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:
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.