By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
18 Apr 2012. Last night the gun lobby defeated even the least intrusive of the measures US President Obama sought to enact into law in the wake of a tsunami of gun violence. I regret that nothing could get past the gun lobby but I am not surprised.
Here in the UK the British of all political persuasions watch with slack jawed horror and utter disbelief. I have been hard pressed to explain it.
To control or not to control
I myself did not favour gun control per se. I favoured reasonable time, place, manner of storage and discharge of ammunition.
But it is clear now that even my different approach would itself be a non starter. Even were the gun lobby to entertain any control legislation from any President they clearly aren’t going to do so from President Obama. It’s personal.
I did not favour gun control per se because 1) I knew it had no chance and 2) I, unlike many who support gun control, am uncomfortable with the argument the second amendment was only ever intended to provide for a militia for the common defence in a time before a strong national military. It is an appeal for a liberal cause to a conservative principle of interpretation with which I have heartburn.
The principle of interpretation is important
It may be historically true that the framers were only thinking of their circumstances at the time, but for a good 150 years the Constitution has been interpreted by the preponderance of distinguished jurists in light of the mores of their time not the framer’s time. The law is said to be “living” not static. In the past 50 or so years a competing principle of interpretation arose as conservatives sought to limit “social engineering” and “activist” judges who allegedly “make” the law instead of interpreting it. Proponents of original intent argue the Constitution should be interpreted in line with what the framers were thinking at the time in the absence of more recent amendment.
I am a living law kind of guy. But I am also a stare decisis kind of guy. I think you can’t have your judicial interpretation cake and eat it too. If I apply original intent to the second amendment to limit its weight to providing a militia for the common defence I feel compelled to apply it to “cruel and unusual punishment.” Visa versa, if I apply living law to “cruel and unusual” punishment I think I must do so with the second amendment. Whatever the historical original intent the second amendment has come to protect private ownership of guns.
It appears a moot point for now
My British friends ask me, why. What on earth could be more important than a child’s welfare?
Gun enthusiasts don’t, however, see guns as the threat. They reflexively suspect other motives from the government. The prospect of gun control triggers internal forces that may be barely capable of articulation.
A lot has been written about angry white men. That is certainly an element. Some white males have felt disenfranchised and discarded by their society for some time. President Obama is a lightening rod for angry white men, no doubt.
But I know plenty of white men who are not angry but who oppose gun control. I know plenty of non white and non men who join with them.
There is something deeper at work. It’s cultural and it is circumstantial.
The best analogy I can bring to mind to the place of the gun in US culture is the place the right of privacy has in the UK. In the UK a man’s photograph or his home is his castle. Anyone who has photographed someone or someone’s home in the UK without first obtaining an “iffy” permission quickly learns it is a no-no with unhappy consequences.
In the US a man’s gun is his castle. It is a symbol of cherished American liberty and independence from “sovereignty.” You see, in the US Americans are proudly citizens not subjects, a basic relationship won at the point of a gun. It is mythology and it is a psychology with which you’re not going to successfully reason.
There is much strain in the US today. Much poverty. Much hopelessness. Much feelings of abandonment by a government that for a generation has had its eyes fixed far away from home and taking care of the knitting. I fear the fabric of the United States has become a rope twisted too tightly and fraying dangerously.
I hope the US finds its way back from the edge.
I hope for a national reconciliation, a recognition by Tea Party activists in particular, whipped to a frenzy by political operatives, that President Obama’s victory was, in the last analysis, just another victory, his administration just another. It too will pass.
I hope Americans once again recognize and affirm that what unites the United States is more important than what divides it, that President Obama’s re-election is a fulfillment of what is great about American, not its enemy. President Obama is not the enemy of liberty. He is not the cause of today’s difficulties.
It is extreme hatred that is the enemy of liberty, and the causes of today’s difficulties have been building for a long time. Solve them together, America.
Maybe, this realized, Americans can talk to Americans again about reasonable time, place and manner of exercise of the storage and discharge of ammunition.