Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Second Amendment Remedy to Gun Violence

As the echoes of the Tucson shooting still ring in our ears, one thing is completely and abundantly clear.  When it comes to managing America's completely insane approach to firearms, ain't nuthin' gonna happen.  It never does. 

You can slaughter little Amish children.  You can kill dozens of high schoolers at Columbine.  You can mow down scores of promising young college students at Virginia Tech.  You can kill Federal Judges and patriotic little girls born on September 11, 2001.

What you'll get is nothing, nothing but the spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, clucking about how now is not the time, and how we should just be praying for the families.  You'll get inaction on the Hill, and in state capitols.  The echoes of gunfire will fade, until maybe six months from now, when a massacre large enough to catch our jaded eyes happens again.  Not that it doesn't always happen, many times a day, as a Vietnam-wars-worth of Americans die every year on the receiving end of a bullet. 

Gun control, as an expression of managing a murder rate that is the worst in the developed world, just is not going to occur.  Our political culture lacks the courage for it, because too many Americans own firearms and don't want to be told that somehow they are bad for doing so.  Those sane enough to see this for the problem it is might plead and reason, and point to the painfully obvious statistics, but that hasn't worked.  The essence of the debate hasn't changed since I was a middle-schooler, and still the massacres come, and the blam, blam, blam of individual shootings continue.  Kill, Equivocate, Forget, Repeat. 

Thirty-thousand dead American citizens annually means this is 1) a major issue and 2) a national disgrace, but we're just plain stuck.

So how to get out of this?  Reason isn't enough, evidently.  To steal the recent rhetoric of insane ultraconservative Sharron Angle, I think we need a Second Amendment remedy.  No, that doesn't mean opening up on NRA headquarters with that M134 you bought for home defense, as satisfyingly ironic as that might be.

What would seem more constructive is to approach regulation of firearms from an originalist Second Amendment perspective.  As Tea Party folks are fond of telling us, the purpose of the Second Amendment is national defense.  Period.  It does not, in it's plain text reading, exist so that we can get us some venison.  It does not exist so that we can menace folks with the threat of a buttload of birdshot if they don't get the [heck] offa our property.

It exists so that the citizens of our great Republic can be prepared and ready to defend the Republic from invasion and threats to our constitutional liberties.

So far, this is all Red State Red Meat.    Well, I'm just getting rolling.

If you are an American, you have the right to possess a firearm.  But it's more than a right, about which you selfishly whine.  It's a duty.  It's the duty to use that firearm in defense of this country should the need arise.   If you are unwilling to fulfill that duty, inadequately trained to fulfill that duty, or mentally incapable of fulfilling that duty, then you should not be in possession of a firearm.

What?  You don't love America enough to stand up and defend her in time of crisis?  You gonna go there, son?

I thought not.

My humble legislative proposal...which will go no further than this blog and the three people who read it...would be to register firearms and owners.  Further, I'd require gun owners to receive both training and clearance.   But we're not calling this gun control.  Of course not.  This isn't about law enforcement.  It would not be viewed or described as licensing of a semi-illicit activity.

Instead, it seems have the registration to be tied in to the D.O.D.  Specifically, through the newly formed Homeland Defense Reserve sub-agency of the National Guard.  How can our men and women in uniform call on patriotic American gun-owners to stand with them in a time of national crisis if they don't know who they are or how to reach them?  So of course you need to register, and have your weapon registered.  That data would be shared with DHS and law enforcement, of course.  After the lessons we learned on September 11th, you can't have it any other way.

With registration and the background checks that insure your preparedness to protect the Homeland would come training.  It would have to be renewed every other year, just to keep your skills honed.  That mandatory training in firearms use and basic squad tactics, of course, would be conducted through a public/private partnership between the HDR and the National Rifle Association.  'Cause you know, that means some serious new revenue and membership opportunities.

This would weed out the crazies and the criminals and those unpatriotic enough to not be willing to prepare themselves to protect America.  It would serve the purposes of national defense and law enforcement.  And it would...I am convinced...cut down on the shameful slaughter that makes us a global laughingstock. 

Is it going to happen?  Goodness no.  No more than the next stage, which would be using such a plan as part of the process of standing down our imperial military to levels more befitting a constitutional republic. 

But it is, as Shaggy might say, so crazy it just might work.  If only we'd try it.


  1. This seems to me a topic that is quite intertwined with some other topics I saw come up lately with reference to Christ and Politics; the idea of Christianity and citizenship.
    I saw it with NT Wright, as he discussed the martyrs (in his book about the Gospel of Judas). I saw it on InsideCatholic, as they discussed the problem of having no political clout in their own country and being able to tolerate living there only as tourists, and I saw it in today's sermon about the duty of Christians to exercise their gifts on behalf of the Church.

