Friday, October 04, 2013

The only thing stopping a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke. Plus, 'We the People'...if they're our people.

This is an excellent column, by Rutgers history student Tom Verenna, that goes to the heart of the manufactured and disingenuous controversy over the Second Amendment. I say manufactured because, as Verenna points out, it was not the intent of the much-ballyhooed Founders that each citizen keep and bear arms for his own individual purposes. To quote the author, "Weak links are fabricated between the modern gun culture and the Founding Fathers, often under the guise of critical research. In fact, if the founders' will on gun control were reinstated, gun rights activists and the National Rifle Association would be very unhappy."

Although I will hereinafter leave Verenna to speak for himself, which he does quite well, those paranoiac Glenn Beck listeners who say they need guns in order to be ready to revolt against tyranny should be mindful  of Sam Adams' opinion, quoted by Verenna, that "anyone who dared rise up against the laws of a republic 'ought to suffer death.'" (Could we apply that to the Tea Party types who refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the law known as the Affordable Care Act?)

To widen the lens, however, and like many who argue against universal gun ownership, I'm skeptical of citing the Founders as the unimpeachable authority in these matters in any case. Even if one wants to interpret their words literally (which I'm not sure is possible, given the convoluted wording and punctuation of the amendment itself), that was a long, long time ago. And incidentally, as I pointed out once in a piece for The Los Angeles Times, a literal interpretation of the operative amendment would theoretically give each of us the right to own, say, a tactical nuke. Why draw the line at AKs?

I was listening to the Dick Morris Show yesterday on Philadelphia's big talk-radio station, 1210, and the host made an in-passing, throwaway comment that really caught my ear. To me, it had much more significance than Morris could have imagined, and unwittingly helped highlight so many observers' problems with today's ultra-right-leaning GOP. Morris, who was once Bill Clinton's Karl Rove, if you will, has since basically become Karl Rove. On Thursday he opined that he couldn't see why the government shutdown was such a big deal, inasmuch as the only people really affected were the government functionaries (I'm paraphrasing) who have to go without a paycheck. He's wrong anyway, but without getting into all that, my point is that he gave no emphasis at all to that observation and then moved on immediately to another point. This callousness, this utter disregard for everyday people, real people, people who in this case must go without pay (in an era when perhaps 40% of  the nation's families live paycheck to paycheck), is the most troublesome aspect of latter-day Republicanism. There are 96,000 government workers in my home state of Pennsylvania alone, and they will swell the unemployment rolls if this mess isn't fixed soon. Regardless, they are people, and they matter, even if Dick Morris doesn't think so.

I'm also reminded of radio host Mark Levin, whom we mentioned last time. Levin likes to get himself and his audience all worked up over the Constitution, and Obama's supposed crimes against same. He recently wrote a book, The Liberty Amendments, in which he lays out, in migraine-inducing detail, the documentary evidence that allegedly bulwarks the extreme views he disgorges on-air. Toward that same end, he is forever quoting from America's grand archival papers, excoriating the President in the name of "We the People..." But that's the thing: It is very clear to anyone who listens to even one show that while Levin is doing all this bloviating about "We the People," he has precious little feeling for any actual people, unless they happen to be his people, which is to say, the improbable alliance of rich and redneck that drives today's right wing. Levin and others of his ilk, manifestly including Mr.  Morris, are more than willing to let the unwashed masses fall by the wayside as they cling steadfastly to words on a page, penned hundreds of years ago, that were often ambiguous to begin with and have about as much relevance to today's life as those laws, still on the books, that prohibit driving with an uncaged bear or, in some Bible Belt states, prevent a man from giving oral pleasure to his wife (as it was put in that memorable scene* from Pulp Fiction).

And by the way, if you're a male reader who lives in Connorsville, Wisconsin, you may not fire a gun while your lady is having an orgasm. (Much as some of would be tempted to, in mere celebration...)
* skip to 3:55 or so if you're in a rush to hear the words.


Unknown said...

