The issue of gun control in America has exposed the inherent weaknesses of US democracy and the extent to which the Old Testament vies with the nation’s constitution for supremacy when it comes to the law.
The sight of President Obama shedding tears at his recent press conference, where he announced he was taking executive action, bypassing Congress, in order to tighten gun control, was a seminal moment in his presidency. The tears were genuine, his frustration over the lack of action on this particular issue is authentic, and the weaknesses of the US political system and constitution are inarguable when it comes to the ability of any administration to govern effectively.
When it comes to gun ownership the United States is a victim of the myths that sustain it and have corrupted its society and body politic. In this regard the Second Amendment to the nation’s constitution, mandating gun ownership as a right, has along with the First Amendment upholding the right of free speech, assumed the status of one of the Ten Commandments; considered inviolable and eternally sacrosanct, a guarantor of the freedom of the American people.
Given the exalted status of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, let us take a moment to examine it in detail. Its actual wording is: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The debate that has ensued ever since it was ratified and enshrined in law in 1791 is over whether it refers to the collective right to bear arms or the individual right to bear arms – in other words, was it designed in order to sanction the right of state militias to bear arms in order to protect and uphold state’s rights or was it, as commonly believed today, designed to sanction the right of individuals to bear arms in order to protect themselves and their property?
Significantly, the wording of the amendment is sufficiently ambiguous to be interpreted as both. However what cannot be denied is the lunacy of treating an amendment that was written in 1791 as equally relevant today as it was then. The vast changes in US society that have taken place, its urbanization, and the overall development of the country between then and now refutes utterly the idea that the Second Amendment should remain as sacrosanct as its adherents argue it should. Unlike the First Amendment the Second Amendment was not created as an end in itself, but rather as a means to an end – i.e. in order to protect rights, such as the right to free speech, from being denied or interfered with by those in power.
Here we come to another major societal problem that pervades in the so-called land of the free – the conspiratorial mistrust of Washington and central government. Combined with the frontier mindset of many who consider owning deadly assault weapons as being tantamount to liberty, and combined with an unhealthy attachment to God as an entity of divine retribution and punishment instead of love and goodwill, this conspiratorial disdain for the government and its institutions has served to undermine social cohesion and the ability of the government to govern effectively. Checks and balances, when taken too far, lead to the kind of political paralysis that has been a feature of Obama’s two terms in office.
But when it comes to Obama’s focus on gun violence hypocrisy reigns. For almost unremarked by the President has been the sheer number of unarmed men and women who’ve been gunned down by police officers in recent years. A disproportionate number of those gunned down by cops have been black people – 336 according to the US website Mapping Police Violence, with 101 of those victims clearly identified as unarmed at the time. The most shocking stat is that only eight of the police officers involved have faced any criminal charges.
Up to now Obama has shed no public tears for the victims of police violence, whether black, Hispanic, white, or any other. Moreover, when others have championed the right of the victims of police violence to justice, they have come under sustained attacked from the right wing media establishment and the powerful police unions. Consider how the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino was threatened with a nationwide boycott of his movies by police unions across the States after he attended a Black Lives Matter march and rally in New York towards the end of last year.
The exaltation of lethal violence that suffuses American culture adds another dimension to the crisis. The nation’s view of itself as a muscular and invincible global power, which brooks no dissent or resistance to its writ, is reflected in society at home. Its legal system, under which over half the entire world’s prison population is incarcerated, is notoriously harsh, especially when it comes to the poor: a disproportionate number of whom, as with the victims of police violence, happen to be black.
We are talking a society and a nation that is in crisis, polarized between the super rich and everybody else, and also along racial lines. Seen in this light, Obama’s tears were not only for the victims of gun crime in America but America itself.
In the United States in 2016 injustice not freedom reigns.