Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Dumb Control Debate (Part 3)

No, I'm not done.

Like I said, it takes time to go after the braying, willful ignorance and historical revisionism right wingers engage when talking about firearms regulations. The other day, we explored some of the plot holes in the fairy tale that Hitler somehow got to be a dictator through the confiscation of guns from the German people. Unfortunately, that little bit of the snake oil has been getting sold to right-wingers for so long, and the story is so entrenched, that people are going to have to call bullshit for a long, long while. But the Hitler thing was just the low hanging fruit. There are far more insidious narratives to discuss, and they hit far closer to home than than the right-wing's preferred mass murderers (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc).

You see, America isn't like all those other places. According to Tea Party legend, it was only in the United States where “freedom” was able to flourish, because our liberty birthing, patriotic founding fathers enshrined gun ownership in the national DNA through the 2nd Amendment. Part of the reason Washington, Jefferson, and the fellas did this was to make sure the US of A would never, ever succumb to the rise of someone like Hitler, because an armed and ready population would leave their suburban cul-de-sacs, rise up and put the brakes on any creeping government tyranny.

That sort of mythology flies in the face of America's real history. The 2nd Amendment has been very useful for individuals defending themselves, and was very useful early on when national defense was decentralized, but it didn't make a damn bit of difference when it came to the very real examples of American on American tyranny. What was really required to shut down tyranny here in America (and abroad, if you're still hung up on WWII examples) is big government intervention and non-violent activism. And that's the main reason you hear about Hitler and not about this nation's own Civil Rights Movement.

According to the right-winger's fantasy, Americans like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton - our revered, Founding Fathers - supported YOUR right to bear arms and defend yourself from bad people. If you listen to the legend, that's what made us different here in America - our country was more vigilant against tyranny and could defend ourselves with our guns.

That is, unless you were black.

I know, I know, people who don't like real history will stomp and stammer and say I'm playing the "race" card here. But if you want to flap your lips about the Constitution as sacrosanct, you're going to have to deal with that 3/5 of a person thing. If you want to deify the Founding Fathers instead of seeing them for the complicated, brilliant, and flawed human beings they actually were, you're going to have to come to terms with reality at some point. In Kindergarten, when kids learn about stuff like George Washington and the cherry tree, we don't usually draw the line for them between our first president and the human beings he owned, because that's complicated to explain to little kids. But the idea is they'll go over it sometime later, and as they go through the process of becoming educated and growing up, they'll synthesize the fact that our Founding Fathers did in fact put conditions on freedom, and several of them owned slaves.

And they didn't want those slaves owning guns. One can only imagine what a bunch of armed slaves would be able to do to the "peculiar institution," am I right? Even after the Reconstruction Amendments officially freed the slaves, it didn't stop. Along came the Jim Crow laws where states forbid black people doing things like voting and owning guns. I'd wager there were laws in some states that took the right to bear arms away from other racial and ethnic minorities, as well. It made their populations far easier to terrorize and control, you see.

Of course, by terrorize and control I mean that our nation's most significant historical terrorist threat - the Ku Klux Klan - often worked in collusion with state and local governments to disenfranchise blacks and other minorities of their civil rights.

So right here in America, we have significant experience with the government undermining civil rights. The state and national governments that got in on the game or looked the other way for so long are responsible for surrendering entire populations of the citizenry to tyranny. Legislative prohibition on those populations owning firearms was part of that enforcement of powerlessness. You would think our own American history serves as a far more poignant example of why the 2nd Amendment might have such value to civil liberties.

So why don't we hear more about that? While I will give credit to a few pundits on the right for addressing the subject every once in a while, it simply does not have the traction in the national conversation when it comes to the right to bear arms. Why?

For one, it fails to properly deify the Founding Fathers and the mythology of American freedom. Within a group where any criticism of America the Beautiful is met with the insightful response "if you don't like it here, leave," it doesn't do much good to bring up the long history of problems this country has actually had with civil rights, individual freedom, and the complex personal lives of national heroes. Reality is difficult to swallow for people who's entire political mindset is based on "good ole days" that never existed.

Next up, the history requires thought about how the Constitution and its interpretation has changed over the generations. This is difficult for a political "movement" that considers Constitutional construction as its main theory on the judiciary. You'd think a group of folks who walk around with pocket Constitution booklets would have a more in depth understanding of the actual history of the document, but instead these are usually the same people that equate every policy or law they don't like as "unconstitutional."  

Synthesizing those last two points: if the Constitution in general and the 2nd Amendment in particular was supposed to act as a safeguard against tyranny, what explains America's long and troubled history allowing some groups of people to act as tyrants over other groups of people? The Constitution has been around for a long, long time after all.

You can't remove the racial element. You would think that modern day gun-rights proponents would have posters of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X hanging in their offices. But they don't, and there are reasons why. From the panic inducing fear of slave revolt to the lynching of freed blacks who dared own a gun, one of the most frightening images in the national historical id is that of a black man holding a gun. When the Black Panthers preceded the Tea Party in carrying loaded assault rifles in public places, figures no less than (then) California governor Ronald Reagan questioned the need to own or do such things. Malcolm X is widely considered a racist because he believed that blacks had the right to arm themselves for self defense. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was sold as response to violent urban rioting but probably had something to do with the idea that minorities had recently ensured themselves basic civil liberties, including the right to bear arms. And lest we forget, the current NRA-endorsed popular understanding of gun rights in America is a recent thing, and the it only really takes off after the success of the Civil Rights Movement.  

That's important to note, because the unlike the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment, the Civil Rights Movement actually did provide a check on tyrannical behavior by governments in the USA, and it did so in great measure due to a dedication to non-violent civil disobedience and generations of legal challenges to the accepted understanding of the Constitution. Taking that a step further, these rights were only finally secured and protected by a responsive, interventionist Federal government with massive resources and the machinery of state behind them - not the individual right to bear arms.

And since non-violence and "big" government don't exactly fit in with the narrative today's extremist NRA want you to be thinking, you don't often hear about how Americans have historically dealt with homegrown American tyranny.

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