Yes, it is a good article. As Verenna suggests, "activists need to compromise somewhere." Who are the activists, I wonder. You and me? The people we see and hear on the news and talk radio shows? We each have a voice and the louder voices tend to drown out the quieter ones; each voice is important, though.

I think we ought to focus more on violence itself rather than the weapons people use to commit violence. Of course, we joke (and argue) about how guns don't kill all by themselves, how it is people with guns (or hammers, or knives, or baseball bats) who kill. Why not just remove weapons from the discussion for awhile and talk about what makes people so violent in the first place. That might be a good place to start, especially given the fact that most people have opinions about guns and they're probably not willing to compromise on them.

I've been reviewing some anger management materials that I used when I was a counselor intern at a drug and alcohol treatment/recovery center a couple of years ago. The more I read, the angrier I get. It's not supposed to work that way, is it?

It is said that emotional pain is behind anger. The general wisdom is that violent behavior is unacceptable except in a case of serious physical danger. My question is why limit it to just "physical" when self-defense is protective of the whole being. Why do people go to war? It's not just about so-called physical threats; it's about ideology, too.

So, the anger management "experts" teach that physical violence is generally inappropriate, and that's understandable. These same people, however, teach that emotional abuse can be as bad or worse (because its scars aren't visible and thus are less likely to be treated or to heal) than physical abuse. Is violence only physical? No, of course not. Emotions are violent, too.

So if emotional battery is worse than a physical beating, and physical beatings are generally discouraged, then what's the solution for protesting and stopping violence in general, emotional and physical. First, as human animals we are going to be violent, period. Just try stopping yourself, for example, from reacting to something that threatens you in some way; you'd have to be completely passive or numb to avoid experiencing something that falls into the category of violence, whether it's just emotional or physical.

Furthermore, how do you really separate emotions from the physical body? You can't, and that's why I have trouble with teachings like "violence is never justified, is unacceptable, except in a case of serious physical danger." That's what anger management teaches.

What is an acceptable way to express anger? We are told to be calm and assertive, to first cool down and then act rationally. In the heat of the moment, it is best to catch yourself, burn off anger in some "healthy" way; then once the fury blows over, we can (supposedly) cope with a clear mind and a peaceful emotional state. I wonder, in which world is this possible? It's more wishful thinking than a solid plan.


Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, Unknown Jenny. Wink. These are very difficult subjects, and I'm not sure we can all even agree on the most "reasonable" answer. I've been thinking about this a lot in the context of the Tea Party's insistence that it "won't be disrespected" by Obama in these current political/financial debates. That is an essentially violent position; sounds more like something you'd expect to hear from a member of a street gang; they have their "honor" to defend. It is a quiet kind of violence, a violence of words rather than weaponry, but the destructive impact upon the nation will be at least as bad as if some of these legislators took up arms. So are we, citizens of a nation being held hostage by legislative terrorists, entitled to assert our right of self-defense?

I don't know. You tell me.

Like I said, complex issues.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps we need to focus upon the *sources* of our anger, rather than putting all our energy into "managing" that anger once it arises. That's the only thing that worked for me, and for a lot of folks I know - particularly combat veterans. Prophylaxis is always more effective than a cure, and if we can look the source of our rage in the face, we have an opportunity to stop the anger from even forming... in most cases, anyway.

Despite being a lifelong gun owner and shooter, I don't agree with the demand for unencumbered and wholly unregulated weapons ownership. A "tactical" weapon or high capacity magazine is actually useful (and appropriate) only in a combat operation. For the average citizen, such a situation will never become reality, and in truth, the most compelling reason for the average citizen to own such weaponry exists solely in fantasies that would be better understood and put in their appropriate place than acted upon. And for those who claim that citizens need to own weapons equivalent to the military to avert the uprising of a dictatorship, I'd suggest that they familiarize themselves with the many levels of checks that render such an event highly improbable, if not impossible, in this country. Beyond the institutional checks and balances, there's the fact that our standing military is all volunteer, and it would be a real stretch to assert that otherwise ordinary citizens who happen to be in the armed forces would willingly obey orders to kill their countrymen. A few wackos might follow such an order, but having served with a lot of gung-ho, GI Jope types, I can assure you that the wackos would be few and far betwee,.

