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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Language and the NRA

If this is a blog about language, then it's impossible not to comment on the language of the NRA. Two things: the mantra-like argument that makes one's ears bleed: "The problem is large and complex. And these new restrictions will not solve it." A statement of fact--that doesn't address the question it pretends to address. A response to an argument the other side never made. Yes, the problem is large and complex. And certainly new gun laws are, in relation to the scope of the problem, small. But large, complex problems do not often admit of simple solutions. New gun laws aren't meant to SOLVE the problem. They ADDRESS the problem. They are one facet of a comprehensive solution that people of good will, be there such people on both sides, work out together. The only sensible response of the NRA and its supporters would be, "I don't believe this will help much if at all. But it's also not much of a sacrifice. No one needs military weapons. No one needs 100 round clips. If giving these up allows us to move on, we'll do that, because the goal to see that no more people die in these massacres. And if we don't take the first step, we'll never get to the second step. And anyway, no sane person would suggest that these laws make the world more dangerous." But of course they don't. They stall and preach an absurdist reading of the second amendment and make clear their primary interest is not life or law or order but the free right to guns of all kinds.

Second, behind the effectiveness of this childish argument lies a perverse (one is tempted to say insane) reading of the second amendment. No great effort is required to discover that the second amendment exists because Washington and company did not want the U.S. to have a standing army. They wanted a people's army. Because of real threats from foreign powers, the government was willing to risk the dangers of having weapons in the hands of citizens so they could call on those citizens at a moment's notice and not have to go through the trouble or expense of buying guns for a whole army. (There was no factory production of guns in 1780.) The purpose of the second amendment was to prevent the U.S. from having a standing army. It was a backdoor strategy. The very text reveals the forces of contention from which these words emerged.

The amendment in the end is somewhat cowardly and even cynical. Yes, it says, we know that there will be violence out there among the people. Intelligent people are aware that a country full of armed citizens is a minefield. We will lose good people, innocent citizens because of this law. But the trade off is security for the whole nation. And we'll take that--because we do not want an army. We do not want a force that could sweep in and challenge the civilian government.

All of that is forgotten in this debate (which is more a shouting match than a debate). Even the Supreme Court with its "original intentionists," pretend that the amendment simply guarantees every citizen a right to a gun for SELF-defense. The "militia" clause is erased. The intention which in this case is clear and available is simply ignored. And the nation becomes more militarized as it becomes more polarized.

If the people are out buying more and more guns simply because they don't like the elected president, we have a huge and complex problem, not one that can be solved or addressed by maintaining liberal gun laws.

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