While waiting for lab results on my prostate…waiting for the end…Godot, and several others…I am also waiting for an unpredictable evening at the San Francisco Bar Association. Not my usual locus, it must be admitted. So what has me training it to San Francisco at rush hour? A lawyerly debate over the Second Amendment, America’s much disputed legal framework for guns in the society. My only misgivings have to do with the degree of legalese one can expect to encounter. Will I be able to make sense of the proceedings? Is the whole thing a folly for someone like me? Possibly. Still, I am impelled to be there. I shall take in what I can.
The whole dispute, if it can be called that, seems utterly silly to me. In 1791, the fledgling US still had need of a “well regulated militia” and, yes, this may have been necessary to the security of a free state, etc. But the nation’s homegrown army, its militia, hasn’t been seen since the Spanish-American War when it performed abysmally and was promptly disbanded. As for bearing arms, the muskets that were state-of-the-art in 1791…well, if anyone wants to bear those, go for it, I say. The nation, the world, everything has moved on since the Second Amendment. The original intent…to defend a then very minor country that had no standing army…has been twisted so many times and so forcefully that history has utterly given way to propaganda.
In the minds of many, the repetitive, incantatory reference to the un-contextualized “right to bear arms” – the opening reference to the well-regulated militia almost always omitted – well, it’s gotten to people. Guns and personal liberty seem to have become intertwined in the minds of many. How many, I could not even guess. The most feverish among the gun crowd make so much noise, that their true numbers are very hard to gauge. I recall being part of a studio audience for some television show. Our numbers being small, everyone was urged to applaud at double speed. The NRA seems to function like that, only at triple speed, maybe quadruple. But everyone knows this. Well, everyone I know does. Or so I think.
So, here we are. A nation with as many guns as people. Firearms are so casually available, can be purchased, given, lost or stolen so readily, that it’s no wonder our national rate of armed violence is what it is. Pissed off at that guy down the street? Grab your gun and show him. Tired of your girlfriend giving you lip? Wave your pistol around and she’ll get the idea. And as for that burglar in the night, won’t he be surprised? So reassuring to have that .38 in your bedside table. Kids? Just tell them to keep out. No prob.
And do I like the idea of a lot of right-wing guys keeping themselves armed to protect “our rights?” No…for various reasons. For one thing, these national gun fantasies – us the militia – represent a total waste of time. Worse, they abrogate the hard work of participation in civil society in favor of a sort of imagined endgame. Hey, Big Government, you’ll never take us alive. Just try. The whole thing represents a kind of political impotence. It means losing control of the workings of the nation and descending into violent fantasy. And speaking of avoiding political impotence, this means me. Time for work. Next stop: the San Francisco Bar Association’s gun debate.