(About the illustration: Do you remember playing “cops and robbers” or “cowboys and Indians” as a kid with toy guns, and yelling “BANG! Yer Dead!” as I do? I often think that grown-up folks with their guns are still acting out those childhood games and fantasies, but when you look into their faces, they no longer look like cute little kids. They look deranged, obsessed and insane. That’s what I tried to capture in my drawing below. -k)
Americans LOVE guns SO much… What’s up with THAT?! Well… Why wouldn’t we? They’ve worked awfully well for us so far. As invading Europeans in search of a new home, we managed to kill off most of the Native Americans, push them off their own property and take over their nation because we had guns and they didn’t. We enslaved Africans and forced them to abide by our will and do our work at gunpoint. We “tamed the Wild, Wild West” with our guns, appropriating a huge part of Mexico as our own. Earlier we succeeded in violently securing our independence from England because the Brits insisted on lining up in bright red coats, presenting themselves as targets, while we hid in the bushes with our guns and picked them off. They were sitting ducks. Less than a century later we massacred each other in one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history, but we managed to keep the union together. Lately I’ve been wondering if we might have been better off putting our guns away, saving all those precious lives and allowing the Confederacy and the Union to separate into two nations, roughly defined by today’s red and blue states. But that’s a topic for another day.
Since those early times, we Americans have gunned our way through WWI, WWII (which we won with the big “nuclear gun,”) Korea, The Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and we have emerged as the world’s only military superpower. We may not have the most robust or expansive economy any longer, but as God is our witness, we are Number One in guns! But we are not just “Top Gun.” We spend nine or ten times more on defense than our nearest competitors. Considering our crushing national debt I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t be okay for us to spend just three or five times more than the next most militarized nation. Do we really have to spend ten times more? Is it honestly necessary to have enormous bases all over the world and to police the planet, jumping into wars at the drop of a hat, sometimes on false pretenses as we did in Iraq? I realize that guns, arms and ego have made us the warlords of the world, but aren’t we going just a little bit overboard?
Here at home it seems like everyone has guns now. Certainly that is true in the back woods where Robert and I live. Lots of folks in these parts display Confederate flags on their cars and houses. There are militia groups around, and the KKK is rumored to be pretty strong in this area, nicknamed “Li’l Alabama.” Forget liberals! There aren’t even any moderate Republicans. Tea Party Republicans who believe in government enough to vote are the “liberals” here. Many people want the government to go away. I guess they must assume that law and order would be upheld by our guns when government disappears. The mob with guns will rule. All these anti-government anarchists have always seemed so idealistically naïve to me. They never consider the possibility that without government, society would devolve into medieval feudalism and survival of the fittest – the “fittest” being those with the most and biggest guns. They don’t seem to think they could ever become the victims of a mob with guns. Robert and I have to be extremely cautious in these woods. We would never display a Democratic yard sign or put an Obama bumper sticker on one of our trucks. People would drive by on our dirt road and shoot their guns at such signs. In the city just 30 miles away, friends and acquaintances know that we are a couple. But out here in “Li’l Alabama” I am known as “Old Uncle Kevin” and Robert is my “nephew.” If we lived openly, some people would want to use “Second Amendment Remedies” against us.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “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.” To my mind, this is clearly designed to ensure that military forces can be organized and “well-regulated,” please note, in order to defend the State, which obviously refers to the country. But I will acknowledge that “State” could be construed as one state among the United States as well. Either way, it seems to me that “well-regulated Militia” are very thoroughly covered by The National Guard, The Naval Militia, the state militia forces, and the various branches of the U.S.military.
Everyone I know owns guns, except for a few close friends and my parents and their friends. Until last week I had never heard one of them argue that they own guns in order to help form “a well-regulated Militia,” in case the existing militia might not suffice. Last week Robert met a very nice 70-year-old man and his “lady friend,” as he calls her, who eventually bought two of Robert’s 4 ft x 6 ft abstract expressionist paintings for their large home in an exclusive gated community. The man is an avid gun collector and spends most of his free time shooting guns and making his own ammunition. One of the reasons why he eventually purchased two of Robert’s most stunning canvases is that Robert was able to discuss guns and ammunition with him. They bonded over guns. Lots of people do, and then they practice shooting at targets or innocent animals as recreation.
