Bullets above Vegas

The ‘right to bear arms’ is a political ruse, a moral perversion and the beginning of freedom’s demise.

GUN ENTHUSIASTS look over Smith & Wesson guns at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings and exhibits show in Louisville, Kentucky, last year. (photo credit: JOHN SOMMERS II / REUTERS)
GUN ENTHUSIASTS look over Smith & Wesson guns at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings and exhibits show in Louisville, Kentucky, last year.
(photo credit: JOHN SOMMERS II / REUTERS)
A cynic, said Oscar Wilde, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
That is certainly true for the gun makers, rifle lobbyists and Republican politicians who have led American civilization from the summits of humanistic inspiration to the nadir of murderers’ turf.
Every non-American who saw 20,000 innocent Americans fleeing Stephen Paddock’s bullets felt what only Americans still refuse to admit: America is ill.
Hijacked by a cabal that speaks freedom but worships greed, Americans are at a loss to drive a wedge between its firearms and madmen.
Speaking freedom means bandying the American Constitution’s Second Amendment which says that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Before discussing this clause’s historic anachronism and moral deformity, one must first of all understand that the arms manufacturers behind America’s perversion of freedom are not driven by an ideal, as their defenders imply, but by a thirst for profits.
Seeking profits is, of course, legitimate and even commendable; but pretending to care for values while actually seeking nothing but profit is not legitimate, much less when the results are 59 dead concertgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada, nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, 20 children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, 32 undergrads at Blacksburg, Virginia, and the list goes on and on.
Yet the gun lobby’s moral canting pales compared with its political manipulation. Whether in its original circumstances or moral principle, the Second Amendment is irrelevant to the situation America has come to face.
The first circumstance is technology.
WHEN 14 STATES (Vermont had just joined the original 13) ratified the Second Amendment, the “arms” they thought they were allowing Americans “to bear” were elongated, heavy, wooded muskets that had to be reloaded after each shot, with bullet and gunpowder inserted separately.
Had he been armed with such a broomstick, Paddock would have harvested but a handful of his victims.
Weaponry’s evolution since 1791 to semiautomatic loading, full metal jacket bullets, the machine gun and finally the submachine gun were all eons away.
Had the amendment’s signatories ever seen just one of the 23 Kalashnikovs, Colt AR-15s and Eugene Stoner AR-10s that Paddock carted to his hotel room, some of them would surely have reconsidered their votes, even before we configure the 100- round magazines and bump fire stocks that allowed him to spray 90 bullets every 10 seconds.
The second circumstance is geography.
In 1791 there were fewer than three million Americans spread over an area more than twice the size of today’s Germany. It was a unique situation that demanded pioneers, whose pioneering demanded empowerment.
Expecting government troops to reach their remote ranches when they faced attack would have been derelict.
Then comes sociology. Today’s American gun buyer is seldom the enterprising frontiersman that the Second Amendment’s writers had in mind. At the same time, he is all too often an urban criminal, drifter or mental case.
It takes no historian to understand how dramatically circumstances have changed over the past 226 years. Now America’s freedom requires not arming the people who settle its hinterland but disarming the people who unsettle its towns.
That is why America’s gun lobbyists, realizing they are in the moral defensive, keep diversifying their opportunistic arguments.
That, for instance, is how the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was murdered in his church in Charleston, was blamed by National Rifle Association board member Charles Cotton for having opposed, as a state lawmaker, legislation that would have allowed guns into churches.
By this logic, Americans are habitually targeted by gunmen not because Americans have too many, but because they have too few, weapons.
Other gun-control opponents, like radio and TV host Dana Loesch, reportedly claimed that the very fact that mentally ill people have managed to get weapons proves that gun control is impractical.
Well, in this regard we Israelis can add some valuable evidence to the American debate.
IN THIS land, carrying a weapon requires a license, and the license requires a clean police record, a medical bill of mental health, and a statement explaining one’s need for a weapon. Tour guides, farmers and West Bank bus drivers are likely to get gun licenses. A professional gambler like Paddock would not.
Is this system foolproof? It isn’t.
There is here a thriving black market for guns, rifles, grenades, explosive bricks, shoulder-fired missiles and whatnot. But these victimize mainly the underworld.
Otherwise, the market is regulated and supervised, and intra-Israeli firearm terrorism is rare, despite the added challenges caused by the conflict with the Palestinians.
So don’t believe those flooding America with weapons when they say it is impractical for government to dramatically reduce and cap their presence. It’s doable.
And don’t believe them when they tell you that taking away Americans’ guns will compromise their freedom. It won’t.
The ones whose freedoms are being robbed are the pedestrians, schoolchildren, college students, parishioners, concertgoers, and Sunday shoppers who have lost the ability to roam America’s public domain fearlessly. Mentally, Americans’ freedom of movement is under attack.
Moreover, government is supposed not only to safeguard freedom but also to provide security.
Only anarchists, who think government is inherently evil and should therefore deliver nothing, not even a jail, a currency or a fire station, would agree that the right way to provide street safety is to arm the people.
States are built on the very duty to organize violence, both in terms of activating it externally, and in terms of preventing it internally. That millions of Americans don’t get this – alone in the entire developed world – is steadily unfolding as a glorious civilization’s corruption.
“Morality,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, “is... the surest pledge of freedom.”
Denying this simple dictum, as America currently does, is morality’s perversion and the beginning of freedom’s demise.