Who needs guns? A short piece on our infallibly benign government.

Posted: 27/02/2013 in politics
Tags: , , , , ,

I  hold my political views close to my chest.  I disdain the talking heads who make careers out of riling people up -even if many of friends are their followers.  I have had to censor myself, suspend judgment, and privately admit ignorance as the gun control memes rolled across my facebook feed.  Furthermore, I preferred respectful silence towards the school shooting rather than anything else.

Nonetheless the thoughts for this blog have been spurred by others  One great one came from the Economist blog Lexington’s Notebook.  The author argued, among other things, that the best and most effective gun control is simply no guns at all.  It is not this broad brushing point that I want to discuss (and even the author admits it is an impractical solution), but rather a minor point that the article argues.  Here it is:

As for the National Rifle Association bumper stickers arguing that only an armed citizenry can prevent tyranny, I wonder if that isn’t a form of narcissism, involving the belief that lone, heroic individuals will have the ability to identify tyranny as it descends, recognise it for what it is, and fight back. There is also the small matter that I don’t think America is remotely close to becoming a tyranny, and to suggest that it is is both irrational and a bit offensive to people who actually do live under tyrannical rule.

The author offers up Great Britain as an example of a free, gunless, society.  Whatever we can say about the details about his hunches here, it reflects a pretty deep seated assumption in arguments for very strong gun control.  That assumption might be stated like this: The United States government is not perfect, but it is not tyrannical.  There is no real reason to believe that our government would turn on its own people.

It is that assumption that I am concerned about.  I do not believe the government is wholesale tyrannical, but there are cases in which the government has turned on its citizens.

Spies for the German Empire

When it comes to languages in the United States, Spanish is the new German.  What I mean is this:  prior to World War One, German-speaking immigrants were one of the largest in the country.  Many of these people were religious minorities, who held religious instruction and services in their native language.  Additionally, there were many German language newspapers in print.  While folks on the west coast (like myself) will find this hard to believe, there are still tiny places in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin where German is spoken.

Stop the Mennonite Menace!

Stop the Mennonite Menace!

All this changed during world war one.  The state of Nebraska, for instance, actually passed a law that forbade the teaching of German in schools.  This may seem trivial, but there were schools that were taught entirely in German.  Furthermore, popular sentiment caused the shutdown of German newspapers, church services, and even the anglicizing of German names.  One could argue that this was due to the people not their government.  However, an entire government department had been created to distribute war propaganda.  It is not hard to see how this could incite further ire against the language.  Besides, the government can’t be innocent of internment.

Through a combination of propaganda, vigilantism, and local laws, German disappeared as a public language in the United States.  All that remains are those dirty Amish who are probably still spying for the Kaiser.

Execute Order 9066

Very few people know much of Korematsu v United States.  We think of it a strange footnote to history, normally.  Unless you’re either a Californian or Japanese.

Korematsu v United States (a terrible way to frame a legal challenge during wartime!) challenged the infamous constitutionality of executive order 9066.  This was the infamous interment of the Japanese during world war two.  Unlike German internment during world war one, the Japanese were interned regardless of citizenship.  The rub of the argument was that the need to fight espionage in war time outweighed an individual’s rights.  Did you know that this supreme court ruling has still not been over turned?

Brought to you by the land of the free and home of the brave.

Brought to you by the land of the free and home of the brave.

This is probably one of sadder points of California history in particular and United States history in general.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Japanese interment here’s what happened.  People were moved from their homes to camps in places like race tracks.  At first the moves were “voluntary” but as such things go eventually the Military took over.  After the Japanese citizens were moved to interment camps in the less developed parts of California’s central valley.  If you’re wondering if any of these people were able to get their homes back or maintain their possessions, the answer is no.  In fact, many Japanese citizens –American citizens, I can’t emphasize that enough- had already dumped their centuries old heirlooms into the ocean.

The United States has long since made recompense against those interned.  Sadly, this still does not erase the stain on “the greatest generation.”

Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s coming…

Sometimes folk songs cross generations.  A great example is “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  This simple song commemorates one of the worst domestic incidents of the Vietnam war era.

On my 4th, 1970 a rally of students were protesting against the Vietnam war.  The national guard came in to to disperse the crowd with tear gas.  But the crowd did not disperse at all.  In fact, many of the students came prepared with gas masks and threw the casters back at the guards.  When the crowd did not disperse, the national guard fired 67 rounds over 13 seconds.  They killed for students, two of whom were not even involved in the protest.

Government did school shootings before it was cool.

Government did school shootings before it was cool.

I can’t think of a more vivid example of the government breaking its trust than this incident.  It cannot be emphasized enough here that the guards fired shots on an unarmed crowd.  How can this be justified?  Let’s even concede that some members of this group had been unruly.  It’s true that only days prior protestors had set fire to the ROTC building.   Furthermore, many of them attempted to “bring the war home” through vandalism.

Yet if we call this group an anti-war revolutionary mob, it was still an unarmed anti-war revolutionary mob.  The Vietnam war era was crazy abroad as it was crazy at home, but soldiers should never fire rounds at unarmed citizenry.

Closing thoughts

Every issue I have cited here is a complex.  Each deserves a blog in itself.  Endless amount of ink has been spilled over each listed here.  But to the point of Lexington’s notebook, each phenomena is an example of the Untied States Govenment turning on its own people.  So why write-off the NRA when the declare guns a defense against tyranny?

Now please understand, I am not someone who would actually call for violent resistance.  Additionally in these three examples, gun violence could have made the situation worse.  I have not lived under tyranny and if you’re reading this blog, you may not have either.

But what if something like any of the above scenarios happened again?

What if the government declared the language your family and your community spoke as evil and suspicious?  No immigrant would feel comfortable or welcome, especially if the white house endorsed this mentality.  What if the government forced your neighbors out of their homes and into tent shanties in the middle of nowhere?  The government might do it make you feel safe, but personally I’d feel threatened.  God forbid, can you imagine if the government sent soldiers to fire on your alma mater?  Violence like that deserves a stronger response than strikes from university students.

Lexington Notebook alleged that NRA is narcissistic to believe that it can identify and resist tyranny.  He may be correct about the latter.  Maybe the NRA could do little to resist tyranny, but identifying it shouldn’t be too hard.

  1. James says:

    I think my issue is the assumption that tyranny is the only reason to own or not own weapons. Yet their are many other uses: Personal defense against an governmental attacker, hunting, humane slaughter of animals, recreation and more.

  2. Alexander says:

    I should probably start by stating my bias. I’m not a gun person. I don’t own guns, I don’t hunt, I don’t go shooting for fun. But I don’t particularly have a problem with any of these activities either.

    Our government certainly has done, does, and will do tyrannical things. But I don’t believe the uprising of an armed populace is often (if ever) the the most efficacious response.

    The greatest threat to liberty in the United States today is not an under-armed citizenry, but an apathetic one.

    Take for example, the ‘enhanced’ scanners and pat-downs at airports. We collectively grumbled, then bent over while The Man performed a cavity search. If every American old enough to hold a bowie knife were armed to the teeth but we still didn’t care enough to stand up for our rights, we’d be no better off.

    Can you imagine what would have happened if a group had walked into the airport with guns slung over their shoulders to protest? All public sympathy for the issue would have gone out the window. We care about our rights, but not enough to go to jail for them, and we value a feeling of security more than we value personal dignity.

    In fact, most historical instances of governmental tyranny were a result of the fears and prejudices of the public. We were afraid of the commies or, you know, fill in the blank, and we wanted the government to protect us at any cost.

    It doesn’t really matter whether it was because we bought into propaganda the government fed us or because the government was acting on our collective fear and bias. Either way, if we fail to recognize tyranny, or we endorse it, or we are to lazy to stand up to it, guns won’t do us any good. The government rules at our consent. We have met the enemy and they are us.

    But if we see the injustice and we stand up to it, we don’t need any guns. We just need a lot of people willing to disobey.

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