As to the frequent assertion that a besieged citizenry would be quickly outmatched by a military force armed with modern assault weapons, I would remind them of how (un)successful the well-equipped Soviet army was agaionst a determined Afghan citizen militia, armed primarily with WWI Enfield rifles.

Finally, I don't think we can equate the threat imposed by physical aggression with that imposed by emotional aggression. IMO, it is ludicrous to suggest that diminishing another's happy place places them at risk equivalent to physically attacking them. For that reason, I certainly wouldn't support the notion of using physical force in response to someone's verbal assault.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I'm not so sure I agree about your hierarchy of threats (physical vs. emotional). I've made this point before, but this nation was founded by men (and supportive women) who manifestly believed that there are worse things than physical death per se. Unkonwn Jenny talks about going to war for an ideology, which we have done--as a nation--any number of times in situations where there had been no physical attack on us. On allies or people with whom we sympathized, perhaps, but not on us. There was even a time in our history when we contemplated scenarios in which we might want to launch a preemptive nuclear strike; that means, by definition, that we would launch (an incredibly devastating attack) when we merely felt threatened, because we didn't want to give the other guy (the Soviets) the upper hand.

Why can't similar reasoning be employed at the interpersonal level?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I have actually followed that reasoning before, and the aftermath - having harmed someone who posed no physical threat to me - was infinitely more traumatic than anything the guy could have said. Our prisons are well-populated with individuals who failed to exercise appropriate impulse control after being verbally dressed down, and there are far too many vets who still have nightmares about killing ill-defined "enemies" who had posed no genuine threat.

Bottom line is that I am vehemently against going to war over ideology, for economic advantage, or for any other reason than to protect ourselves and our friends and allies from physical harm. There is simply no acceptable reason for killing someone except to prevent them from killing you or someone near and/or dear to you. In my opinion, of course.

RevRon's Rants said...

One more thing: I doubt that many folks have been eternally traumatized because some jerk said something that took them out of their happy place. If the words stung that badly, it's probably time to check those buttons that got pushed and unhook their wiring, rather than expecting the world to respect the "Please don't push me" sign we hang above the buttons.

Jenny said...

Back again, this time as Slightly Unknown Jenny ;)

I guess we'd have to change all of history for what I said to make sense. Violence is normal in today's world and has been for quite some time. Ron, I always enjoy your posts. You have a military background and thus a better understanding of how things work in that world. I see fictional portrayals of soldiers and their superior officers and am disheartened by their behavior. Am currently watching "Band of Brothers" and am seeing, once more, that harsh and punitive attitude.

In a movie like "G.I. Jane," for example, it is demonstrated that a woman cannot survive as a soldier unless she adapts to the culture created by the men. It's a world where insults and humiliation are common and "discipline" seems to mean perennial punishment, and feminine characteristics indicate weakness.

Steve Salerno said...

For better or worse we live in an alpha world; and it would seem it has always been thus at the personal, political and governmental levels. Bullies rule. Would we (the U.S.) even think of making some of the moves we've made on the world stage if it weren't for the crushing military power we could bring to bear if necessary? Would ill-humored husbands even think of pushing hapless wives around if they feared a commensurate response? I'll even admit that some of our more notorious shooters of recent vintage would not have pulled the stunts they pulled if they knew they were walking into an armed environment; that much of the NRA patter is true. The crazies pick movie theaters and schools.

(Might makes right. Or if not "right," it certainly decides the winner.)

The debate rages over what we conclude from such events. The NRA argues that everyone should be armed. I'd prefer that no one be armed. But that horse is probably out of the barn. So what then...?

RevRon's Rants said...

