Monday, January 21, 2013

Those who do not know history...

Today's holiday and inaugural celebration have inspired me to take one more post to work through some additional thoughts I've had about the gun control issue, over the last few weeks since I wrote about that topic.  (I hope the connection will become clear.)

During that time, like many people, I've been reading everything I see about gun rights, gun control, gun violence in the United States and elsewhere, and have been looking at the arguments for and against various levels of gun control legislation.  One argument for gun control that I see frequently, one which I have deployed myself in the past, has really been recontextualized for me as I have done this reading.  This is the frequently-employed refrain: People don't need assault weapons to shoot deer (or some variant of that), so why won't gun rights advocates just be reasonable?

This is true.  I don't know a single hunter who would disagree with that (at least, not a single hunter who wants to eat anything she or he has shot).  But note the underlying premise.  The underlying premise is that the reason that gun rights advocates want their guns is for sport.  And while that may be true for many gun owners, the reading that I have been doing lately suggests that owning guns for sport is not what inspires the truly passionate among gun rights advocates.  Instead, I see, again and again in the discourse of gun rights advocates, two overarching reasons to passionately defend the broadest possible interpretation of the Second Amendment: first, that people need to own and bear arms in order to protect their own safety and welfare, and that of the people that they love, in the face of a dangerous society and a police force that cannot adequately do the job; and second, that people need to own and bear arms in case the day comes (again) when the citizens of the United States need to rise up to overthrow a tyrannical government (one which would, without the Second Amendment, be in possession of all the weapons, leaving citizens helpless to change the situation).

Until we address these strongly-felt reasons, we cannot have an open and above-board discussion about gun control. 

I want to come out and say outright that I don't find these reasons compelling enough to allow the unrestricted ownership of guns.  While it is the second reason that I most want to talk about today, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and on the day of the second inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, I also want to say that I believe that our armed forces, both at home (our police, coast guard, and national guard) and abroad (our army, navy, air force, and marines) devote their lives to the safety and well-being of the citizenry of this nation, often in the face of low funding and difficult odds.  I am not saying that there have not been incidents of abuse of power, but that to focus on those to the exclusion of the sacrifices made by the people who are charged with protecting their fellow citizens is to do everyone a disservice.  (There is a lot more to be said here, about Wild West mentalities, about whether people really are more polite and less violent when everyone carries a weapon, but that really is not what I want to write about today.)

It is the second reason that I most want to take issue with on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  That second reason is based on the assumption that the only way to effect real and lasting political and social change is through force of arms.  And it occurs to me that, if one is only educated in a history which celebrates and documents the struggles and successes of white men, that may appear to be true.  But, as a counterpoint, I give you:



 


And, decades earlier.
And the struggles of those people, and countless quiet unphotographed and unremembered others, brave in the face of rubber bullets and tear gas and guns, mockery and hatred and vituperation, led to this, today.
 
History is rife with people who changed the course of events, who overcame tremendous odds to do so, not through force of arms, but through other means.  Imagine if Black Americans throughout the South had risen up in arms fifty years ago to overthrow the tyrannical governments who were the architects of their oppression.  Imagine if, fifty years before that, suffragettes had taken to arms to convince a repressive government of their right to vote.  Imagine if now, women across the nation took up arms to overthrow the system of hegemonic patriarchy that keeps them underpaid, unsafe, and underrepresented.

I don't think that the gun rights movement has that vision in mind.

But I do think that the belief that guns are a necessary and maybe even best tool of lasting political change is based, among other things, on a most limited view of history, and of whose successes are important in history.  A day like today exists to remind us that that just isn't true.  Guns are not the only, or the best, tool to overthrow oppression and create lasting change.

Civil disobedience.  Peaceful protest.  Education.  These are the tools that last.  These are the only tools that allow us to build, instead of just destroying.

These are the tools that allowed a great man to stand in front of his nation, and to say in a voice that rang like a bell: "I have a dream today."

Yes.  Yes.  A thousand times, yes.

9 comments:

twinsetjan said...

Well said, Joce. Now if we could make meaningful education the standard practice!

EGunn said...

I think that peaceful change is the only kind left, unless we are willing to destroy everything in favor of chaos (look at the current state of the middle east). We live in a world where technology has elevated the force of power far above what a disgruntled few would be able to resist, one where even a small insurgence calls forth a force of arms designed to crush and annihilate. There are no "victors" in that kind of battle; only death on both sides, and death of innocents caught in between.

I can't imagine that any force of "patriots" would be able to wrest control from the US government now by show of power. It is the power of the people, the power of the vote, and the power of a unified stance that topples the nations of this century, and not the force of arms. That's the power that was built into our constitution, and the power that will protect us. Guns let people take life and death into their own hands, but they don't create freedom. We already have that, should we choose to use it.

Tamara Kubacki said...

Thank you. You have perfectly articulated what everyone else is missing in the argument right now.

twinsetellen said...

Thank you for the photo of the suffragists!

M-H said...

Well said. And, other liberal democracies (UK, most of Europe, Australia, NZ) function without their citizens routinely carrying or even owning firearms. Why is the US so different?

Lynne said...

I just don't get it but I guess that because I have lived my whole life sheltered in a democracy which doesn't give it's citizens the right to bear arms -- except with a license -- and where gun crime is comparatively low. In countries where they have protested without violence and the government has turned on its own people, the solution would not be reached any more quickly if the citizenry had responded in kind and many more innocent lives would be lost!

Mary Lou said...

Well said.

Carrie K said...

The fact that we can't have civil discussions, even in our house of representatives, tells me that being in charge means more than working out a reasonable compromise. If that's even possible.

I don't think the "patriots" are planning on wresting control of the US from the US, even if it's the Republican's turn to disavow the President. I think they're concerned about terrorists. Or suffragettes. The suffragettes may terrify them more.

Very nicely stated post.

KnitNana said...

As ever, I'm always blown away by the immense ability you have to articulate passionate subjects in rational, calm vebiage.

I'd like to share this, if you're agreeable?
(((hugs)))