Dr. Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC television network has come up with an analogy powerfully germane, in my opinion, to the discussion of gun control in the United States. This argument is troubling and non-comforting to the victims of school massacres and their families, but these argument qualities galvanize its importance to every aspect of the ongoing discussion, of which this is Part The Fourth for this site Beyond Good and Evil — from caliber of barrels and capacity of ammo magazines to the shattered lives of families of innocent, gunned-downed school children.
Dr. Maddow compares the National Rifle Association (NRA) with the tobacco support groups and the tobacco lobby, an advocacy movement very successful and powerful in the past, but a movement nowadays not so effective, as shown by the decreased numbers of new smokers in the nation, despite the increased population of the nation. Some readers might remember the names of tobacco advocacy organizations, such as the Tobacco Institute, the National Smokers Alliance, and the Center for Indoor Air Research. The influence of these groups has waned, Rachel reminds us, because it was realized by the government and by citizens that they functioned solely by the funding of the tobacco companies, the manufacturers and distributors of cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. They were lobbying screens, buffer organizations, and makers of facades — all for the protection of the tobacco companies from the glare of a truth-seeking public. They functioned in an inhumane and deceitful way, countering scientific studies of things like the high correlation of cigarette smoking with lung cancer with groundless arguments, using statements — to use a poignant phrase guys in the school yard used to describe untruths masking truth: statements “pulled out of their asses!” — statements meant to deceive and create doubt. Many of those who “bought into” these lies printed in the brochures and spoken in the ads of the tobacco lobbyists undoubtedly died of tobacco-induced cancers.
The NRA is the most well-known of the gun support groups and is the principle gun lobby in State legislatures and in Congress. I agree with Rachel in saying the NRA is functioning today for the manufacture and sale of guns today just as the Tobacco Institute functioned for the manufacture and sale of tobacco products in the past. If this analogy holds, and I think it does, then the public needs to peer beyond the smokescreens of the NRA and organizations like it to put pressure upon the makers and sellers of guns. Just like the claims of the tobacco lobby came to be seen as bullshit, so many of the claims of the NRA should be exposed as the same. (I remember tobacco ads being very clear that one looked more debonaire and/or more glamorous with a cigarette in hand, and now we hear that the government is lying in wait to come into our homes and confiscate our guns — both equally B.S.!) Taking Dr. Maddow’s analogy further, part of the inhumanity and deceit of the NRA is based upon fear and a complete ahistorical misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Second Amendment. For fear of losing their guns, a fear fanned by the anti-government sentiments of the NRA, the shrinking number of people who own guns are badgered into buying more guns, often guns they in all likelihood will never use — all to keep those who make and/or sell guns in business! Just as in the case of tobacco growers and manufacturers, making a buck is more important to the gun business than reducing the danger their modern weapons bring to the lives of the innocent and the credulous.
It is no accident that the “ATF” on the backs of government agents stand for “alcohol,” “tobacco,” and “firearms.” (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) The “A,” “T,” or “F” can kill us, if abused. Just as it is in the interests of brewers’ and distillers’ wallets for people to abuse alcohol, it is in the interests of the tobacco industry’s wallets for people to “smoke like chimneys,” and, it is in the interests of the gun industry’s wallets for people to buy and use guns, as many guns as they can possibly afford.
“But!” screams the NRA, “what about the Second Amendment?” “Bearing arms is a right, guaranteed by the Constitution.” “There is no mention in the Constitution about the right to choose to smoke or to drink.” Not only does the NRA deemphasize the other parts of the Bill of Rights, they de-contextualize the entire Bill of Rights, not to mention the Constitution itself. Had history and the state of weaponry remained fixed in its late 18th century status, the NRA would have a point and the amendment need only one interpretation. Reality and the march of history has trumped their point and made it anachronistic. As I said in “(Part The Second),” the Second Amendment seemed a necessary part of the Bill of Rights at the time to help preserve our freedom, giving us the right to participate in defending our freedom, should the occasion to do so arise; if our nation is invaded by another, as it was in the War of 1812, or if our nation’s Constitution is threatened by a takeover from within, we as citizens are obligated to form a Militia in the defense of our Constitution, and, thereby, the defense of our freedom.