*Probably* out of the barn?! The barn was burned down long ago. And the notion that everybody should be armed is equally ludicrous. My feeling is that citizens should pass a basic competency requirement and criminal/mental background check before ever attempting to buy or own a firearm, rather than at the time of purchase. Perhaps even teach gun safety as a required course in schools. Weed out the crazies, and establish a huge database of people who are *qualified* for gun ownership, rather than a database of actual owners. This would make the conspiracy theorists' projection of mass confiscation virtually impossible to implement.

As to the gender hierarchy in our society, I see a slow but encouraging erosion of the hard and fast roles. evidenced by women such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and their ilk. And I remember a couple of young women who used to compete in Aikido matches who were every bit as proficient as her male counterparts. And you're right, Steve - very few who knew them (or about them) would start anything, and the ones who did, did so at their own peril.

And Jenny, as I've mentioned in other threads on the subject, after training, when things start to get "real," there is no politics in a military unit, no ideology. All that remains is the unwavering need to survive, the commitment to back the other people in your unit, and when the situation arises, to avenge any harm that might befall them. "Chain of command" is often relegated to a hypothetical level, to be humored and followed, so long as doing so doesn't compromise the unit. That is why I'm not particularly worried about the survivalists' claims that the government will ultimately use combat troops against the populace. A few would follow such orders, but many would sooner frag an officer who issued such an order than carry the order out.

Steve Salerno said...

The problem, Ron, as I noted in my op-ed for the Daily News a few months back, is that we have no way of knowing who's going to become a danger to others. Statistically, if there are guns in the house--and as much as I hate to say this in our case--the greatest danger to you and Connie is posed by the two of you to each other, not some grunting interloper from outside the house. People bring guns into the house when things are fine and dandy...and then something happens. And the gun is already there. And it's too late to undo anything...

This is similar to another situation I'll be addressing soon, which is the danger posed to children by mom's new boyfriend. One does not want to enforce a dracionian/Victorian code on today's women, but once again, the stats don't lie. If a child is going to be molested/abducted/killed, the likely perp is the male partner of a single mom, or someone else invited into the home on a regular basis.. The likelihood of tragedies like the one that befell Elizabeth Smart and those three girls victimized by the late Ariel Castro is so remote as to be almost statistically insignificant--though of course it is horrific when it occurs.

RevRon's Rants said...

I wholly reject your assertion that the greatest danger posed to Connie and myself is the fact that we have guns in the house. If I was untrained in their use and unseasoned in violent confrontation, I would agree with you, but with proper training - both in the logistics of weapons operation and psychology of personal defense - that danger is minuscule... unless you're projecting the likelihood of one of us snapping. And frankly, we don't snap. Well, not yet, anyway. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, that's why I was careful to preface my remarks with the word "statistically." I can't imagine you and Connie getting involved in a shootout with one another. You can't imagine it either. But that's likely true of a lot of the people who ultimately ended up shooting a loved one (or former loved one). The statistics on this are clear. The greatest threat to us comes from the people we live with.

We're not psychics. We don't know what will happen to us phsyically or psychologically. I thought I was in excellent health the day before my stroke. Who knew?

RevRon's Rants said...

IMO, your argument would hold more true in our case if the data upon which your statistics are based were more complete, and included psychological factors such as comprehensive testing of the involved subjects, the perpetrator's range of experience in violent confrontations, and how the aftermath of those experiences had been dealt with. There are an awful lot of significant variables that aren't addressed or even considered to accurately include us in the model you present. Furthermore, I still hold that even the inclusion of a comprehensive personality testing mechanism such as the M.M.P.I. as part of the qualification process for purchasing or owning a weapon would likely eliminate the vast majority of incidents involving the use of firearms in a domestic confrontation.

I recognize the improbability of passing legislation that would require such a requirement, but would be very interested in further narrowing the scope of a study to see how many individuals who were involved in such confrontations had previously been subjected to and "passed" a comprehensive personality analysis. I suspect that the statistical picture would be significantly changed.