17 January 2013

On empathising with the NRA...

Like most people (I hope) on this side of the pond, I've been appalled by the Newtown massacre, and the (US) National Rifle Association response. (I'm not linking to sources on the main story.)

My very mainstream RSS feeds have been full of the gun control spat (I won't dignify it as a "debate"); the virulence and viciousness of some of the comment streams has been appalling.

Many of the gun lobby arguments have been cloaked in appeals to the second amendment to the US Constitution, the exegesis of which has been argued about endlessly.

OK. But. I get suspicious about (to me) disproportionate passion. In practical terms, the "right to bear arms" (leaving aside the rest of the amendment) for purposes other than hunting and vermin control is an appeal to a situation in extremis. Yes, I can understand how it fits with a culture of self-sufficiency in the expansionist era of the nascent USA, when transportation was slow and there was no faster medium of communication, and the rule of law, and law enforcement, was tenuous at best. And in many respects in the "fly-over" states of the mid-west, sheer geography still matters even now.

I'm not going to get into big empirical arguments--I haven't got the firepower, as it were. But I hypothesise that much of NRA support comes from relatively low-population-density area, where gun-owners really do feel safer for having a firearm to use in --however unlikely-- extremis.

And if that is the case, I can understand how frightened they may be at being compelled to give them up, and how they may well see every step in the direction of control as a step too far. Because they are right, that in the initial stages of such reforms, it will be the law-abiding minority whose gun privileges (not "rights") will be curtailed, whereas criminals just will not care or comply.

President Kennedy got it right in another context, "those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside". The USA is in the position of having to carry on riding the tiger, because there is no way to dismount. Glad I don't live there.

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