My thoughts cannot help but turn to the issue of gun violence on this weekend when former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords receives the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage award on the one hand, and the NRA gets a new president who believes that government—our elected American democratic republican government—has secret plans to confiscate all guns and lock up Americans en masse in prison camps.
Let me make this clear right from the start. I am not against personal ownership of guns. I have my deceased father’s shotgun and the .22 rifle and shotgun I’ve owned since a very young man. And I have temporary custody of a sniper rifle, a family heirloom taken during WWII by my father in law who won one of his two Bronze Stars by taking out a German sniper as a scout, alone, with a carbine. But I have also been personally scarred by guns. I know the horror of murder of a close friend and grew up with a mother whose family was destroyed by gun violence.
Guns are at the center of American life and history. Our country’s fate has turned on the proper use and misuse of guns, more than once. The John F. Kennedy award itself recognizes both, for this President used guns properly to defend our country in a time a war, and was himself slain by a gun wielded by an enemy of and a traitor to democratic self-governance. And that is the key point in this issue: there is a proper use of guns, protected by the constitution, and an improper use of guns. The question is, what is proper use and what is not. Join me over the fold to explore this.
The constitution permits our elected representatives to define and regulate in order to protect and promote the proper use of guns. The Supreme Court has so ruled time and again on this. That same constitution empowers our elected representatives to prohibit and confiscate guns used improperly. What our constitution does not do is to award individuals the power to resist with force of arms the edicts of a properly elected, democratic (that is, majoritarian) government.
Let me make that clear: the Second Amendment does not give individuals the right to proclaim that they alone can decide on the use of force to nullify laws passed by proper democratic procedure. What it does do is give volunteers the right, under “well-regulated” circumstances, to practice at arms and to personally own weapons that might be used to defend democratic self-governance against its enemies. It gives Americans the right and duty to band together to defend their democratic form of government. That is the primary purpose of the Second Amendment.
That is what the Minutemen did at Concord and Lexington. These farmers were part of the local volunteer militias that were formed in nearly all communities at the time as a form of defense against many real enemies. To the north until 1763, the French who were then under a absolutistic monarchy repeatedly made incursions and stirred up natives against colonists. To the south, the Spanish, then notorious for their cruelty and absolutistic and intolerant religious fanaticism, reigned from Florida, California, New Mexico and Texas to the edge of Antarctica. The threat of native American raids was very real and deeply feared by early Americans. I will not get into the right of native Americans to defend their own, often very democratic, tribal governance and their territory in this diary. That they did so vehemently is the point. In the 1660s King Phillip’s War killed nearly 10% of the colonial population in New England—a toll far, far higher in relative terms than that suffered during the Civil War (the same war the incoming NRA president calls the war of northern aggression). The point is that threats to the life and property of whole communities at that time were not the fantasies of fanatics; they were real. And remember, the professional and armed police charged and armed to defend community lives and property at taxpayer expense as we know them today were not even invented until the mid 19th century. The police came about by act of democratic government. They and the American armed forces are the “well-regulated militia” of our day.
The interpretation of the Second Amendment by the NRA is not just perverse. It is so opposite of the original intent as to be utterly Satanic in the completeness of its reversal of that intent. In effect, the NRA is holding this weekend a Black Sabbath Mass while the Profiles in Courage people are holding a proper commemoration of sacrifice to save others—which is, indeed, the point of celebrating the mass. A militia was not at the time of the writing of the Second Amendment an assembly of the paranoid afraid that democratic government would somehow turn against them; it was an assembly of volunteers willing to give up their time and, if necessary, lay down their lives to defend their community and its democratic self-governance. They were the volunteer police and army of their day. When the British marched their mercenary armies to enforce edicts which were aimed at destroying democratic self-governance of the colonies, these men, as was their duty and right, took up arms to defend self-government and the lives and properties of their community. They did so on the democratic vote of colonial assemblies.
Those who put loyalty to the king of England above that of loyalty to democratic self-government were regarded as traitors at the time. Today, those who put loyalty to some imaginary right to take up arms against their fellow citizens who, by properly constituted government, decide by majority vote to institute better regulation of arms, or even to forbid arms to those bent on using them to foment insurrection against democratic government, are no less traitors to the American ideal of majoritarian rule. I would venture to argue that when 90% of Americans support better and proper regulation of arms, the votes of our “representatives” were not representative votes.
These so-called representatives have betrayed democratic self-governance with their votes. However, at Daily Kos, we do not call on each other to take up arms to defend themselves against imaginary grievances against government, even against those who voted against majority wishes, as does the NRA. We, and courageous people like Gabby Giffords call on voters to inform themselves and march to the polls and vote, democratically, for those who will stand up for us.
She showed real courage in meeting her voters face to face, armed only with principles and information, the proper weapons of a democracy. Her attacker was a traitor to such democratic self-governance, bent on using violence to destroy it. This use of weapons against Representative Giffords was not the right to lay down one’s life for democracy which is the real intent of the Second Amendment.
We demand that government protect that right to vote democratically. We demand government properly count those votes and protect that right to vote for representatives who represent us, the living people of American and not the imaginary “persons” of corporations. And we proclaim, with Ms Giffords, that we will hold our elected representatives accountable at the polls, not at arms. Our threat is the use of ballots, not bullets, for the threat to use bullets against majority rule is anti-American, indeed, it is betrayal of our very history and the legacy passed down to us by our forebears.
While Ted Nugent and the poor deluded so-called self-imagined “patriots” of the NRA celebrate their servitude to the corporate gun lobby and make speeches defending their imaginary right to use weapons against all and sundry, we honor a true patriot defender of self-government today—Gabby Giffords—and we remember all those, including my grandfather and close friend, taken from us by the abuse of the right to bear arms in defense of democratic governance.