What’s in Assault Weapons for YOU?

Allepo, Syria. SANA/AP

If gun advocates really want to protect the 2nd Amendment, they would be well advised to disclaim assault weapons. They’ve been banned before and they will be banned again. Why confuse the argument?

The 2nd Amendment is fairly precise in its statement: “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 elemental phrase of this sentence is “a well-regulated militia.” We have that. It’s called the national guard. And yes, these well-regulated military units possess weapons. No one is infringing their right to bear those arms.

And no one is calling for a ban on all guns. The only source of that hue and cry is the National Rifle Association which uses that particular lie to strengthen its grip on the minds of a certain type of person. It’s also a useful lie to sell when your primary objective is to profit from the sale of any and all firearms, mass shootings be damned.

Are military-style weapons really so important that gun owners are willing to risk losing even more rights? This is a no-win argument, conflating assault rifles with more traditional firearms. If the objective is to strengthen the 2nd Amendment, a smart strategy would be to distance personal gun ownership from assault rifles.

It bears saying again that at the time the 2nd Amendment was written, the Founding Fathers did not and could not conceive of a gun like modern day assault rifles.  Even the most basic revolver was unheard of to the common man. Fast forward to a more crowded, more urban, and more vulnerable population and add in the well-demonstrated threat to human life posed by assault weapons and you face the certainty that the Founding Fathers would have excluded assault weapons from the 2nd Amendment.

And let’s get real. What exactly does anyone expect to do with an assault rifle? They are not sporting guns. They are built to kill as many people as possible in the shortest possible amount of time. So unless you plan on becoming yet another mass murderer, you don’t need one.

It seems that assault-rifle aficionados live in fantasy land, believing that they must have such weapons to protect themselves from a potentially tyrannical government. All one must do to see through this delusion is to look at recent uprisings such as the rebellion in Syria. Entire cities have been destroyed in the government’s willingness to wipe out these rebels—chemical weapons, barrel bombs, white phosphorus bombs, entire populations of men, women, and children killed in their homes, schools and hospitals.

Never think for one minute that an armed insurrection within the United States would be met with less than deadly force. We’ve seen a few minor efforts along those lines. The Branch Davidians springs to mind, you know, that group of armed religionists who ended up burning themselves to death at Waco, Texas, rather than yield to the government. Or maybe the role model would be the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, a white supremacist militia group based in Arkansas that was active in the late 1970s and the ’80s.

These bands of brothers with their camo trucks, prepper shelters, food rations, and an arsenal of AR-15s are hallucinating if they believe they can stand against the U. S. military. The idea is laughable. Even illegal grenade launchers and machine guns won’t help them. Will they shoot at the sky as Patriot missiles start flying their way? What happens when a few M270 rocket launch systems rumble into range? They’ll not even see the high-flying jets dropping cluster bombs. They won’t hear the Abrams tanks rolling toward them until the first rounds start blowing them and their shelters into the next life.

The reality is that U.S. citizens with assault weapons will have zero impact as resistance fighters against a government gone rogue. We already have a way to ensure that our government doesn’t go rogue. It’s called voting.

Then there’s meeting with legislators, running for election, and forming cogent arguments to be voiced among friends and neighbors. It’s called citizenship.

And if the scenario is a world where governments have crumbled and nothing is left but little groups of tough men fighting for God and the American Way, who are they fighting? Other Americans who also have AR-15s? What happens when the ammunition runs out? Why not do that first?

Assault weapons do not belong in the hands of civilians. So let’s get past that whole insanity and start working toward a peaceful future for everyone. Enough already.

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Creating ISIS

warrior

 

Some Facebook posts circulating since the Paris tragedy voice outrage that the U.S. and its allies failed to stop ISIS at its inception.

To those I ask what, pray tell, was the beginning?

Was it during the three hundred years of Crusades when Western European Christians invaded the Middle East to drive out Islam?

Was it after WWI when the Western powers reorganized the colonized Middle East, shifting borders to suit the desires of various Western nations regardless of existing ethnic, tribal, or religious boundaries?

Was it after WWII when Western powers again reorganized Arab lands, shoving the Palestinians aside to carve out a homeland for the Jews? Couldn’t we have predicted that Arabs would resist? Perhaps that would have been the best time to nuke the whole region.

Was it when we armed the Afghan Mujaheddin in the 1980s to help them overthrow Soviet occupation? Couldn’t we have predicted that once the Cold War ended, we would abandon Afghanistan and leave tribal leaders like Osama bin Laden to take what he’d been taught to organize his devastated homeland.

Was it when we marched into Iraq, toppling the strong man government of Saddam Hussein and unleashing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias?

Was it when the 2011 Arab spring spread from Egypt through other Middle Eastern nations and Syria’s President Assad fought back against his nation’s rebellion? The U.S. and allies hurried into Syria with support and secret ‘advisors’ to assist the rebels, bringing in sophisticated arms and other supplies that are now in the hands of ISIS. Gee, how could we have guessed?

