Sunday, January 20, 2013

What the NRA Doesn’t Want You to Know: The Fallacy of Democracy and Gun-Ownership Rights

by Nomad

Anti-Gun laws AK-47
We have all heard it. The conventional wisdom states- or at least, implies, that private gun ownership is a protection against tyranny. 
It’s an idea that the NRA likes to propagate. People take it for granted that it must be true. 
Apparently, they'll tell you, our founding fathers believed as much. Why else did they include the second amendment if they didn't. It's easy for them to ignore the part that says:

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.
Interestingly, however, despite the mentality that claims that democracy must be protected by citizens bearing automatic weapons, the evidence doesn’t support this link at all. In fact, our own actions in Iraq and in past nation-building, prove that we don’t really believe it ourselves.

Democracy without the Second Amendment

Back in 2007, USAToday reported the US military’s success in Iraq in uncovering and seizing a record number of weapons caches belonging to insurgents. It was, according to Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, a sign of the progress in the Iraq war. Since September 2008, more than 30,000 weapons were confiscated by joint US-Iraqi military forces during raid and search operations throughout the country. The thousands of AK-47s, according to the link above, were rounded up and well, guillotined. 

It was clear to both governments and their military leaders that keeping weapons out of the hands of insurgents who refused to recognize the authority of their elected leaders was a threat to democracy. Removing those weapons was one step toward the goal to “establish the stability and security that democracy requires.” 

There is, of course, a nagging paradox. 
Weren’t we supposed to be bringing American-style democracy to Iraq? So why are we collecting their weapons? Don’t Iraqis deserve all of the God-blessed freedoms that Americans enjoy, such as their second amendment rights too? 

But who can argue with that wise decision? After all, It is just common sense to collect as many loose arms as possible while the country is plagued with terrorists bent on destabilizing the government. Weapons of war should be kept out of the hands of extremists who wish to overthrow a democracy. (Whether in Iraq or closer to home.)

Either our military leaders believed that democracy for Americans is different than democracy for the rest of the world, or they don't really believe that individuals have the right to bear arms. Or there is a third possibility.
Perhaps they simply read the second amendment the way the founding fathers meant it to be understood. Namely, a well-regulated militia, like army reservists on call in time of a threat.

In fact, eventually, Iraq did relax its position on gun ownership, much to the horror of many local politicians and commentators. Still, even the new regulations, if applied in the US, would have many gun owners fighting mad. (Certainly, the new laws go far beyond anything Obama has proposed.)
Officials say that ..[gun] registration will allow them to count and curb the large amounts of weapons already in private hands.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh announced on May 6 that under a plan approved by the security agencies, "possession of one rifle or pistol per home” would now be permitted by law.

"Each owner should register his household’s firearm at the nearest police station," the statement, published on Dabbagh’s official website, said.

“It is designed to limit the numbers of arms owned by civilians, and hence it’s in the interests of people's safety and security," Wakil said....

Officials at the interior ministry, whose police will issue the gun licenses, said the process would be properly conducted.

"The people who get gun licenses will undergo checks," deputy interior minister Ahmed al-Khafaji said. "The decision permits possession of a firearm inside houses, not outside them, and just one per home – no more.”
Those "draconian" regulations don’t sound like a democracy that would inspire the NRA. After all, isn’t the conventional wisdom, that any step toward sensible gun control is also a threat to democracy? 

Incidentally, private gun ownership under Saddam was far more liberal than after the newly-formed democracy. That fact did nothing to stop tyranny. 

The Hitler Myth

Writer Ales Seitz-Wald, in a must-read article in Salon notes that the gun activists (as well as The NRA, Fox News, Fox News (again), Alex Jones, email chains, Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, Gun Owners of America) keep repeating the justifications that gun ownership laws became strict when Adolf Hitler took control of Nazi Germany. 

The source for this story apparently comes from a top representative of the NRA. In his 1994 book, NRA head Wayne LaPierre dwelled on the Hitler meme at length, writing: “In Germany, Jewish extermination began with the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler.

Nicely hysterical but there’s only one problem. It’s not quite true.

In a 2004 article published in the Fordham Law Review, University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt examined this claim and learned that the truth is quite different.
As it turns out, the Weimar Republic, the German government that immediately preceded Hitler’s, actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime. After its defeat in World War I, and agreeing to the harsh surrender terms laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, the German legislature in 1919 passed a law that effectively banned all private firearm possession, leading the government to confiscate guns already in circulation. In 1928, the Reichstag relaxed the regulation a bit, but put in place a strict registration regime that required citizens to acquire separate permits to own guns, sell them or carry them.

