aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Arms and the Man

A lot of my LJ friends are heavy into what may be called "the gun culture." They are interested, both theoretically and practically, in the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to bear arms. This is not a subject that has much moved me; guns don't interest me much. But I've been doing a lot of thinking about them of late. Here's my take on their proper use.

1. Sporting Use
I'm all for hunting, even though I don't hunt, myself. It's a part of our heritage, it's good for the animal populations we manage, and besides, I like venison. Target shooting is also cool with me: a sport like any other, and one which I have participated in for funsies at various Scout camps. Hunters and target shooters are very responsible people, by and large. They believe in gun safety training, and they follow their training. They're good people.

2. Self-Defense
I believe in the right of self-defense. I have not chosen to protect myself or my home and family with a firearm, but that is my right. And if I had such means at hand, I would take care to learn how to best do that. I would store the gun(s) and ammo properly and all the rest of it. I also believe in the propriety of issuing permits to carry concealed weapons. I think this should be subject to background checks and the rest of it, but by and large CCW is a good thing. If criminals have to worry about who is armed and who is not, they are less likely to attack.

3. Collecting
Guns -- especially those made before the advent of cheap modern materials -- are works of art and pieces of history. Those who are interested in collecting them are no more dangerous than those who collect matchbooks -- albeit their collection might be seen as an "attractive nuisance," like a swimming pool, and they should take seriously the need to safeguard their collections, not only for their own insurance purposes but to protect the community. That said, if collecting guns is your thing, then by all means, buy whatever you can afford.

4. Political Use
Here's where things get sticky. Second Amendment advocates who emphasize arms' ability to withstand oppressive government make other people nervous. Nevertheless, we need to face this question.

I believe in the right of revolution. This is a historic American value, and Thomas Jefferson is not the only Founding Father to have expressed this. Indeed, the right of revolution was so inherently American that the USA recognized every new revolutionary government in history until 1917, when we balked at recognizing the USSR. I cannot believe in the right of revolution without believing that the people have a right to the means to make revolution, viz., to keep and bear arms.

That said, we need to be very, very clear about what justifies revolution. As Ben Franklin put it, every revolution is legal in the first person: "our revolution." And every revolution is illegal in the second and third persons: "your/their revolution." People who begin revolutions must win in order to establish the legality of their actions, and if they don't, then they are subject to every penalty the law can devise.

The usual means of establishing the will of the people, particularly in a representative democracy such as ours, is through the ballot box. Only when that fails -- and fails utterly -- is revolution permitted. By "failing utterly" I mean not that the ballot box failed to yield you your desired result, but that the ballot box itself was done away with, or so interfered with that no effort on the part of the majority can ever establish a result contrary to the will of the government. AND, I would say, that government should also itself be oppressive and violent toward its people. Only when the above conditions are met should bullets replace ballots as the political instrument of the people.

The world is full of examples where guns are used as political instruments on a routine basis, to settle matters that should be addressed by ballots. Palestine and Iraq, not to mention Somalia, with their armed terrorist gangs and sectarian militias, are good examples. In these cases, ballots have not failed; rather, ballots have been seen as too slow or too unlikely to deliver the result desired, and bullets have been opted for prematurely.

So, when I see those who talk the talk of citizen militias and such in America, I think they are being premature. Yes, it is their right to keep and bear arms. But owning guns as a means of emphasizing one's political rights betokens an impatience that is unworthy of our heritage. The Second Continental Congress took a long time to declare independence, after a long train of abuses.

As a personal sidelight on all this, I was a pastor in Coal Country during both of the last two national coal strikes. In 1994, I think it was, the UMW declared a strike. The next day, all the gun stores in our area had phenomenal sales. The strikers met for angry rallies in the woods. They adopted military camouflage as their official "strike uniform." "Nobody's going to take my job away from me and live" is a sentiment I heard more than once. I am surprised that nobody got killed, given the angry rhetoric. I thought their tactics (quite apart from the justice of their cause) amazingly irresponsible.

Such experiences color the way I look at citizen militias. Unless one is in deadly earnest about overthrowing the government, then the use of weapons as a political instrument is wrong, wrong, wrong. And flirting with the idea that we might all have to resist the government is playing with fire.

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