What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I’m no a great fan of Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley but I have to admit that his passionate reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the second amendment got me to thinking a little more about the decision than my comments of last Friday. Chicago has a ban on gun ownership and Daley would like to close down all the gun manufacturers and turn their stockpiles into scrap metal. In reacting to the decision, he said
Does this lead to everyone having a gun in our society? If they (the Supreme Court) think that's the answer, then they're greatly mistaken. Then why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West. You have a gun and I have a gun, and we'll settle it in the streets if that's they're thinking. We think we're such an improved society, the rest of the world is laughing at us.
And that got me to thinking. What is it about our society that the highest court in the land has to pronounce to the world that our constitution says that all Americans have a legal right to own a gun. Well, maybe not all of us. Not felons or nut cases - but for the rest of us, it has now been made crystal clear that it’s an inalienable right. And the argument that we hear most often in support of that right is that we need guns to protect ourselves in our homes - and in some states, on the streets - presumably against fellow citizens who also have guns which they own by right and with which they would like to do us harm.

Maybe Mayor Daley had a point when he made reference to the Old West. Sure, we had the local sheriff and the occasional US Marshal to keep the peace. We’ve all seen those brave lawmen in action on the silver screen. But they couldn’t be everywhere and protect everyone and the average citizen still had to carry a gun for his own personal protection - and practice the art of quick draw so that he could truly defend himself against the bad guys. But is that the kind of society that we have today? Do we really need to have our own weapons to protect ourselves against the bad guys because the police can’t be everywhere?

Our domestic death rate from gunshots far exceeds that of any other western society and we have more people in jail than any other country in the world . The Supreme Court ruling is likely to result in a lot more of us having guns - and logic would dictate that our annual death rate from gunshots will increase proportionally. Rather than guns being used to repel bad guys from our homes, it’s more likely that there will be more accidental deaths in the home and more guns available for the bad guys to steal. We’re supposed to be the leaders of the free world - champions of democracy and personal freedoms - but what our murder and incarceration statistics and the new Supreme Court ruling says to the rest of the world is that we are a violent society that has little faith in law enforcement keeping the peace and protecting its citizens from harm.

We are not the only country that believes in the right of citizens to own guns. There are other countries where citizens can acquire guns simply by having an easily obtainable gun license.. No "constitutional right" is involved - for example in countries like Switzerland or Israel. Gun ownership in those countries is widespread - at least as proportionally high as ours - but the murder rate from gunshots is far lower than ours. So what is wrong with us? Are we an inherently violent nation? Has the violence of the Old West - of the decades of slavery - of the civil war - been handed down from generation to generation so that it has become ingrained in us to the extent that it has become our natural way of life - so that a majority of us think that there is nothing wrong having weapons of mass destruction (think Columbine and Virginia Tech ) available to all of us?

We know we’re a generous society. We know there is inherent goodness in us. But it seems clear that we are also a violent society. It was either Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain or both who said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." In the case of the numbers of guns owned by Americans - and the number of murders, suicides and accidental deaths from gunshots, combined with the number of incarcerated Americans - the statistics seem to be telling a very truthful story. The question is - what is that story? It’s something that we should be thinking about and examining while we are having the debate about what the second amendment means. And maybe the first questions we should ask ourselves - after we’ve accepted the incontrovertible fact that we are a violent nation - are WHY?and WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH US??