But the Second Amendment was written under the assumption of 18th century weaponry and under the silent affirmation that Americans of the time, in order to be Americans, especially on the frontier, are necessarily armed as individuals for individual protection and utility in rural areas [See “(Part The First)”]. When our country was born, almost everyone HAD to have the guns of the time. The just-mentioned assumption and affirmation do not fit well today in the 21st century. Today, unrestricted ownership of guns, encouraged as if the Second Amendment was one of the Ten Commandments, and the unforeseen sophistication of today’s deadly weaponry combine to make possible the murder of innocent school children, as in Newtown. Today’s situation is clearly not what the founders of our country intended. We have to put aside the silly arguments of the anachronistic NRA, reminding the leadership of the NRA they are only interested in the payola of the gun industry — NOT interested in taking a hard look as to how to remove the danger to citizens presented by modern guns, all without sacrificing the rights and freedoms of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, guaranteed to those same citizens.
Ignoring the groundless arguments of the NRA, or, better, of the leadership of the NRA, seems further justified in light of that leadership ignoring the positions of a great majority of NRA members. Most NRA members are in favor of extended background checks on those who purchase guns, and many prefer restriction of sales of assault weapons and of the size of ammunition magazines. Unfortunately, all those measures were just rejected in Congress, in no small measure because of the NRA lobby. Gun manufacture and gun stores have won again, and won against the preferences of a majority of the American people, including a majority of gun owners!
Consider: How would the Second Amendment be rewritten today, if our nation came into existence in the 21st century? It probably would state the right to bear arms as the right to form an armed militia, when the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are endangered. It would not assume that most Americans would be armed because of utilitarian necessity; instead, it would waive all requirements (e.g. background checks and gun licenses) to use a gun in times of Constitutional endangerment. As I indicated in (Part The Second), the American love affair with guns would overcome any discrepancy between the weapons of those who would jeopardize our freedoms, even if they were rouge troops of our suddenly malignant military — our “worst case” fantasy — or if they were troops of an invading foreign military force. It might also contain language preventing it being interpreted as some “blank check” right equating patriotism with shooting guns, a modern addendum preventing the interpretive distortions of the amendment made by the NRA and other similar organizations today.
I maintain that as it is, the Second Amendment is not what the NRA interprets it to be. Driven and financed by the profits guns and ammunition bring to the gun industry, the gun lobby, lead by the NRA, has placed the Second Amendment as the “king” of the amendments, like one might elevate one of the Ten Commandments as the “trump” commandment. The Second Amendment is the gun industry’s and the gun lobby’s “sugar daddy,” a gross distortion of what our founders intended — a distortion written in the blood of our massacred school children and in the blood of victims of armed criminals. Instead, in reality, in history, the Second Amendment is one of many additions to the Constitution included to insure the new document would be ratified by all the colonies-becoming-States as an improvement over the unworkable Articles of Confederation. Instead of what the NRA insists, the Second Amendment charges citizens with the responsibility of defending their freedoms, rather than depending upon the state itself to do so, should the country ever be put into jeopardy; it says nothing more, nothing less.
As I said in “(Part The Second)” I can think of at least one well-known example of the proper interpretation and use of the Second Amendment — the Battle of New Orleans in early 1815. General Andrew Jackson’s army that stopped the British invasion up the Mississippi River was overwhelmingly made up of citizen soldiers armed with the same weapons with which they defended themselves and hunted game. As much as I and others might think their use of their weapons to wage violence upon their neighbors or upon Native Americans was an abuse of their guns, abuse of their guns does not justify their possession of their guns; the frontier need for personal security and personal provision justified their possession. Perhaps my readers might think of other examples, but, surely, the Second Amendment has had to be brought “into play” very rarely in our history. In that sense, the Second Amendment is even today as it was intended — a very precautionary addition hopefully seldom needed to be called upon.
