The tragedy in Sandy Hook has brought the national conversation to gun violence, which inevitably leads to the seemingly insurmountable differences between those who advocate for gun control laws and those who vow that the only way to get their guns from them is to “pry them from their cold, dead hands.” The facts that the only cold dead hands increasingly seem to belong to those of the innocent, unarmed variety only serves to cement their case: the answer, according to Wayne LaPierre, is to arm more good guys with weaponry in order to combat the bad guys with weaponry. That this makes sense to anyone who isn’t a comic book writer illustrates the huge disconnect we feel with society, and each other.
Sensible arguments about passing legislation to restrict high capacity magazines are met with staunch opposition from many on the far right. The argument goes back to the wording and the intent of the second amendment.
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.
In order to secure a free state, according to gun advocates, it’s necessary to enter into what has become a domestic arms race. When the Constitution was written, goes the argument, the people had access to the same types of assault weapons as the government. They all had muskets. Yet, as the technology of weapons had become increasingly sophisticated it is up to the general public to keep up in order to ensure their freedom against a tyrannical government. To leave ourselves unarmed, or un-heavily-armed – is to be vulnerable to the Hitlers and Stalins of the future.
The voices of those who echo this argument have turned deaf ears to the counter-argument that the American government has accumulated more weapons of mass destruction than the entire world over, and that no amount of AK-47s is going to stop them if they are so inclined to turn them on their own people if they are taken over by hostile tyrants. The right to amass weapons to protect themselves is ingrained as a fundamental right and a threat to that right is perceived as a threat to their freedom. And freedom is the cornerstone of this country, a source of pride to our citizenry, and a distinct part of our culture.
It isn’t going away.
Instead of alienating each other at this point, instead of yelling and trying to paint the opposing side as stupid, ignorant, or downright wrong, why don’t we come up with some constructive action that would serve to unite us and to become a rightful source of pride? The fear of a tyrannical takeover might be dismissed by those who pass it off as a paranoid delusion of a gun nut. They would be wrong. Political takeovers happen, sometimes supported by this country for our own political gain, masked under the cloak of promoting worldwide “freedom.” Those who believe it could never happen here might have also believed that we were insulated from terrorists. 9/11 changed that game.
Yet, arming ourselves to the gills doesn’t seem to be the answer. Firstly, because the government has much bigger gills and secondly, because with the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons, tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook have a greater chance of happening. And no one, including Wayne LaPierre, wants that.
Let’s look instead to the government that we have, the one created by the same founding fathers who listed both gun ownership and freedom of speech as inalienable rights. Let’s consider this experiment of a country that we have inherited and honor it by contributing to it in a meaningful way. The best protection against a tyrannical government is not to load up the country with rifles (ask Somalia). It is to participate in our democracy to make sure we have the strongest, most efficient government. This includes electing a congress who serves the people, rather than solely focuses on an obstructionist political agenda. The best protection is to make sure our government is functional, to hold our politicians responsible for governing. This includes voting out those whose sole function is to make others fail. This includes changing the notion of success in government from meaning to step over the bodies of those we have defeated by ugly and dishonest means. It means supporting laws that restrict unlimited corporate donations to politicians in order to further corporate interests at the expense of the people in the name of “free speech.” It means to make sure our children are educated, that it is for the good of the people to invest in making government function and cooperate, to stand united, to pick up the smallest and weakest of us, to actually leave no child behind. This is the way we honor that magnificent document and the legacy we were born into.
And if we can come together and have a productive conversation without alienating each other, name calling, ridiculing – and demand that our elected leaders do the same – might we find our fingers slowly retracting from triggers?