In The Spirit of Just Discourse: Gun Guntrol

Mark Laluan

The U.S. Constitution has served as a political football, tossed and kicked around ever since the dawn of the American Republic.

How much of a political football the Constitution has become can be seen in interpolations of the Second Amendment.

In response to Will Thompson’s editorial “Reasonable Gun Control Held Up By Gun Lobby,” two letters to the editor were drawn up attacking the editorial’s position in favor of heightened firearms regulations in the wake of the Arizona shootings.

In addressing the points made by Jim Griffiths of Castro Valley in his letter “The Fallacy of The Pioneer’s Response to the Tucson Shooting” and by Kevin L. Thomason in his letter “Guns, Gun Control, and…Google?” I hope to clear the air and strike at the heart of the issue.

From the perspective of an editor who flat-out objected to the group consensus, I wish to make it abundantly clear that the editorial staff were engaged in a full and frank discussion on a point-by-point basis.

There was no “agenda” on the table as Griffiths claims, just an honest dialog about what the government ought to do about gun violence in America. In that same vein, it is my intention to undertake an equally honest discussion of the points made by Griffiths and Thomason.

The overriding argument found in both letters—that we ought to be focusing more on enforcing existing laws—is a sound bite in the truest sense of the concept.

This editor agrees that America’s gun laws are broken, and in many cases, prejudicial against gun owners. The Depression-era National Firearms Act of 1934 and the legislation it has spawned, have failed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and has become an encumbrance to citizens legally trying to acquire weapons.

However, hardline gun advocacy groups such as the Gun Owners of America have repeatedly torpedoed attempts by the National Rifle Association and other gun control advocates to come to any form of compromise.

The all-or-nothing attitude promoted by gun advocacy groups in the wake of the NRA’s support of the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1968 has worked to polarize both pro- and anti-gun control camps into rigid, inflexible camps.

This well-worn pattern of attack is repeated when Griffiths uses Mexican domestic instability and corruption within the Mexican armed forces to handwave the culpability of American gun suppliers for the damage their wares may cause.

There clearly is a problem with the supply of weapons crossing the border from Mexico. Yet this in and of itself is not a reason to shift the eye of inquiry away from American gun suppliers and gun shows, who may or may not be selling weapons to individuals that are socially incapable of handling firearms in a responsible and lawful manner.

When considering Thomason’s points, I find myself in for the most part in agreement. From the notion that gun laws do not decrease crime, gun owners come from all walks of life and that firearms can provide for the defense of personal prosperity in a time of emergency— these are concepts with which I firmly agree.

Thomason’s reasoned ideas—some of which I brought up in the course of the editorial meeting where we hammered out a consensus on what would become then become “Reasonable Gun Control Held Up By Gun Lobby”—fall by the wayside when individuals turn the question of gun rights into a zero sum game.

The subtle pro forma points that Thomason presents – the pleas to look beyond “media hype” and sweeping claims that the pro-gun lobby is not backed in part by corporate interests – pale in comparison to the sweeping historical claims made by Griffiths.

Griffiths gives us the examples of armed freedmen in the Reconstruction Era defending their right to vote. It was not violent resistance that broke the back of the Jim Crow South; it was the principled stand of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement which shamed our nation into action.

Violence committed by organizations such as the Weathermen Underground, who can be seen as an extension of the same fears of repression held by the freedmen, did very little in the way of defending civil liberties and worked more to sideline the forces of consensus.

The homily draws to a close with examples claiming that government tyranny in Milosevic’s Serbia, al-Bashir’s Sudan and Nazi Germany will never happen in America as long as the public is allowed ownership of guns to resist tyranny.

In fact, the German public of the 1930s, the Serbian public of the 1990s and the Sudanese of our times were armed to the rafters, and in each instance were in many cases enthusiastic supporters of what Griffiths decries as “government tyranny.”

Serbian civilians in the Yugoslav Wars were both armed and active in the ethnic cleansing campaigns undertaken against Bosnians, Croats and other ethnic minorities in Serbia, and Sudanese civilians participated in President al-Bashir’s campaign of genocide in Darfur.

Germany at the end of World War I saw jobless veterans band together in paramilitary groups known as ‘Freikorps.’ These armed militias wandered Germany as guns for hire, killing politicians and civilians alike in whatever furthered their aims.

The German people, fed up with the behavior of these militiamen, elected a law-and-order candidate who had extensive experience in both using and liquidating members from the various Freikorps organizations. That man was Adolf Hitler.

The right to bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment is a double-edged sword; it can be used to defend our natural rights or enslave others with brute force. Let us tackle the issue, not by shoving the reason for gun-related crimes on foreign climes, nor let us demonize this gift of self-defense our Founding Fathers intended for Americans to responsibly exercise.

Rather, let us move past the sound bites on both sides of the issue and respect the freedom of the American citizen to discuss the issue without accusations against an individual’s integrity thrown about casually.