Monday, January 14, 2013

Newtown and the Elephant in the Room

Once more we are victims of an outrageous shooting.  Once more an emotionally unstable young man has dressed himself in black, armed himself with all too available and too powerful guns, and slaughtered innocents.  

The elephant in the room is a fear, not merely a rational distrust but an irrational fear, of government.  A significant portion of those who resist all gun control see themselves as the beleaguered defenders of liberty.  

They have abandoned the Rule of Law.  They believe that not only do they need their guns to defend themselves against government but that they are the last bulwark against tyranny.  They expect to "man the barricades" as in the musical Les Miserable.

The purchase of guns has spiked after the last two presidential elections.  Part of this was motivated by the fear that the Obama administration is anti-gun and will ban future purchases.  Part of it is based upon a fear that government is on the brink of collapse and that one will need guns to protect oneself from one's neighbors.  Part is based upon the fear that the government will become so tyrannical that the citizen will need guns to depose the tyrants.  

Indeed purchases spike after every outrage.  The fear here is part that that there will be a political response to the outrage that will make purchases more difficult in the future.  However, it is also fear that police and the Rule of Law are so weak that vigilantes are necessary, that all citizens, including teachers, must be armed.  It is a rejection of the fundamental idea that the use of armed force must be reserved to the state.  

It is ironic that those who trust law the least, who resist all attempts to regulate guns, appeal to the Constitution, the source of our law, to justify their resistance.  Equally ironic is it that each outrage is used to justify the continuation of the conditions that led to it and will inevitably lead to the another; take up arms as a protection against one's neighbor.  It is ironic that the policies supported by those who fear government contribute to the conditions in which government is most likely to be controlled by a tyrant rather than by law.  

The choice is not between an armed citizenry and "black helicopters."  Rather it is a choice between the Rule of Law and rule by men, by vigilantes, by the strongest bully on the block, by the gang leader, the war lord, by the most lawless, by those most likely to set themselves up as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.  

The very existence of the Elephant depends upon the fact that we pretend that he is not there.  The contribution of fear of government to this problem persists in part because we fail, indeed refuse, to talk about it.  We have to confront it.  Every generation has to recommit to the Rule of Law, must surrender its claim to armed force to the state.  Each generation must understand the choice between a government of law and one of men, each generation must make the choice anew.  

We must begin by confronting the Elephant, the rhetoric of fear, fear of the tyrant.  

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