The NRA and other gun lobbyists, with the blessings of the gun industry, has misinterpreted the Second Amendment, making it easy to justify gun abuse. By appealing to our “right to bear arms,” the secret of our victory at the Battle of New Orleans, freedom unjustifiably becomes equated to gun ownership and to gun use; the illegal use of guns, their abuse, say, in violent crimes becomes too easy, as if criminals are expressing an “American freedom” as they commit crimes upon the citizenry. The NRA has no answers to violent gun crimes except to arm everybody for “protection,” all the time accomplishing little more than building up the prison industry. Contrary to our founding fathers, the gun lobby works, thanks to the funding of the gun industry, under the absurd assumption that guns are the only safeguards of our freedom, of our liberty.
From the beginning, between now and then, through today, the best, strongest defense of our life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the vigorous use of the ballot box; the citizens of the United States control the power and direction of the state through their right to vote. Should it ever be needed — and as we go into the 21st century, the likelihood it will be needed diminishes to a miniscule amount — the citizen-armed militia is always potentially there. (Personally, I would guess such a militia could form fully armed much, much quicker than was formed for Andy Jackson back in late 1814, given our present-day electronic social network.) As a world leader militarily and politically, the Second Amendment in the United States is a historical necessity, not a modern one. To treat and abuse the Second Amendment as the NRA and the gun lobby does is unconscionable. Especially since their zeal is fueled by the “almighty dollar.”
Abuse of all kinds causes tragedy, pain, and suffering, including abusing alcohol, tobacco, or guns. Abusing alcohol can be seen as symptomatic of an addictive disease; likewise, tobacco can be an addictive killer. The attraction of firearms is, if not addictive, dangerously seductive to so many. Distraction from this dangerous seduction is perilous. The use of guns in our history is part of this distraction, as is the gun lobby; the NRA and its ilk elevate the Second Amendment beyond its original intent, elevate it to a distraction near to historical distortion. The gun lobby distorts the Second Amendment as a license to abuse guns. That is not what the gun lobby says it does; that is what the gun lobby does. I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown up to believe what people do, not what people say.
All this sound and fury about the Second Amendment (signifying, in the end, nothing) covers up the real “gun” problem — the abuse of guns (analogous to the abuse of alcohol and tobacco). Owning and shooting guns, therefore, is a matter of personal choice and responsibility, just like drinking or smoking. And this personal responsibility centers about your choice doing no harm to others. Just like a drinker should drink publicly in moderation and not drive drunk, just like a smoker should not subject non-smokers to secondary smoke, an owner and shooter of guns should keep his or her firearms secure and locked, out of the hands of small children, of the mentally unstable, of the careless, and of the criminal. In all three areas of “A,” “T,” and “F,” if you make the choice, you must take on the responsibility.
The ownership and use of guns is a matter of personal choice and responsibility; it has nothing to do with the rights of a citizen of the United States; it has nothing to do with patriotism or the power of a citizen within our society. All the Second Amendment does is say no one can or will stop a citizen from taking up arms in the defense of our country, our society, our Constitution.
Hence, every responsible citizen in our country has an “ATF” profile: I have outlined my “F” in “(Part The First).” I have outlined my “A” in “Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas” [April 2012] and in “To Those Worried Their Town Has Voted Wet — It’s Going to Be OK!” [Dec 2012] The only “letter” in which I am a “teetotaler” is “T.” My maternal grandfather smoked King Edward Imperial cigars, many family members and friends over the years smoked cigarettes, and I often am in bars where smoking is still allowed. I think I have inhaled more than my share of secondary smoke; I have never had the desire to smoke. I tolerate smoking as “red man’s revenge upon the white man” (along with casinos), and delight in its reduced overall use in our country. Thanks to our unveiling of the tobacco industry behind the tobacco lobby, tobacco abuse is on the decline.
Thanks to Rachel Maddow for reminding us we must also unveil the gun industry hiding behind the gun lobby, so that gun abuse will also begin to decline, so that the likelihood of more Newtowns in the future will wane. In my opinion, the implementation of wide-spread gun education programs such as suggested in “(Part The Second)” and the public distribution of gun-related statistics like those in “(Part The Third)” would corroborate this unveiling of the gun industry, an industry whose loudest mouth-piece is the NRA.
In a pun-like way, the “smoking gun” indicator of her reminder is the choice of smoking itself, of “T.”