Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Make My Day": SCOTUS and America's Gun Fetish

I have to admit that I'm a Clint Eastwood fan -- though I never got into the Dirty Harry movies from which I took the title of this post.  Yesterday the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down Chicago's 28 year old handgun ban.  In this decision, they extended an earlier decision to strike down the District of Columbia's ban to all jurisdictions.  Though leaving room for regulation, outright bans will not be permitted.  Now, it's important to note that Chicago's ban really hasn't worked well.  Handgun-related homicides remain extremely high in that city, but of course when you have a patchwork set of regulations that cover the nation, it's pretty hard to regulate gun ownership and use in a city the size of Chicago.

What is disturbing about yesterday's decision, to me, is not just the reasoning behind the decision, which props up even more the idea that the 2nd Amendment grants every American the right "to keep and bear arms," but the ongoing love affair that a considerable portion of America has with guns. 

Before I address that love affair that is celebrated in the Westerns of yesteryear, including those of Eastwood, let me note the reasoning given by the majority, that gun ownership is a fundamental right.  Even though they leave room for regulation, the NRA is adamant that they oppose most if not all forms of regulation.  Thus, this isn't the end of the debate, and with the current makeup of the Supreme Court, which not just leans right, but is firmly on the right (Anthony Kennedy doesn't seem to be swinging left very often these days).     

The question that I want to raise at the end of this concerns the American Gun Fetish, the one pictured in those classic westerns.  A goodly number of Americans seem to long for the days when everyone strapped on their six-shooter and walked around town, fully loaded.  Don't get me wrong, for some reason I like all those old movies and shows, but I don't long for the days of the old west when the quickest draw won the day.  I don't see the need to ban guns entirely -- many of my friends are hunters -- but I think we need sensible gun laws that first of all keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them, that require instruction and licensure to use them, and that cross state lines so that one state's or city's regulations are not undermined by the laxity of laws in nearby jurisdictions. 

So, go ahead and make my day by making sensible laws that protect the populace from runaway gun violence.  And most of all, let's let go of this gun fetish!  You know, that fetish that led to one state recently legalizing the carrying of guns in churches -- like we need that -- or even more bizarre the churches that bless the guns of members.  No need for such things.

12 comments:

John said...

The Constitution says what it says and I suppose it would be pointless to argue about the problems with unfettered gun ownership, but I can't help but express my personal opinion that guns, which are designed to kill people, are just too anti-social to justify widespread ownership.

I also think it's wrong to say that the right to own a gun is a "fundamental" right, instead of merely being a protected right. The right to live, and believe and accumulate property, and pursue happiness, and to do all these things without unreasonable government interference - those are fundamental rights.

What I am about to say is honestly how I feel, even though it will undoubtedly strike a raw nerve in some: the option to possess an object whose only purpose is to be used as a lethal weapon is not fundamental. Such a claim is patently unreasonable even when made by reasonable people. To me, such a claim is perhaps paranoid, perhaps suicidal, perhaps anti-social and sociopathic, but possession of the ability to kill someone else with click of a trigger is not fundamental.

The notion that the right to bear arms is for protection against the predations by the government is ludicrous because the government's ability to mobilize superior force is simply irresistible. The notion that right to bear arms is necessary for personal protection is arguable, but in the end unpersuasive. That is why we have a culture of obedience to our laws and why we have a police force. When those break down my Glock pistol is probably not going to help me fend off the government.

Bob's idea to have better "gun laws that first of all keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them" is a pipe dream. As long as guns can be purchased, they will be acquired by "those who shouldn't have them." That is the nature of criminals they just won't take no for an answer. And I am sure that a general ban on handguns in the fashion of the Prohibition against alcohol will be just as unsuccessful.

I don't have an answer, but neither should we loose sight of what we are talking about - guns are not fundamental to a well-lived life in the Untied States.

I would like to see a law passed that charges a gun owner with a 5 year felony if the owner's gun is used in the wrongful gunshot wounding death of another, unless the gun is reported stolen before the fact, in which case it should be a one year misdemeanor. If someone chooses to bring a gun into the neighborhood that person should be held strictly liable for its use - even if it has been reported as stolen. It was the owners choice to own it and the owner should bear all of the responsibility for its oversight, use, and misuse.

John

pastormack said...

"we need sensible gun laws that first of all keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them, that require instruction and licensure to use them, and that cross state lines so that one state's or city's regulations are not undermined by the laxity of laws in nearby jurisdictions."

I think we are already there. Hunters have to have hunter safety courses in many places; the states that allow some manner of concealed carry require classroom and practical instruction. When you take a concealed carry class you are instructed on which states have reciprocal laws and which do not, and it is your responsibility to know what the laws are from state to state.

I'm not sure that guns are a fetish, any more than say, a basketball or football is a fetish. Gun culture is just one of many American subcultures; people don't like it because they don't understand why anyone could enjoy that - but then, I think people who force their kids into beauty pageants should be locked up, and I don't understand the fixation with such a boring sport as soccer. Not appreciating the pastime of another is no reason to deny it to them. A lot of this is a class divide, as well; it is all too easy for someone in an urban center who has never seen grass grow outside of a city park to say that "gun people" are crazies whose constitutionally protected rights do not matter.

If guns were not that important, I submit to you that they would not have been the subject of the 2nd of 10 amendments to create the Bill of Rights. The folks who were fighting the English knew that a government that could not trust its people with arms was a government that could easily fall into despotism.

And judging by the comments above, I suppose we should not allow people to own knives? Or cars? Or alcohol?

