Individual gun ownership — and gun violence — has long been a distinctive feature of American society, setting us apart from the other industrialized democracies of the world. Recent legislative developments, however, are progressively bringing guns out of the private domain, with the ultimate aim of enshrining them in public life. Indeed, the N.R.A. strives for a day when the open carry of powerful weapons might be normal, a fixture even, of any visit to the coffee shop or grocery store — or classroom.That's right, work with the author for a second: the more weapons you have, the less freedom you get.
As N.R.A. president Wayne LaPierre expressed in a recent statement on the organization’s Web site, more guns equal more safety, by their account. A favorite gun rights saying is “an armed society is a polite society.” If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed — like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example — they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.
As ever more people are armed in public, however — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.
And yet, gun rights advocates famously maintain that individual gun ownership, even of high caliber weapons, is the defining mark of our freedom as such, and the ultimate guarantee of our enduring liberty. Deeper reflection on their argument exposes basic fallacies.It isn't that complicated. Let's say you're pissed off at someone and you really want to tell them. Would the fact that they're packing influence what you said and how you said it? Of course it would. And that's the point: it's not "politeness.," guns chill speech. They become the antithesis of what freedom actually is.
[Hannah] Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.
This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.
As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.
Gun rights advocates also argue that guns provide the ultimate insurance of our freedom, in so far as they are the final deterrent against encroaching centralized government, and an executive branch run amok with power. Any suggestion of limiting guns rights is greeted by ominous warnings that this is a move of expansive, would-be despotic government. It has been the means by which gun rights advocates withstand even the most seemingly rational gun control measures. An assault weapons ban, smaller ammunition clips for guns, longer background checks on gun purchases — these are all measures centralized government wants, they claim, in order to exert control over us, and ultimately impose its arbitrary will. I have often suspected, however, that contrary to holding centralized authority in check, broad individual gun ownership gives the powers-that-be exactly what they want.Not to mention, the lunacy behind the "survivalists" and other anti-government cranks is palpable given the rapidly changing technology of mass destruction. For example, we already know of Obama's fondness for predator drones and drone strikes. I'm pretty sure no matter how many AR-15's, M-4's, hand grenade launchers or whatever the hell you have stockpiled, you're no match for a drone strike.
After all, a population of privately armed citizens is one that is increasingly fragmented, and vulnerable as a result. Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism — I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings — and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be. The N.R.A. would have each of us steeled for impending government aggression, but it goes without saying that individually armed citizens are no match for government force. The N.R.A. argues against that interpretation of the Second Amendment that privileges armed militias over individuals, and yet it seems clear that armed militias, at least in theory, would provide a superior check on autocratic government.
So while you're sitting there in your bunker with your armory and saltine crackers, a government-dispatched predator flies 9 miles above your head, totally invisible, and then proceeds to vaporize you without warning. How'd that battle work out for you?
Meanwhile, back to the more philosophic point.
As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.Let me put it in a more pedestrian way: the gunnies play right into the hands of Big Government and the power-elite by foolishly believing that "individualism" and the "right to bear arms" empowers them. Because the opposite is true: they become another slave of the very state they feel at war with.
Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear.
Community is what threatens the power-elite, not individualism. You sitting alone there in your bunker, isolated, fearful, surrounded by your guns and ammo, is precisely what Big Government wants, tough guy.
Meanwhile, for more evidence, look at the sociodemographics of gun ownership in the U.S. Guns are rampant among the less educated, the lower middle and working classes, southerners, westerners, Republicans, males, the more religious, and rural and suburban dwellers...the very groups constantly spouting anti-government cliches, vaunting the juvenile writings of Ayn Rand, and declaring the supremacy of the individual over the collective.
It's the same group Obama slagged during the 2008 election when he was caught on tape dissing "the bitter, who cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
In-artful, but nevertheless accurate. And if you find it ironic that it took the tragedy of 20 dead first graders to get our power-elite president to suddenly wake up to the issue of gun control, don't fool yourself His "fast action" is to appoint a commission to study the problem.