Saturday, July 10, 2010

Guns, Government and Anglo-American Assumptions

When looking at America's constitutional position on bearing arms, most British people (I know, because I've talked to all of them!) make a number of assumptions about the American "right" to bear arms:

  1. that it is an anachronism which has no place in the modern era where there is a functioning state and police force
  2. that advocates of gun ownership are all right-wing bigots
  3. that the presence of multiple privately-owned guns is one factor contributing to high rates of violent crime in the United States
  4. that those who argue for private gun ownership are supportive of the American military, especially in its more recent, aggressive foreign policy operations since Vietnam.

Although there may be some truth in all of these assumptions (!), a new edition of an old book makes the case that private (as opposed to state) ownership of weapons is in fact a practice rooted in an anti-militarist mindset which sees the need for structural limits on the power of the state and the armed forces.

The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Anti militarist Tradition, by Arthur A Ekirch, examines the tradition of civil authority and its decline since 1950. It seems strange on this side of the Atlantic to hear the words America and anti-militarism in the same sentence. But this, apparently, is at the heart of the idea of private gun ownership, according to the author.

I've not read the book, but it is reviewed here.

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Steve Smith said...
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Steve Smith said...

It is really interesting that many Brits accuse many Americans (and an apparent American psyche) of being two dimensional, lacking nuance and depth and understanding the world in too simplistic a way. In so doing, those Brits unintentionally and ironically demonstrate such traits.

The 'gun issue', the American right and notions of liberty are emblematic of both the inadequacies of such accusations and the complexity of American society. In turn, they indicate the necessity to carefully analyze and understand it.

The 'American right' in so employing this term presents the socially useful (for both of some of its adherents and its detractors) yet also problematic notion that 'it' is an homogeneous and cohesive movement. Your post is demonstrative of how this is not the case.

Categorizing the gun lobby as a group of 'right wing nut jobs' is useful insofar as it negates the necessity of engaging with their concerns. Among these, as you show, is a concern about the power of big government and big corporations and how they wield such power. There are many people who share such concerns but who would balk at the idea of engaging with others who on the surface would appear diametrically opposed to them. Perhaps they should get over their superficiality, and think again.

Protoprotestant said...

I think the 2nd Ammendment was basically for a time when we geared toward a militia-defense.

In the era of standing armies, it seems less pertinent, but to Americans, and especially Evangelicals, you can't mess with the founding documents.

Some Evangelicals blasphemously assert the Declaration and Constitution were Divinely inspired.

Most on the Right seem to want their guns because of racist fears and a sincere belief they will have to fight the government. I'm generalizing, but only a little. I live in Appalachia but have lived in Alaska, Washington, California, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. There are variations, but there are some common cultural traits and attitudes....especially among conservatives.

These low or latent racist sentiments are not things that are openly said, but they're present. It often gets a little awkward with my in-laws. Behind closed doors they unbutton the top button so to speak and I often don't care for their attitudes. All the more troubling considering they're good Baptist folks. It's not unusual at all.

Back to guns....

Of course to me these concerns are not valid. I'm not interested in shooting Mexicans or Muslims and I'm not afraid of Obama and feel like I need to arm myself.

That said, I own several guns, not because I'm a gun nut...far from it. I'm probably 99% pacifist. I purchased them as a young single man who had money to spend on such things.

Where I live I sometimes encounter bear and/or rattlesnakes when I'm out trekking, so I carry a pistol.
I've never had to shoot anything, but I'm glad nonetheless.

I also have a couple of hunting rifles, and have indulged a little in the past. Hunting is still pretty big in certain parts of the United States. In Appalachia where I'm at...the schools close on the opening day of Deer Season. If they remained open, there would be too many unexcused absences.

I don't see the need to have assault weapons but the American attitude is often...if I want it, I should be able to have it. That's pretty much been the attitude with SUV's etc....

Obviously we have deep social problems with violence etc... I don't want them to take our guns, but as our society continues to melt down it wouldn't surprise me.

But for many Evangelicals the 2nd Ammendment is practically deutero-canonical. It's not just social and's theological and moral.

I think most Americans are indeed pretty simplistic, but in a country this huge and get a bit of everything.

I think our biggest problem is provincialism. Americans just don't think much about the rest of the world. They're kind of like Sam in LOTR...people in the next state are practically foreigners let alone across the ocean. It's all changing though. America is becoming more diverse. It's not good for those who have the WASP vision of America, but for those of us who reject all's a good thing.

John A.

Al Shaw said...

Hi Steve,

Great insights, as always.


Al Shaw said...

Dear Proto,

Thanks again for your comments.

I've never heard the second amendment described as "deutero-canonical" before, but it's a point well made!