And when did we have a "culture of obedience"? Which America are you living in?

As for personal protection, the very common occurrence of a violent crime being stopped or deterred by the use or threat of a gun or other weapon makes this a no-brainer.

David Mc said...

I think if we had a cannabis permit for guns exchange, that would be a great success. I'm sure a lot of unsecured guns would turn up missing.

The gem of the hearings today was-

"The Christmas day bomber, where were you at on Christmas day?" Graham asked.

"Sen. Graham, that is an undecided legal issue, which well, I suppose I should ask exactly what you mean by that," Kagan began. "I'm assuming that the question you mean is whether a person who was apprehended in the United States is ..."

Graham interrupted, saying, "No, I just asked you where you were at on Christmas."

Without hesitation, Kagan replied in perfect deadpan, "You know, like all Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant,"

Keith Watkins said...

I have never understood the fascination with guns, but at a neighborhood association meeting years ago in Indianapolis, some people I knew spoke in favor of unfettered availability. I saw in them more evidence of a negative passion than I have ever seen before or since. This spirit, which seems to be fairly widespread, is truly frightening. I appreciate John's comment in which he distinguishes between fundamental and protected. I intend to use this distinction in my conversations.

John said...

Pastor Mack,

The difference between a handgun on the one hand and a car, a knife, and alcohol on the other is that the only purpose for a hand gun is to kill people.

My reading of the message from the Gospel may be a little extreme, but My personal interpretation is that I cannot in good conscience kill another person.

As for a culture of obedience to the law, my personal opinion is that most people can be counted on to abide by the laws, and this is what most parents and most schools and most religious communities teach children. That doesn't mean we don't have criminals, just that criminals are the exception and not the rule.

pastormack said...

John,

I enjoy handguns a great deal, and I have never shot anyone (or at anyone) - thank God. Handguns actually have many uses besides killing people. For more information:

http://www.nssf.org/

John said...

Pastor Mack,

The fact that you and many others choose to treat handguns as toys does not alter their intended purpose: they are designed and produced as anti-personnel weapons. Moreover, even you treat handguns as toys sometimes and as weapons at other times. The fact that you have never fired a handgun at another person does not alter it's intended purpose. The fact that a soldier is not called into combat does not make him or her not a soldier. Also, the claim that possession of such a weapon can operate to deter personal attack without ever being fired only underscores its purpose as a weapon.

I am under the impression that most targets used at handgun ranges are outlines of then human form, and that scoring is based on such factors as whether the shot was a head shot and whether the shot hit the target in the area of the heart. Sometimes the targets are valued on whether the shooter hits a friend, foe or a neutral. Thus, if my impressions are correct, then even when "playing" with a handgun, its use as a weapon is highlighted and reinforced.

And frankly, there are not "many uses" for a handgun other than as a weapon. Other than those times when you intend to shoot it, because it is such a dangerous weapon, responsible owners are compelled to keep their guns secured at all times. Operable handguns cannot serve double duty as say a doorstop or a table decoration, or a kitchen implement or a plumbers tool. Handguns are meant to be shot, either at people or at targets, or they are to be displayed as weapons of intimidation or carried as sources of personal security. Even if one doesn't shoot at people, the targets are human form, and the targets of intimidation are human as well.

There is nothing warm and fuzzy about a handgun, nor would any responsible handgun owner ever suggest that a handgun could be considered or treated as a harmless toy.

By the way, the justifications which you offered up earlier were all premised on the handgun's intended purpose as a weapon and not because it was such a great source of amusement. I don't think anyone would seriously argue that the Constitution protects the right to own handguns as mere toys.

Pastor Mack, I don't doubt that you are a responsible handgun owner, and that in your heart you abhor even the thought that your handgun would ever be used against a person, but your good intentions cannot transform a wild lion into a housecat.


John

Rial Hamann said...

One really needs to examine history. When the constitution was written, the memory of the war with England was fresh. All citizens were expected to be ready to take up use of the gun in defense of the newly formed union of states.

They would do this as part of a "well trained milita".

I do not deem myself to be a mind reader, but the key to me is what was then meant by a "well trained milita"?

I would offer that it might very well mean what we now call the national guard.

In my mind three thoughts come out.

1. If you want to bear arms then you might want to join the national guard and become part of a well trained milita.

2. If all citizens are to bear arms, then we should join the ranks of countries which have universal military service so that we might be trained to DEFEND our country from "others" and not kill off each other.

3. The "right to bear arms" might be redefined by congress as the "right" to own what was available to the framers of the constitution. I would advocate that the guns available should be limited to a single shot black powder ball and cap muzzle loader.

Gary said...

John,

You and I cannot live in the same country, you are going to have to leave.

I don't like guns. I don't like loud noises, and I don't shoot for fun. But I insist on the right to own as many as I can afford. I have a FUNDAMENTAL right to protect myself from those who would harm me, and one of the best ways to do that is with a firearm.

I value my right to own a gun more than I value YOUR life. In other words, I would rather see you dead, than to give up my fundamental right to own a gun. If that makes me anti-social, then fine.

John said...

Gary,

Now that makes my day!

I will begin working on a plane ticket as soon as possible.

John

Rial Hamann said...

Many countries in Europe do not allow guns.

And then there is the US and Mexico----

David Mc said...

Cowards with guns. That's what scares me. If our freedom of speech gets trumped by a paranoid with a gun, the gun has to go. It would still be a great country.

Rial has a good attitude about it. We aren't talking about hunting rifles, right?

Gary, maybe you need a stun gun. I hear a good jolt can help.