Friday, March 15, 2013

We need to talk

There's a picture in a BBC article today about the Assault Weapons Ban bill that was just passed by a panel of elected officials, and will go on to the Senate and Congress. The picture in the article is of an assortment of people, various ages, ethnicities, genders, body types - all at a shooting range. The caption? 'Teachers in Texas improve their shooting skills.'

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't want Kai's kindergarten teacher to be a skilled gunman or gunwoman. I want Kai's kindergarten teacher to be a skilled shoe-tier, snot wiper, circle drawer, and line-former. Not a gunman. Sure, I want his teacher to be able to defend him if anything terrible ever happens. But more than that - I don't want terrible things, not that sort of terrible thing, to happen at his school. No one does.

No one does, but according to many articles I've read, this contradictory reality holds:
1. a majority of Americans agree with an assault weapons ban
2. public media is skeptical of the Congress and the Senate's ability to pass such a ban

In other words - we live in a democracy where the majority of it's citizens think one thing, and it's elected officials may act in opposition to the voting majority's opinion. What a democracy.

 There are only two ways this can happen - ignorance and apathy.

We need to take a hard look at the argument of those who are advocating loudly, boldly, and lavishly (ie - millions of dollars in lobbying to your representative on Capitol Hill) for 'the right to bear arms'. Yes, we have that right. It's one of our amendments. But it's pretty vague, and unless we look at the consequences of literal interpretation, in an age where military weaponry and conflict have far surpassed what our founding fathers could have imagined, we run the risk of bowing down to an argument that I think holds no sway in today's society.

Why does someone need an assault weapon? Well, the answer usually is 'to defend myself'. (The answer surely isn't 'to go hunting' - PETA would have a furry heart attack if that were the case.) It's to defend oneself. Well, against who? I guess against the bad guy - the bad guy with an assault weapon. Oh - why does he have an assault weapon? Because he's allowed to.

Now, before you get yourself all riled up thinking "even if assault weapons are banned, people could still get their hands on them" - sure, that's true. We'd still have an illegal market of weapons - just like we have an illegal market for explosive devices and cocaine. People will always pursue power, and some people will always use force to accomplish that power, no matter the cost.

Here's the thing - the 2nd amendment was created at a time when our founding fathers had just declared independence from the King of Britain, at a time when the only way independence from tyranny could be guaranteed was if individual citizens 'bore arms'. The only guarantor of freedom was an armed populace.

But that is no longer the case. Warfare has changed, weaponry has changed, and (perhaps most significantly) the access to and transfer of information has changed. And still, proponents of the 2nd amendment hide behind it's original principle as if it were still relevant today.

(We also don't live in a country where we have to defend ourselves or no one else will come - we don't have to be our own militia. Sure, in some places public safety services/police forces are more scarce, more corrupt, more negligent than in others. But my point is, we have another option. That wasn't the case in the 1780's.)

Shockingly, public and social media seem to have entirely missed addressing this simple fact: we have no hope as a general populous of standing up to our government militarily. Even if we amassed all the assault weapons in the country, we would have no chance against the military our taxes so solidly fund. And I'm not saying we should. Here's what I am saying - we no longer live in a country where we can cling to guns as a way of assuring our rights. That boat has long sailed.

We live in a world of drones, of massive data gathering about individuals (about us) from all sorts of companies, corporations, and governments, of nuclear weapons. That's the world we live in. Whether we like it or not, whether we have all the social media accounts we can or try to keep a low profile, whether we pay for everything with card or still try to use mostly cash - we live in a world where information about us is incredibly accessible. And subsequently, our social framework and understanding of government's role and power must adapt.

Instead of arguing about whether or not we should be allowed to have assault weapons, perhaps we should be pushing the bigger issues. Perhaps we should make sure we are arguing on behalf of/exercising the rights of the 1st Amendment "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances".

A redress of grievances. In other words - we have the right to ask our government to right the wrongs.

Here's the other unspoken half of that - we still live in a democracy. We still live in a country that holds votes for public office every four, in some cases every two, years. We live in a country where there is actual potential to have a literal voice. Sure, you and I are two miniscule drops in a bucket of hundreds of millions of drops - but we're still a drop. Not just an idea of a drop.

The impact of that reality is huge - we do actually have the power to change. And why? Because our senators and congress people want so badly to remain in their positions of power (which is just human nature - ask anyone who has a driver's license). So, because people like power, and because we live in a democracy - you have a voice. Your voice, the voting voice, is louder than the NRA, than the health care lobbyists, than anything else. Why? Because your voice votes - their voice doesn't. Theirs might be better funded, more articulate, and more present - but it doesn't vote.

I have yet to meet a person who doesn't have an opinion on gun control, on the sequester, on health care, on mental health in this country, on medicare, on medicaid, on education, on military and foreign affairs. I have met one person who has written or called their elected official. And it's not me.

I'm writing this to get myself in gear, and hopefully, if you're an American citizen, to get you in gear, too. There are other countries in the world where voices are not as able to be heard, but we are not living in one of them. Use your voice, or (if I may be so bold) perhaps you shouldn't be complaining.  Once you use your voice, complain away. 

I'm not pushing any particular agenda, I'm not encouraging you to only call your representatives if you agree with me - I'm just encouraging involvement. As a country, it is high time we start acknowledging that, while the most sensational, the presidential race is hardly the most important opportunity for us to raise our voice. It's only a 3rd of the power, if that. The other two thirds should hear our voices just as strongly.

If they don't, we can count on a country that is not actually governed by those pursuing the best of their constituents (our best) - it will be governed by those listening to the loudest voice. And those loudest voices will be funded voices - funded by a cause, by a rights group, by an industry. If we want a country with safe elementary schools, accessible and quality health care, sustainable social services, and the ability to strive for 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' (not just the next paycheck) - we're going to have to use our voices.

To find out who your representative is click here.

To find out who your congressman/woman is click here.

To contact the White House directly, click here.

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