August 16, 2012
If America is about one single thing, that thing is respect. We have a national constitution that is primarily concerned with basic human rights. We agree to respect the exercise of those rights by others. And in turn we demand the same.
Respect is a very powerful thing. When I was a third grader we moved mid-year from one school district to another (Sunset Elementary, here in New Hanover County, NC). My mother took the time to explain to my new teacher that I'd spent most of the third grade so far drawing and ignoring almost everything my teacher said or did. Well, I lucked out -- because my new teacher was a genuine "kid whisperer." On the morning of my first day at Sunset Elementary, she introduced me to the class and announced matter-of-factly that I liked to draw and had her permission to draw all day for the rest of the school year if I liked, but that I was also welcome to do whatever the rest of the class was doing. I did the work. I did all of it. Anything else would have been unthinkable. She had given me the one thing I required, and in spades -- respect.
So, In memory of this teacher -- one of the finest human beings I have every had the good fortune to encounter -- I'd like to recommend that we take a page out of her lesson plan and apply it to this conflict about rights to arms in America today.
A significant percentage of the American population considers the individual right to arms to be a fundamental human right. Respect that right -- truly respect it -- and the people who care deeply about this right will relax. If you wish Americans weren't buying up semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns like they're going to be banned tomorrow, the answer is clear -- abandon your efforts to ban them. After twenty years, the general public will probably let half of those guns fall into disrepair, I know this well, because I've owned so many used guns over the years that I'd have difficulty attempting to remember them all -- and most of them needed to be repaired when I got them. Most of the ammunition people have stocked up on for emergency use will be harmlessly blasted into rural hillsides within a decade or two of shooter relaxation, politically -- and all kinds of new weapons will be collecting dust in gunshops. Why? Because most people would much prefer to spend their hard earned cash on a vacation, Christmas presents for the kids, or any number of other rewarding and exciting things. And that's exactly where almost all that money will go (assuming no one is trying to destroy some other basic human right at the time).
Sound ridiculous? It's happened in America before. The Crown showed the colonists a lot of disrespect, we armed ourselves to the teeth with the best military grade guns we could beg, build, buy or steal, and fought a long and terribly costly war against people that we actually admired quite a bit in many ways -- all to enforce respect for our basic human rights. And I do mean "we." Michael DeArmond was wounded at the Battle of Washington Heights, then somehow managed to survive a year as a POW. And on mom's side of the family, among the Bloomers, was a blacksmith who helped forge the massive links in the chains they drew across the Hudson River in an attempt to keep British warships from passing. Men like these payed our way in blood and sweat.
By the end of the war, the nation was awash in deadly weapons. And yet we still found it necessary to make laws requiring able bodied men to buy military grade muskets. This was a big deal. Muskets were costly and they were of almost no use for hunting. They were expressly designed to produce a rapid fire hail of bullets for cutting down soldiers on the battlefield. They fired great big balls of lead -- generally .69 caliber or larger in diameter -- that produced gruesome wounds even at great distances. And they were equipped with the 18th century equivalent of the "high capacity" magazine -- the bayonet.
In the 18th and 19th centuries bayonets were not the hunting-knife look-alikes sometimes still seen on military rifles today. They were long iron spikes that turned the musket into a spear. In point of fact, it was actually the bayonet -- not the bullet -- that commanders considered the primary and absolutely indespensible tool of war for the infantryman. With no greater weapon to oppose it, the military musket was in its day everything the assault rifle is to the modern combatant. Despite their great differences in design, they are, tactically, almost exactly the same weapon.
So where did all those muskets go to? Rusted. Busted. Beaten into other objects by countless blacksmiths whose customer needed horse shoes instead of some old gun parts. Who knows? There really aren't that many of them around these days. And the same will be said of the AK-47 and the AR-15 in a hundred years, if we'll only show enough respect to the right to arms to allow the exercise of it to relax.
But that state of affairs at the end of the Revolutionary War led us to where we are now. So, what's to keep our great grandchildren's generation from getting into a destructive, distracting and unecessary conflict over the same issue?