    So where does this 2nd Amendment musing get us? There is a fundamental question about what our lives are for, what our lives are worth, and, mind you, what other peoples' lives are for/worth as well. It tends to be sharpened to a point when someone asks you: what are you willing to live for? what are you ready to die for? what would you kill for?

    The first question is actually the hardest, but it seems the easiest to lie about. The second sounds grand but really raises a lump in the throat. The third... well, there are people who answer with their actions.

    So, with reference to religion, with reference to nationalism, with reference to public policy... the conflicting demands and loyalties...

    Should all the gun owners be proclaiming their willingness to die for the country? That's fine, but the threat of tyranny means that such a statement is inviting repression and oppression from a threatened central government, just when those guns are needed in defense of liberty. The second amendment speaks pointedly not only to the readiness to die for the country, but also to their willingness to kill for their country, and in some sense, to live for the country. In short, to citizenship in whole cloth. The old state laws about owning a musket and being enrolled in the militia make it clear that voting/representation and leadership were also tied up in the question.

    So, do you really want to go there? That everyone who wants to vote must own a gun, be registered in a sort of 'national guard?' That local military action should be protected free speech (but not protected from the free speech of similar military action...)?

    Of course, the pacifists would cry foul, but they might be happy to serve as human shields in event of trouble... the thought of making the threat of tyranny and the need for violent opposition to it even more explicit in the laws of the land is difficult to bear. Really. It is an attempt to 'regulate' and 'make nice' some realities which are by definition not regulated or nice. The risk of crime, the need for capital punishment, and the heavy weight of warfare against oppression (internal tyranny, external invasion) is part of the price humanity pays for sin. Secularists may be expected to not understand, but Christians should know the story.

    This story explains the second amendment, in which legislators put targets on their own heads, should they fail to represent the people.
    There is certainly a tension in the establishment of a government that includes permission to plan for its abolition in the case of tyranny. That tension is made particularly challenging (and probably to some degree maintained) by the fact that the military of that same federal government is often peopled by the individuals most devoted to the principles of constitutional liberty and local civilian control.

    What is our political, religious liberty worth? Is it worth our murder rate? What would you die for? What would you kill for? What do you live for and what is your ultimate hope?

  2. As Rachel Maddow pointed out the other night, these people feel that the second amendment is about defense -- AGAINST THE US GOVERNMENT. Which means it follows that they would need access to the kind of firepower necessary to basically take on the US military. Assault weapons are just the beginning.

  3. @ Ben: Thanks for your thoughts! Should I ever be required to take up a weapon for the defense of myself, my family, or my nation, I would do so as a man. But that action would be in recognized and lamented tension with the teachings of my Master. As far as I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I have no business owning a gun. Period. The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed has nothing to do with the power dynamics you describe in your comment. Nothing at all. Your questions highlight that nicely. I live for Jesus. I would...though my craven heart quails at willing to die for him. But the moment I say "I would kill for him," I have betrayed him.

    As for the second Amendment meaning "legislators putting targets on their heads," that could not be a more materially and perniciously incorrect interpretation of the Second Amendment, particularly in context. The means by which legislators are removed in our constitutional republic is through elections. If the process of elections has been removed, then tyranny exists. But if not, that narrative take on the purpose of our constitutional right to bear arms actively betrays the constitution, in the same way that killing in the name of Jesus betrays his Kingdom.

    Advocating the murder of legislators was certainly not your intent. But your language does come close to sounding that way.

    @ Paul: That's part of the absurdity of 2nd Amendment "fight against tyranny" folks. The imperial military they so reflexively support is increasingly well prepared to stomp the bejabbers out of half-trained rabble with small arms. Drones and JDAMs make quick work of little groups of angry men with guns.

  4. Each and every time a tragedy such as the Arizona shootings occurs people start clamoring for additional gun control laws, patently ignoring the fact that we have many, many gun control laws on the books that DO-NOT-WORK.

    You can debate the purpose of the Second Amendment every day of the week and twice on Sunday and not come up with beans, you are debating the motives of people who have been dead for 200 years. Let us instead examine practical reality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States exists and a very great number of people in the US believe that it recognizes their individual right own a firearm for the purpose of defending their lives and families. Additionally, a very significant minority of the households in the US possess one or more firearms. The best number I can find is about 45%, or roughly 80 million people possessing between 250 and 300 million firearms. So as a country we’re pretty much armed to the teeth and loaded for bear.

    This is the heart of the problem. Any gun control legislation that is not confiscatory is only going to curb the future increase in the number of firearms and drastically increase the illicit value of existing firearms. Any gun control legislation that is confiscatory in nature is going to criminalize a lot of otherwise good, upstanding, citizens and incidentally lead to a blood bath that makes every shooting committed by every thug and random nutjob for the last hundred years look like a day at the beach. I suspect that a sizable minority of the individuals who own firearms are adherents of the cold, dead fingers school of thought. As you correctly pointed out, JDAMs and Bradley fighting vehicles tend to make short work of angry mobs.

