores.

To comply with the Second Amendment we must end federal control over the National Guard, regulate such state militias and police forces well, regulate their weapons well, and deny such weapons to all others and for any other use.

The Second Amendment has been made to mean something very different from what was originally intended or what any sane person writing a Constitution would intend today.  This means that we must either reinterpret it, re-write it, or both.

The Government and Your Guns

9:07 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

We’re in the grip of twin madnesses, and those who have overcome one of them can still be completely controlled by the other.

The first madness is the idea that spending a trillion dollars a year on weaponry and war preparations makes us safer, that 1,000 military bases abroad protect rather than provoke, that nuclear arsenals discourage terrorism, that drones have civilized the act of blowing up somebody’s house, that the Pentagon’s business really is “defense.”

Why should our 4% of humanity need more weaponry than the rest of the world for protection?  We can’t be inherently that unlikable.  We’re caught in a vicious cycle.  Our militarism encourages wars, and the wars justify more militarism.  The weapons makers that the Pentagon keeps in business arm the rest of the world as well.  Some imagine that even this weapons proliferation makes us safer.  Meanwhile, back in reality, we’re draining our budget, hollowing out our representative government, poisoning our environment, and escalating completely avoidable conflicts.

From libertarians to liberals, there are large numbers of Americans who can say to Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King alike: you’re right, the guns are not helping.

There is a second madness, however.  It is a madness that appeals to those skeptical of governments.  It is attractive to those interested in radical change, popular power, and protection of civil liberties.  This is the madness that says: We need our personal supplies of guns to protect us from the government.

If our loyalties are with individual rights, popular revolution, and resistance to the corrupt fascistic tendencies of unchecked power, it’s hard for us to question this idea.  We hesitate, thinking, “Maybe the government does want our guns.  Maybe there will come a day when we need them.”

Our hesitation brings us into common ground with the gun lobby.  “Take your guns away?” we declare indignantly.  “Oh no! We would never want to take people’s guns away.  We just want them to have the right kind of guns, the right kind of bullets, the right registrations and background checks and mental health screenings.  We want our personal militarism civilized by its own Geneva Conventions.”

This still leaves huge gaps between those who would seek to limit and control gun ownership and the NRA.  And the “reasonable gun rights” coalition can indeed point to instances of a gun being used in actual defense.  But the notion of using guns to resist or reform or overthrow the government is bizarrely out of touch with reality.

There is no correlation between personal liberties in a nation and its gun ownership.  Campaigns of resistance to tyranny are more likely to succeed, and that success is more likely to be lasting when those campaigns are nonviolent.  Milosevic was thrown out of power in Serbia, not by violence, but by nonviolent action.  In East Timor, violent resistance failed for many years before the people resorted to nonviolence and began to win.  Last year in Tunisia, with not a gun in sight (or hidden away as an implied threat either), the people overthrew a dictatorship and inspired Egyptians to do the same.  Meanwhile, Americans are so loaded down with guns that we’re killing our own children, by accident, by fits of rage and insanity — and we can’t overthrow a card table.

Are you kidding me?  If in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court openly stole an election, and our gun-heavy populace did nothing, if someone had predicted that our government would legalize warrantless spying, imprisonment without charge, torture, rendition, assassination, and wars fought by the CIA with flying robots before legalizing marijuana, who wouldn’t have said that was crazy?  We’ve watched this being done to us.  We’ve watched our wealth being handed over to the war makers and the financiers.  We’ve bought more guns, and we’ve done nothing.  And the guns have done nothing.  And anything we could do with the guns would be counterproductive.

Violence does not work anymore, not even in the heart of a society devoted to violence.  Resistance movements here at home are hindered, not helped, by weaponry.  The government does not want your guns; it wants your obedience.  It’s not afraid of your assault weapons; it’s afraid of your noncooperation.  An abusive government has no cause for concern as long as people believe that violence is the field on which to compete.  But if we give up that mindset along with the guns, there’s no telling what might happen.  We might even fix this place up now, without waiting for the apocalypse.

A Way to Stop the Violence

11:16 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

GUN CULTURE 2012

Gun Cultue 2012

The troubled souls (generally known in the media as “monsters” and “lunatics”) who keep shooting up schools and shopping centers, believe they are solving deeper problems.  We all know, of course, that in reality they are making things dramatically worse.

This is not an easy problem for us to solve.  We could make it harder to obtain guns, and especially guns designed specifically for mass killings.  We could take on the problem with our entertainment: we have movies, television shows, video games, books, and toys promoting killing as the way to fix what ails us.  We could take on the problem of our news media: we have newspapers and broadcast chatterers promoting killing as a necessary tool of public policy.  We could reverse the past 40 years of rising inequality, poverty, and plutocracy — a trend that correlates with violence in whatever country it’s found.

What we can’t do is stop arming, training, funding, and supporting the mass murderers in our towns and cities, because of course we haven’t been supporting them.  They aren’t acting in our name as our representatives.  When our children run in horror from classrooms strewn with their classmates’ bloody corpses, they are running from killers never authorized by us or elected by us.

This situation changes when we look abroad.

Picture a family in a house in Pakistan.  There’s a little dot very high up in the sky above.  It’s making a buzzing noise.  The dot is an unmanned airplane, a drone.  It’s being flown from a desk in Nevada.  The family knows what it is.  The children know what it is.  They know their lives may be ended at any moment.  And they are traumatized.  They are in a constant state of terror.  And then, one bright clear morning, they are torn limb from limb, bleeding, screaming, groaning out their last breaths as their home collapses into smoking rubble.

Picture a family in a house in Afghanistan.  They’re asleep in their beds.  A door is kicked in. Incomprehensible words are shouted.  Bullets fly.  Loved ones are grabbed and dragged away, kicking and screaming with horror — never to be seen again.

The troubled souls (generally known in the media as “tax-payers”) who keep this far greater volume of violence going, believe they are solving deeper problems.  But when we look closely, we see that in reality we are making things dramatically worse.

That is the good news.  There is violence that we can much more easily stop, because it is our violence.  The U.S. Army last week said that targeting children in Afghanistan was perfectly acceptable.  The U.S. President maintains a list of men, women, and children to be killed, and he kills them — but the vast majority of the people killed through that program are people not on the list, people in the wrong place at the wrong time (just like the people in our shopping malls and schools).

In fact, the vast majority of the people killed in our foreign wars are simply bystanders.  And they are killed in their homes, their stores, their schools, their weddings.  The violence that we can easily end looks very much like the violence we find so difficult to address at home.  It doesn’t take place between a pair of armies on a battlefield.  It happens where its victims live.

Were we to stop pouring $1.2 trillion each year into war preparations, we would also be stopping the public funding of the manufacturers of the weapons that rip open our loved ones and neighbors in our schools and parking lots.  We would be altering dramatically the context in which we generate public policy, public entertainment, and public myths about how problems can be solved.  We would be saving lives every bit as precious as any other lives, while learning how to go on to saving more.

One place to start, I believe, would be in withdrawing U.S. troops from over 1,000 bases in other people’s countries — an imperial presence that costs us $170 billion each year while building hostility and tensions, not peace.  There’s a reason why, at this time of year, we don’t sing about “Peace in My Backyard.”  If we want peace on Earth, we must stop and consider how to get it.

David Swanson’s books include “War Is A Lie.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.
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