The 1938 law signed by Hitler that LaPierre mentions in his book basically does the opposite of what he says it did. “The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition,” Harcourt wrote. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years.
It’s true that gun ownership by Jews was restricted but that’s about all of the myth that bears any resemblance to the truth. Like everything else Fox News reports, true or not, the important part is to keep repeating the same line until it becomes a historical fact. 

Private gun ownership under Allied occupation was far more restrictive than Hitler’s regime. Private ownership of firearms was not allowed until after 1956, during and after the Allied occupation. Obviously, Allied military leaders back then thought nation-building involved restricting private gun ownership.  Second amendment considerations clearly took a backseat to democratic ideals.

Other Democracies

In 2005, in Philadelphia, the then-president George Bush spoke at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. The subject of that speech: The Struggle for Democracy in Iraq.

In that speech, he noted that only a few blocks away from where he stood was Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and signed. For the newly created nation, there were challenges to overcome. He then went on to compare the challenges faced by Iraqi leaders in establishing their own democracy there. 
When the new Iraqi government takes office next year, Iraqis will have the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world, and Americans will have a partner for peace and moderation in the Middle East.
Unlike the founding fathers, the Iraqi leaders decided that having an amendment a right to bear arms in their Constitution was a little too liberal for their tastes. 
And they were not alone.

In the speech Bush went on to cite the success of bringing democracy to other nations like Japan.
Sixty years ago, my dad fought against the Japanese -- many of your relatives did, as well. They were the sworn enemy of the United States. And so what happened?'s not all that long in history, when you think about it. And what happened was a Japanese-style democracy emerged. Democracies yield the peace. That's what history has shown us... Democracies yield the peace...
So the fundamental question is, do we have the confidence and universal values to help change a troubled part of the world.
Democracies may indeed yield peace. but establishing and maintaining that peace cannot exist when awesome weapons suitable for the battlefield are allowed to be bought and sold casually. 
A fanatic's threat of physical violence to anybody who disagrees with him will destroy every citizens’ freedom. If there is one essential fact of terrorism is it this: An armed fanatic doesn't have to worry about the complications of democracy.
The one constitutional right that the democratically-reborn Japan strictly did not wish to imitate was America’s Second amendment. 
Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed...Small-caliber rifles have been illegal to buy, sell, or transfer since 1971. Anyone who owned a rifle before then is allowed to keep it, but their heirs are required to turn it over to the police once the owner dies.
The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it's not easy to do. ...Even the most basic framework of Japan's approach to gun ownership is almost the polar opposite of America's. U.S. gun law begins with the second amendment's affirmation of the "right of the people to keep and bear arms" and narrows it down from there. Japanese law, however, starts with the 1958 act stating that "No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords," later adding a few exceptions. In other words, American law is designed to enshrine access to guns, while Japan starts with the premise of forbidding it.
 Why, it’s enough to make a NRA member swoon.
Yet, democracy has not been adversely affected by these ultra-strict and essentially un-American gun control laws. Not one neo-conservative has called Japan undemocratic because it keeps tight controls on gun ownership. 
Again from The Atlantic:
In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.
*   *   *   *
Let’s take another example. 
Israel is a nation whose democracy the neo-conservatives- staunch supporters, come hell or high water - say they would like to be a model for other countries in the Middle-East. However, Israel’s laws on gun ownership bear much more resemblance to Japan’s than to the United States. 

The NRA would never accept the regulations that the Israel imposes on its citizens. I am sure they would call their gun control laws tyrannical. What is more remarkable is that, given that terrorist attacks are a very real threat in Israel, Israelis perhaps have a better claim to owning assault weapons for personal defense than any American would. 
And yet, as Aaron Zelinsky points out in a Huffington Post article,

  • Israel has a lot fewer guns than Americans do. Israel has 12 times fewer guns per capita than America.
  • Israel bans assault rifles.
  • Israel has no individual right to bear arms.
  • Israel sharply limits ammunition purchases. Israelis are limited to 50 rounds a year. 
  • Israelis view gun ownership as a burden. Most Israelis would like nothing more than to have a country where they needn't carry guns, where they live in peace. 
When was the last time you heard any Republican dare to claim that, because Israel doesn’t support an individual’s right to possess an assault weapon, Israel is un-democratic? 
You haven't and you won't. 
*    *    *    *
The NRA and millions of proud (and presumably patriotic) gun activists would like you to believe that owning a weapon designed for battlefield is somehow a protection for home and country. Instead, we are watching the country being turned into a war zone. 

In fact, by our own actions in nation-building in Iraq, in Germany, in Japan, we have shown time after time, that democracies are always destabilized when weapons become too easily available for those who don’t respect the principles of democracy. Principles like respecting the authority of freely-elected leaders. 

It’s no surprise really that, in reaction to Obama’s common sense recommendations in the wake of weekly mass shootings, instead of a rational discussion, gun activists in the US have gone ballistic.