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Guns and Taxes: America’s Double Cliff

Is the U.S. becoming fundamentally incapable of agreeing on the most basic issues of fairness and decency?

December 21, 2012

Is the U.S. becoming fundamentally incapable of agreeing on the most basic issues of fairness and decency?

The trouble with America is very simple: Virtually all of the problems it faces, no matter how seemingly protracted, are eminently solvable. But solving them would require a basic sense of right and wrong — and that is precisely what is in question.

Instead, as its “moral compass” the United States relies on an ill-fated, mechanistic concept of splitting the difference. That may sound like pragmatism, but isn’t given that one side regularly negotiates from cynical, extremist positions.

Viewed in a global context, what is at stake is not just whether the fiscal cliff will be dealt with effectively or whether gun laws will be toughened. What is under threat is the very proposition of American civilization itself.

For all the pride that has traditionally been wound up in that notion, a society that is fundamentally incapable of agreeing on the most basic issues of fairness and decency at home puts more under threat than just the question of governability.

It is one thing to fail in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is quite another to fail miserably at home — and for the same reasons: the lack of consensus, of any planning, efficiency-mindedness and long-term investment strategies.

That may sound like a stretch, but only initially, if one asks where the evidence is that the United States, considering its level of economic and political development, is any more peaceable and governable than Egypt?

Somehow, the country seems stuck in the concepts of the Old Testament. The perverse self-justification of all those gun buyers who now sheepishly argue “why should my freedom be restricted just because some kids got shot up?” attests not just to a level of naiveté, but inhumanness that begs disbelief.

It remains to be seen whether, on the gun issue, President Obama will really achieve more than the customary default position of other U.S. presidents at moments of national tragedy. Serving as the Sermonizer-in-Chief (or SIC), however, is a far cry from providing effective leadership.

And yet, one can feel with the President. Outlawing and collecting all assault weapons would seem to be the most basic measure of civilization in any mass society, at least considering that this is not the 11th, but the 21st century.

The likely reaction pattern will be one of compartmentalization. It is already evident in all the facile calls to do something about the mentally ill — as if they accounted for the fact that the U.S. murder rate is so much higher than in civilized countries.

The crux of the issue is that Americans must part with their childish ideas of how a society works. No man is an island unto himself or herself. We all live as part of a much, much larger group.

We must show the civilizational maturity and refinement to understand that using assault weapons for hunting or shooting is not an expression of freedom, but of a indisputable human sickness or perversion.

There are hunters the world over, but none of them feel the urge to use assault weapons for their sport. Or, if they do, they have the maturity to restrain themselves. And if they don’t, there are laws in place to deal with those who don’t pass the basic test of self-moderation.

The National Rifle Association has four million members, and far from all favor the essentially unrestricted use of assault weapons. And yet, the country’s politicians and society at large quivers in the boots faced with such an extremist minority.

In the 2012 election campaign, the country’s politicians were bought for mere peanuts — $20 million dispensed by the NRA to candidates.

What the NRA is peddling is an incredible hoax. Now that the American people can no longer go easily into more and more debt, what is still available at every Walmart and plenty of other stores is the opportunity to buy weapons. The offer on hand to deal with one’s frustrations is not to consume, but to shoot up.

The blindness of American society, which is generally a very fearful one, is staggering. Putting that many weapons out there, statistically almost one per every American man, woman and child, is not just bewildering. It is plain dumb.

Republicans always cherish supply-side economics. They ought to know that stuff that’s out there will exhibit a tendency to be used. In addition, these are nerve-wracking times for many people. They feel extremely insecure economically.

To have the country undergo a big gun-buying binge during the same decades that incomes stagnated and the effective unemployment rate reaches a quarter of the population must be considered at least somewhat suicidal from the vantage point of the entire nation.

It is akin to the “wisdom” exhibited by the Reagan Administration to equip Afghan “freedom fighters” with stinger missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopters. Sounds good — until the day when it was American airplanes in the skies over Afghanistan that were being shot down by U.S.-bought weapons.

The fiscal cliff and the gun cliff are not separated issues. The resolution of both will speak volumes about the true grit and attest to the depth of American civilization.

American civilization is clearly something that people around the world have aspired to for a long time. But that long unshakable belief in America’s greatness is now under serious threat.

Of course, the United States does not need to fix its problems so that people abroad continue to hold it in high regard.

It ought to do so for one reason and one reason only — self-preservation. Self-preservation of the nation, by the way, was the sole intent of the Second Amendment, contrary to how some recent court cases have sought to reinterpret the Constitution to serve the commercial arguments promoted by the NRA and its acolytes.

It is never wise to rest interpretations of the Constitution on the highly arbitrary and imprecise use of commas in the 18th century. What was and is not arbitrary is grammar: The Founders were educated in the classics and would have known the Latin ablative absolute, which is a clause in the sentence that has a logical connection to the other clause(s).

That is certainly something to which former Catholic schoolboys turned Supreme Court justices are very acutely attuned, if they were being honest with themselves.

The only grammatically correct way to read the Second Amendment (“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.”) is surely not as two freestanding independent clauses. Rather, the first half clearly qualifies (in fact, conditions) the second half.

Moreover, the oppressor at this juncture against whom the people need to militate clearly no longer is the state. If anything, it is the NRA and all the other gun toters who hold civilized America hostage with their gun fetish.

The people cannot defend themselves against the proliferation of assault weapons and other unnecessary weapons, but their “State” — their government — can.

Self-preservation is the one and only reason that the United States should resolve the gun issue. If it fails that test, it will have a hard time to stay on the track of modernity.

More on this topic


The very proposition of American civilization itself is under threat.

Where is the evidence that the United States is any more peacable and governable than Egypt?

Having a big gun-buying binge when unemployment reaches a quarter of the population is near-suicidal.

Serving as the Sermonizer-in-Chief (or SIC) is a far cry from providing effective leadership.