The claim that the U. S. could have inflicted a fatal incisive strike against ISIS at any point along this tortured path shows ignorance and a single-minded obsession to heap criticism on President Obama. ISIS has never existed as a discrete target. Any attack on ISIS would result in massive collateral damage.

The entire mess points to one overarching conclusion: the more we intervene in the Middle East, the worse things get.

We’re good at meddling in other people’s affairs. At what point do we have an honest national dialogue centered on the question: Why are we in the Middle East at all?

I can tell you. It’s because of money, oil and religion. And money. Did I say money?[i]

According to a 2013 report, “over the last six decades, the U.S. has invested $299 billion in military and economic aid for Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries currently in turmoil. Egypt tops a list of ten nations, receiving $114 billion since the end of World War II. Iraq comes in second, getting nearly $60 billion from the U.S. (over and above war costs). Far outpacing those ten countries is Israel, an ally that received another $185 billion in U.S. aid in the same period.”[ii]

Why not just hand all that arms money over to the arms dealers and let them keep the weapons?

Are we getting what we paid for? If the objective is to keep the region destabilized so that we can maintain a level of control over the oil, yes. If the objective is to undermine Arab strength in order to further prop up Israel, yes.

We continue to send billions of dollars of foreign aid to the region, larding the already excessive oil profits lining the pockets of the region’s leaders. With all that money, leaders so inclined can invest in distant terrorists or add to their nation’s arsenal by purchasing arms and equipment manufactured in Western nations.

Supporters of Israel dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is religious. People concerned about U. S. energy profits dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is oil. Both groups fail to recognize the larger agenda behind their pet projects: money.

According to a 2013 report, “Each year, around $45-60 billion worth of arms sales are agreed. Most of these sales (something like 75%) are to developing countries. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., Russia, France, United Kingdom and China), together with Germany and Italy account for around 85% of the arms sold between 2004 and 2011.[iii]

Nearly twenty years ago, an incisive review of our foreign aid pointed to this folly:

“An examination of $13.6 billion in U.S. foreign aid activity for Fiscal Year 1997 reveals that almost half of the aid is military in nature. This assistance, in conjunction with large-scale arms exports, may actually be working counter to many stated U.S. foreign policy objectives such as promoting sustainable development, protecting human health and fostering economic growth.”[iv]

George Washington famously cautioned against the quagmire in which we’re now floundering:

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”[v]

Just six days ago, the columnist citing this wisdom called for an end to all but humanitarian aid to foreign nations. He’s not alone.

Opponents of a hands-off approach will cite the potential for increasing interference in the region from nations like Russia and China. In theory, our presence at the arms trade table balances their influence. But we have to ask ourselves, who was there first? I can tell you. It was us.[vi]

If we want the violence to stop, we’ll have to

  • stop giving our tax dollars to nations who spend it on arms,
  • eliminate any and all subsidies to arms dealers and manufacturers,
  • remove our forces entirely from the region and let them sort it out themselves, and
  • rescind and renegotiate any treaties with other nations so that any and all foreign aid is in the form of food, educational materials, medical supplies, and other humanitarian assistance.

Why not? It’s the only thing we haven’t tried.

 

[i] For an excellent overview of the money problem, see http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a39727/paris-attacks-middle-eastern-oligarchies/

[ii] A graph showing money received by various nations: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/06/us-aid-middle-east_n_3223151.html

[iii] http://www.globalissues.org/issue/73/arms-trade-a-major-cause-of-suffering

[iv] http://www.bu.edu/globalbeat/usdefense/whelan0798.html

[v] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/9/bruce-fein-end-mideast-arms-sales-nonhumanitarian-/?page=all

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Middle_East

The American Way

Is it really any surprise that so much in our nation has devolved into violence? We did this to ourselves. This is our legacy.

We set foot on American shores and through violence eradicated the bulk of the indigenous population. We justified our killing with belief in our superiority, our ‘divine right’ to the land and its resources. Unlike the Natives, we carried a Bible and guns so we concluded God wanted us to have it. Might makes right.

Since the beginning, our westward migration progressed under the rationale that we ‘discovered’ gold and silver, ‘harvested’ virgin timber and furs, and settled the ‘wild’ lands. We wrested wealth from the soil by enslaving not only the surviving Natives but imported Africans and Asians. These ‘lesser’ creatures deserved to be subdued just as a work animal yearns for the yoke. They should thank us.

All to the glory of God, who showed us the path to our greatness.

In truth, our nation became rich not because we’re so clever or God’s chosen people but because we stumbled onto a pristine continent. The world’s civilizations had not risen here, had not built their empires, waged their wars, suffered plague and famine here. The Americas weren’t like the rest of the world’s continents, already ravaged by millennia of man’s turmoil.

We Europeans who invaded this land became rich through accidental opportunity, theft, and violence.