Well -- One solution might be for us to re-think the Militia. The Militia, in the US, simply refers to the general body of responsible and able bodied adults. Actually, it was traditionally concerned primarily with men, but women were nonetheless generally respected as having rights to arms throughout our history. The Militia is not an Army Reserve organization. In fact, the Militia as a concept was intended to be a check against threats of abuses that might be perpetrated by an oppressive elite or even an oppressive majority in control of the regular armed forces. Today this generally regarded as ridiculous -- the idea that the common citizenry might imagine that they could prevent the US military from doing anything whatsoever, by force of arms. This, however, is disrespectful and unlikely to foster trust and cooperation.
We can't legislate members of the military into regarding the rights of civilians with genuine respect, but it might be possible to inspire that respect by re-tooling the Militia -- making it truly a well-regulated organization for the first time (Well-regulated actually meant well equipped and trained when the US Constitution was in process of ratification and the Bill of Rights was added to it).
A strong Militia could be good for everyone -- Left, Right, Libertarian, Green Party ... whoever you are. But most importantly, it could reduce the likelihood of violent conflict in America, through a strengthening of mutual respect.
What can a strong Militia do for the Left?
Prevention of Undeclared and Unpopular Foreign Wars:
If you mandate that Militia membership must be open to all responsible adults and then give local militia units the authority to legally shelter their members from federal military service except in times of formal approval of a national declaration of war, then you've got a powerful tool that could be used to suck the manpower out of the US military if you feel it's been hijacked by commercial or ideological interests. Hell, no, you won't go? Don't have to, so long as you can join or form a militia unit that formally says you don't have to. Want to go back into the military when they get done invading country X, Y, or Z? Well, it's a job -- so ask your militia unit to lawyer up and get your old job back. After losing a bunch of law suits, the US military would institute a process for returning dissenters.
Restoration of Press Rights:
If we make it a serious crime for members of the US military to deny militia access to federal military personnel and property without full congressional approval, make even those access denials temporary without a formal renewal process and subject to genuinely rapid reversal by federal judges, then maybe we can get some real war correspondents again. You're welcome to disagree, but I think we desperately need them.
The Best "Gun Control" We'll Ever Get:
If we rejuvenate the Militia with full legal authority and responsibility for regulating all matters of the civilian arms trade, with a clear set of guidlines for determining and regularly reviewing the legal and mental health status of its members, we'd already have a better system in place for actual reduction in violent crime than we do today. In addition to this, the Militia could be required to produce and retain records on weapons transfer and possession. HOWEVER -- and this is crucial to understand -- the only way this can work is if the Militia is legally required to use force to prevent access to those records except by specific and limited warrants pertaining to investigations of specific and related violent crimes. Additionally, any illegal attempt to access such information must absolve the affected militia unit of any repercussions should they decide that their only reasonable course of action is to destroy those records. In this way we could get the tightest and most universally supported control over access to weapons and the best research tool for criminal investigators possible, while still showing genuine respect to those who would never agree to compile such information for cooperation with legal authorities otherwise (And just in case you aren't aware of it, it's already a violation of federal law to compile central registries of gun ownership -- and I'm not making a fuzzy reference to the Second Amendment here -- there is a specific law criminalizing this kind of behavior).
Integration of American Minorities:
Make it a serious crime to discriminate against people within the militia structure, put review processes in place, and you've got an organization with the potential to include everyone in the nation who wishes to contribute to the common defense outside or in addtion to federal military service or law enforcement service. This could be a very powerful tool for national unity.
Don't Want to go to Bible Camp? Well, Nobody Can Make You:
Deep down, folks on the far Left and far Right are both terrified of each other. If you don't believe this, maybe you need to talk to some of them. And their fears are not baseless. Well-intentioned minorities on the Left and Right have been taking over national governments and running thousands -- sometimes millions -- of their least favorite countrymen through death camps of one kind or another for much of the past, oh, forever, I guess. But y'know what? Nobody tries this kind of thing without disarming their victims first -- and that is not a coincidence.
I could continue, but by now you must have a fair idea of what I'm saying, and I won't pretend to have all the answers. I am confident, however, that mutual respect is the way forward for America -- on this issue and many more.