    I submit that teaching our children social responsibility and sacrifice, respect for the rule of law and respect for our fellow man, would do more to curb violence of all sorts than every gun control law on the books. At the end of the day, laws only constrain the actions of those who respect the rule of law.

  5. Militias with small arms and IEDs have stymied our state-of-the-art military for over eight years now. Regardless, what I think is forgotten is that these 2nd Amendment militias would replace–-or certainly reduce the size of--our standing armies. Under such a scenario, the theoretical “fight against tyranny” would look much different than imagined.

    Owning a gun is no more at odds with the essence of Christianity than owning a crossbow or a hunting knife. All are tools for subduing dangerous and/or delicious animals. David used a projectile weapon to fell Goliath.

    I admire Gandhi’s peaceful resolve in the face of imperialistic brutality, and the "you're-not-the-boss-of-me-now" individualism of non-violent civil disobedience, yet I believe there must be unfettered access to small arms. If nothing else, owning a gun presents a tangible reminder of the depths of our duty and removes the romantic notions associated with military conquest (killing “bad” guys, spreading democracy, etc). When the tools of national defense hang over our mantelpieces, we view our lives differently. We actually care about our nation's foreign policy; we have a personal stake in peaceful exchange; the scope of our life returns to an intimate and fragile state of being; the intoxicating effects of wanton consumerism loses all sway; our dependence on continued health and safety returns to God--where it has been all along.

  6. To maintain the dialog; let me first say that I believe that the way the government was meant to be changed actually has several strata. Things that can be changed through lobbying were meant to be changed that way; then elections to change the actual leaders; then constitutional amendments to change the rules constraining the leaders; then, and only then, the 2nd Amendment makes room for the defense of the people against tyranny, if the government is ignoring the constitution.

    As for your statements about Christ and family; what you will die for and what you will kill for... there have been many different interpretations. Peter was willing to kill for Jesus. Jesus rebuked him, but not to the point of telling him to get rid of the sword. Just to put it back in the sheath. I wonder why... and I don't have an easy answer.

  7. @ Ben: No, there really haven't been other viable interpretations, and certainly not of that passage. Of course, we can always make scripture seem to say whatever we wish. Lord knows I'm guilty of that on occasion. But it's clear that both the church in the apostolic period and the primal church...following the example of the cross...were radically pacifist. If you read the stories of the early martyrs, their radicalized commitment to Christ and refusal to take up the sword in their own defense was one of the reasons the faith grew so quickly.

    That does not work well with our fleshy monkey-desire. I know that from my own self. I feel that desire, particularly when my little ones are threatened. But the only sword we can take the Word. Killing for nation? Coercion is the essence of state power, so of course we do.

    But for Christ and Kingdom? Never.

  8. It's funny, I can consider martyrdom and duck 'self-preservation' - even in ways that border on sloth; but allowing innocent Christians to be killed, enslaved, raped and tortured?

    I can't see that as appropriate given any other effective option.

    Also, I don't think it is appropriate to worship the idol of the early church; with its own constraints and challenges. History doesn't repeat, though it can rhyme, as the saying goes. There have been all sorts of bad decisions made in the apostolic and patristic period, we can't privilege those over the decisions made in other periods, as a rule.

  9. @ Ben: That is, of course, what Augustine of Hippo would have argued, although his formulation was "the defense of the innocent," not just the defense of other believers. Structuring it that way is conceptually indistinguishable to the justifications for violent jihad that come out of other, less gracious corners of monotheism.

    I understand the Augustinian position on this, and I partially hold it myself. If my family...or the innocent...were threatened, and I could either act or not act to defend them, I would do what was necessary to prevent harm from coming to them.

    However, in doing so, I would be sinning, and aware of my sin. Any act that violates the central ethic of the Kingdom is sin. If, for example, I encountered Jared Loughner in that Safeway, and force was required to subdue him, I would apply that force to the best of my ability. If that resulted in his death, I would be aware of the harm to him...but also to the suffering and loss it would inflict on those who loved him. For that loss, I would be culpable before my Creator.

    As for the primal church...I don't worship it. Not at all. But I do take the church of the apostolic period, meaning the circle of disciples who followed Christ, the Acts of the Apostles communities, and Pauline churches that produced the scriptures that govern our faith, as existing in a form that is a model to our Christian identity.

  10. Well, OK; Augustine is pretty good company. I agree, various cults and pagans frequently come up with the right arguments and conclusions for particular issues; they each have some facet of the truth. As for various branches of Christianity, each frequently gets some things wrong. After all, they do disagree, so they can't all be right on everything.