And when the land had been conquered, when the virgin forests had been cut and the hillsides left to erode, when the gold and silver had been mined and the waste pits left to leach impurities into the streams, when the frontier came to a screeching halt at the Pacific shore, we turned on ourselves.

With our eye on the prize, we killed anyone who got in our way. Natives, former slaves, immigrants, those too poor or too weak to stand up for themselves—they were cast to the edges to starve. Or lynched. Taught their place away from our table.

Then the mid-twentieth century arrived with its transformative movements on behalf of the poor, the Black and Native, the handicapped, the gay, and the women, all the people whose subjugation had enabled the white patriarchy to herald its God-given triumph.

The power structure reeled in shock.

Assassinations followed. And the war on drugs, a less obvious form of assassination. It wasn’t drugs that subsequently filled our prisons. It wasn’t drugs who became disenfranchised and even more marginalized. Drugs were the tool, the label selectively wielded against those who threatened the system.

For many in the underclass, the black market in drugs became the only means to reach for the American dream. The bait. The wealth of those markets and the inherent lack of regulation led to the current open warfare in our inner cities. In our war against our own people, we have set our law enforcement against our neighborhoods. We have armed them with military weapons and tactics. We have hidden behind our curtains as they firebombed apartment buildings and battered in doors.

We chose to ignore what we’d learned from alcohol prohibition, that such policies not only failed in their stated intent but also gave rise to even worse consequences. We knew that tax dollars invested in education, in mental health care, and in social support would eventually pay dividends in a healthier more vibrant society. Not prisons. Not guns.

We turned away from what we knew because we were taught fear by those with their own agendas—wealth and power at any cost. Fear higher taxes. Fear the government. Fear programs that help the poor.

Everything we should have gladly given became ‘taken.’

What if we hoard all the guns that can be made? What if our barns, our spare bedrooms, bristle with automatic weapons and crates of ammunition? Does that make us safe?

Safe from whom? From the random madman who lurks unknown in suburbia until the day he pulls the trigger? How will you know today is the day, the school is the place, that you should appear with your loaded gun in hand? None of the mass shootings of the last thirty years have been stopped by an armed citizen.

Safe from gangs roaming the dark streets of a declining city? Why bother? They’re killing each other by the hundreds.

From the government? Obviously you haven’t thought this through. Your spare room arsenal, your heavily armed survival shelter, will last about one nanosecond once the U. S. military decides you’re the target. If the Apache helicopters with Hellfire missiles don’t pound you, the fighter jets, Abrams tanks, and missiles launched from drones surely will. Get over yourself.

Now that we’ve had this friendly chat, can you calm down long enough to talk reason? Let go of the gun. Come, let us sit together.

Poor things, we have become islands of fear. We suffer existential crisis. Torn from our historical and biological roots, we are caught up in a world of machines and corporations. We don’t know our neighbors. Our communities have shrunk to a small circle of friends. We are beleaguered, lonely, and overwhelmed.

We need naps after lunch, long walks in nature, communion around campfires. We haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the culture. We’re not ready to travel sixty miles an hour.

We are physically ill—overweight, strung out on prescription drugs, anxious, and undernourished. What we take into our mouths becomes our energy, our blood, our skin. Yet much of our food is short on nutrition and long on adulterants. How can we think clearly or feel anything but cornered with flavored dross in our veins? We use caffeine to put one foot in front of the other.

In this melting pot of a nation, we cling to rituals that have lost their meaning. There’s no passage in our rites of teenage drunkenness, no ‘arrival’ in our coming of age. What is our totem, our spirit guide? Our ceremonies are shells of their former meaning dolled up in slick packages.

Even now, after all this, we have the opportunity to evolve. Live up to our dream. Turn away from our violent past and join together in creating solutions to all that ails us.

We don’t have to create armed camps in our midst. We don’t have to teach our young that violence is the solution. We’ve been too lazy to learn and think, too distracted to look beyond our television. Too eager to label and blame the Other for problems we’ve brought onto ourselves.

Too damn busy trying to stay afloat. Trying to have it all.

Can we save the dream of our nation? Is it too late to make love not war? Too late to treat our neighbors as ourselves? Let’s invest our energy and resources in solutions–interventions for those teetering on the edge of mental illness, for disrupted families and children. Pour our money into schools and teachers, not prisons and guards. Free health clinics in every community with counseling for anyone who walks in the door–that day, that moment. Not after someone brings in proof of income and household bills, not after a two week wait.

We embrace delusions of a past that never was. We got lucky. We got spoiled. We want too much and if we can’t have it, it’s somebody else’s fault. The immigrant’s fault that we can’t buy a new car. The poor man’s fault that our groceries cost so much. The gay man’s fault that our marriage failed.

The police are not yet a force unto themselves but they’re moving closer, fed by fear. Their job is to enforce the laws. The laws are not made by the police. They are made by our elected representatives. Our. Elected. Representatives.

Us.

The free ride is over. The trees are cut, the gold nuggets found. The frontier lies within.