Some people in our region are so poor that they really do need to hunt to feed their families, and I absolutely do not begrudge them that right. I would do it too, if I had hungry children and no other way to feed them. Still, I’m awfully glad that the local authorities closed and barricaded our dirt road leading into the game land, because hunters used to drive by at 5 mph with rifles pointing out of their truck windows and into our property. The beginning of deer season used to sound like a war, with rifle fire every 30 seconds and men in orange swarming over our private land. Now they have gone elsewhere, leaving us in peace, thank goodness, because they don’t like to hike into the killing fields. But the art collector told Robert that he and his son were deeply involved in collecting and shooting guns and creating their own bullets so that they would be ready in case it became necessary to form a militia – the Constitutional justification for bearing arms.
Robert served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years, all over the world and earned four rifle expert medals for excellent marksmanship. He knows how to handle guns and rifles, and he has three of them. He hardly ever brings them out, but they are here. Although my dear father was raised in a pacifist family, he served with the Merchant Marines in WWII because he felt strongly that even pacifists had to oppose and stop Hitler. Dad’s position seems utterly defensible to me, and I might have made the same decision had I been alive in WWII. But I didn’t serve in the military. Hitler had been vanquished long before I registered as a conscientious objector in the draft, and then drew a very high number in the lottery. I have never fired a gun. I feel uncomfortable just holding one. Robert says at least I need to learn how to hold a gun properly, so that I could bluff my way through a threatening situation if necessary. Maybe so, but it always seemed to me that standing unarmed and naked in front of an aggressor would be a more effective way to ward off an attack. But of course, that’s what Mahatma Gandhi did, and he was eventually shot to death, wearing only a loin cloth and shawl. He was clearly not armed – a scrawny little man with nothing but Peace, Justice and God on his mind. But I guess that seemed threatening to a lot of people. As he fell, the humble spiritual giant died raising his fingers in the sign of peace to all and forgiveness for his executioner.
The beloved Mahatma was gunned down a year before I was born. But in my lifetime, there has been so much gun violence in America that it sometimes looks like anarchy already. President John Kennedy was killed, and then Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. President Reagan was shot and barely survived. John Lennon was gunned down. Gabby Giffords nearly died in a mass murder over a year ago, and now the nation is inflamed over the shooting of Treyvon Martin by “neighborhood watchman” George Zimmerman. And these are only a few of the most celebrated assassinations and murders. The sheer volume of gun violence that takes place every day across this nation is tragic, senseless, and mind-boggling. In my own neighborhood, a state game warden and father of three was shot to death at point-blank range when he confronted a hunter for using illegal methods. Still the gun lobbies push for legalizing all forms of weaponry and magazine clips and armaments that could only be used to inflict mass human casualties. This is insane. I don’t feel more confident because everyone has guns. I don’t feel safer having them in my own home. I don’t rest easier knowing that so many nations possess nuclear arms and my country has more than anybody else. Why do we believe that the way to solve problems is to overpower and kill people? Isn’t this a very serious flaw in human nature? Wouldn’t a truly mature intelligent race solve conflicts in a nonviolent manner? Wouldn’t a wise and civilized people moderate their drive for power and learn to negotiate, compromise, and live and let live? In the glowing light of The Golden Rule doesn’t violence look ridiculous and unworkable? By the way… The Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” NOT “Do unto others as they do unto you.”
But Americans LOVE guns SO much, and we will not give them up. Too many people truly feel that the more guns and nuclear warheads we have the safer we will be. So what can we do? I don’t have the answers, but I am certain that destroying government and turning law and order over to an armed mob is not the way to go. Quite the contrary, it seems to me that those of us who believe that the future must not be defined by guns, murder, weapons of mass destruction and war cannot stop resisting the tendency to arm the world. We must support gun control laws and regulation, nuclear arms treaties, and negotiated settlements instead of wars. We must promote constant reduction in numbers of guns and armaments. If we steadily move toward a wiser, more mature and civilized approach to power and conflict, there will be a brighter future for the human race.
Our Founders had it right with their first impulse in the Declaration of Independence, when they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” No one but God has the right to take a life. We should melt our guns down into plowshares and learn the subtler arts and pleasures of Peace. When humanity fully matures, we will truly know how to afford everyone their unalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. We will solve our local problems, our national conflicts and even our children’s hunger and our own drive for power without using guns.