    It seems we have a very different view of what constitutes sin and how it works in this world. The lion will lie down with the lamb, and the pig with the rutabega, but until then each of us will inflict pain and death on the others around us - be it by pulling the gonads off a living tomato plant to eat the fruit and seeds, or killing a cow. The world is broken and we are broken; but Christ lived without sin though he ate the paschal lamb. This kind of brokenness is not part of our attributable sin. If I kill someone who is threatening innocents as a citizen of the society, I am a protector and defender. A 'good Samaritan' even. If I serve in the capacity of a Centurian and go to war, I am not sinning. If I serve in the capacity of executioner, I am fulfilling God's design for my life on this Earth, not sinning.

    The Central Ethic of the Kingdom is the perfect Legitimate Authority of God the King and Creator. It is from this that Grace gains its power.

  11. @ Ben: Aye, Augustine is good company. Amazing how much I resonate to that wise and ancient brother's heart.

    And yes, we do have differing metrics of sin. As I read my Master's radical proclamations about the nature of the Kingdom, I hear that what matters is the ethic of self-sacrificing love, as Christ taught in the Great Commandment. That ethic involves our submitting ourselves to be moved by and conformed to the indwelling Spirit, which is God's very nature.

    What it is not is simply "Authority." That term is ethically without content, and does not begin to describe the grace of the One to whom all Honor and Glory is due, or the specific duty of those who claim to serve Him.

    In the context of the Law of Liberty, which governs our every action, violence is sin. Period. That, as I understand it, includes violence inflicted in the cause of national interest. Or even, frankly, of family. I take it as far as food, myself.

    Much to our dismay, God's design and intent includes neither the executioner nor the Centurion. Neither has a role in the Kingdom of Heaven. Are they necessary here in the Kingdom of the World? So long as we are unredeemed and incomplete, I fear the answer is yes. As Paul noted in Romans, and dear brother Augustine discussed in The City of God, the sword is necessary to maintain justice and order in this world.

    But that does not mean that we embrace the sword as part of God's ultimate design and intent. It is a regrettable manifestation of our fallen, broken, sinful nature. It is not part of the Way.

    There, we are likely to still disagree. Oops! Look at the time! Must get back to preparing for worship! Have a blessed Sunday!

  12. It's a good discussion. I can appreciate wanting to approximate the New Heaven, but I can't label as sin anything that is a necessity. It can't be both ways. Further, it is a grave heresy to label Christ a sinner; and so, simply put, the 'violence' of eating meat cannot be sinful. It is a substitution of one's own Authority for that of God's, and as such, false teaching - sin. I would challenge you to rethink your position on 'violence' in light of God's normative action incarnate.

    But what I find myself thinking about is: what does 'Beloved Spear' think of my position (what does he think I want)? What does he think his position is? What do I think his position is? What do I think my position is?

    I've thought about it most of the day, and naturally the threads are a bit complex and tangled. But interesting.

  13. @ Ben: In the absence of the option of photosynthesis, it is rather necessary for homo sapiens sapiens to "take, kill, and eat." And it's not just Jesus and those poor little fishies. Getting all persnickety about how sinful non-vegetarians are kinda sorta flies in the face of Paul, too, at least the last time I read Corinthians.

    Still and all, I prefer to minimize the suffering I inflict and participate in. The strip-mined oceans and factory farmed flesh we consume do not resemble any corner of the Kingdom, to my eyes. It's a choice, one reflected in the created intent we hear for humankind in Eden.

    As for your position and what you hope to achieve, I'm not sure that's a factor. This feels more like an interesting conversation than a debate to me, which is not a bad thing.

  14. Harm/Care, Equality, Loyalty, Respect and Purity... I value them all.

    When I think about intentions; for example, I'm sure that you think you are reducing the violence in the world, making it a safer and happier place by opposing gun ownership.

    However, what I see is making the world a more dangerous place by authorizing coercive people, enabling future tyranny, disarming the honest but not symmetrically disarming the criminals. I don't see anti-gun people as tyrants so much as 'useful fools' who enable evil people.

    What you see in people who advocate gun ownership is, if you are like Obama, people who are scared, angry, unreasonable; people who can't be trusted with weapons, people who make society more dangerous.

    When I look at those people, I see people who are trying to keep peace in their own communities, who are upstanding and loyal.

    When I look at myself, I see that I have never owned a gun. Even more so, as a member of them military, I know that when I advocate for the second amendment, I have just painted a target on my forehead (even as a medical person). I don't see someone angry or scared. I do see someone who is willing to serve, and so I find it somewhat insulting that someone would challenge me with 'so why don't you join the military, I'm sure you wouldn't.'

    I think it is very important think carefully about what each of us sees and what each of us would like people to do.