Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Rights, schmites. Gun fetishism is a psychological and social disorder.

It would be helpful in our gun debates if those opposing gun controls were named more accurately, not as "defenders of gun rights", or "staunch supporters of second amendment rights", and the like, but as gun fetishists. Reading their works makes it clear how intense their feelings are, and how unmoored from rational public policy, historical context, or constitutional history. Let alone from basic respect for human psychology. They are captivated by an heroic narrative of phallic power conferred by the gun, validating their social position, and enabling their defense, perhaps in a dramatic (not to say climactic) public showdown spraying bullets at dark miscreants, or as a last-ditch defense of the home bunker at the end times.

Unfortunately, while most people are responsible enough to carry that rather intense psychological valance without accident, and without cracking up, the idea that everyone is, and that we would be better off with free-flowing guns for the whole population, is empirically false, and thus a dangerous fantasy. Ironically, one gun blog that I read keeps harping on the idiocy of police gun usage. They use bad muzzle discipline. They barge in on the wrong houses. They shoot the wrong people. They try to hide behind procedure and the blue line. No kidding. But how is this an argument that we can trust the average gun-owning Joe to have better, more disciplined behavior? This line of argument also betrays the anti-state insurrectionism at the core of the gun fetishist's concerns. Which is quite ironic and in direct contradiction to the second amendment's historical roots which support a democratic, local, state, which is of course, what the well-regulated militia serves, and what does the regulation.

Rights are not natural, god-given, or inherent. They are political conventions; gifts we give each other to make society work smoothly and afford maximal happiness. The Bill of Rights had to be written down precisely because the rights it enumerated were not natural or inevitable. They were developed over the preceeding centuries in the English and Colonial traditions as ideals and social accommodations. The first amendment is exemplary, embodying the enlightenment lesson that established religions were good neither for the state nor for religion, and tended to foster civil war and corruption.

The second amendment is likewise an historical fossil, though far less relevant to us today than the first amendment. It specifically predicates the right to have guns on the need for a well-ordered militia. Today, we have well-ordered militias, but they are not based on citizen enrollment, let alone on the conscription of personal arms, but on an entirely different principle of professional enlistment and civilian / republican oversight and command. The broader right to keep arms was certainly cherished in the Colonies, as it still is in rural areas of the US that have a light police footprint and plenty of animals to shoot. But the second amendment doesn't address that convention. It is predicated on the specific historical situation the colonists found themselves in, where Britain tried to disarm a populace that was violently hostile to its imposed, foreign, rule. A populace that was happy with its existing local institutions of government.

The idea that guns in the hands of the populace are essential to fending off tyranny should have died with the civil war. No matter how many guns the South had in private hands, they were no match for a full military confrontation. Whatever one's view of the war's conclusion, whether the imposition of tyranny or a righteous victory, private guns made no difference. In the Wild West of the ensuing epoch, the prevalence of guns was not generally a boon to public peace and civil society, and many frontier towns made gun control one of their first orders of business. It would be truly ironic if in deference to people with significant mental health issues, we forgot this common sense legacy and went back to an open or concealed-carry gun free-for-all in the US.

For the focus of the NRA and the gun fetishists in general is frankly pathological. At the drop of a hat, they resort to phenomenal hyperbole, (Over my dead body! From my cold, dead hands!). They shriek about totalitariansm and god's commandment to defend their families from evil. They abominate the "gun grabbers" who would castrate them. So they stockpile guns in a never-enough compensation for whatever else ails them. Power is hard to come by, and it is inexorably ebbing away from the white male god-fearing class. No wonder that the Obama presidency has seen such vitriol and extremism coming from this political class, to its own detriment, really.

What to do about it? The first step would be to call this spade what it is. Not some reasonable, British-empire-resisting group with balanced public policy arguments. Not upholders of ancient and inalienable rights. But people with a screw loose: fetishists for a phallocentric symbol of a political order which is not going to come any closer when Hillary Clinton becomes president.

Speaking practically, is there a place for guns at all? Sure- in hunting, (as personally appalling as that is as some kind of "sport", and however poisonous in its use of lead), in self-protection in rural areas, and in simple collecting and possession. Guns should not be prohibited. But they should be allowed under very stringent conditions, in view of their extreme psychological valence and demonstrated harmfulness. Handguns, for instance, have no use outside of killing people, which makes the fact that there are over 100 million of them in the US somewhat alarming. Owners should be fully registered, and should have to take yearly refresher courses in safety and handling, have a safe to keep them in, legal liability for their control, and a continuously clean criminal and mental health record. There should be no open carry other than for uniformed officers, (or hunting in rural areas), and concealed carry only for specific needs approved and documented on the registration.

Sensible gun control would not get rid of all guns. Yet it is obviously effective in countries (i.e. every developed country other than the US) where it is public policy. While it is perhaps impolite to cast psychological aspersions on our gun nuts, they have brought it on themselves with the antics of the NRA and the broader gun-show, gun-crazy video game, gun-crazy Hollywood movie culture we have to deal with. Such raw, potent, fondle-able power is undeniably attractive, but it also corrupts. Guns keep corrupting impressionable (typically male) minds in very damaging ways, and we really can do better against this menace.

  • A little history of English gun laws, militias, etc.
  • WSJ: Guns are already so bad and so prevalent, that we can't do anything about them. Win!
  • Religious people think it is a spiritual issue.
  • True gun nuts hate the GOP.
  • Just how expensive is free speech? Too expensive for you, that's for sure.
  • Better banking for the poor.
  • Yes to carbon pricing / taxing.
  • The military can't do it alone in foreign policy, needless to say. One-year attention spans lead to endless conflict.
  • A visit to the creation museum.
  • Bill Gates: "Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area."
  • State subsidies go to big companies.
  • Markets reward lying ... how could we have known?
  • Progress in statistics.
  • But no progress in economics. WSJ Nobel laureates still dare not speak the words "low aggregate demand", but prefer to blame the Fed for low interest rates, and low interest rates for low corporate borrowing and investment. As though borrowers would borrow more at higher rates.

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