Most observers predict that the five-person right-wing majority of a divided Supreme Court will overturn hundreds of local laws and decades of precedent to rule that cities cannot regulate the ownership of guns. As the arguments begin before the court in the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, the justices–and Americans–should pause and take another look.
Al-Qaida’s attacks on Sept. 11 killed more than 3,000 people. We responded as one nation. We committed billions to the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, passed the Patriot Act, and launched two big wars.
Every year in this nation, 30,000 people die due to gun violence. Our response? The activist right-wing judges of the Supreme Court trample precedent, overturn laws and distort the meaning of the Second Amendment, claiming the Founding Fathers intended individuals to have the right to bear arms. (In fact, their real intent was to guarantee the arming of state militias, arguably to ensure that the federal government would not stand in the way of the Southern states organizing to protect slave masters from slave uprisings.)
Put aside the simple fraud of conservative justices claiming that they believe in judicial restraint, when in fact, the right-wing gang of five appears intent on pursuing its ideological agenda no matter what.
The bigger question is what kind of country we are. We have become addicted to violence. Our military dominates our relations with the world. We now spend about as much as the rest of the world on our military–and that part of the budget is going up, even as bridges, sewers, roads and other parts of our domestic infrastructure are falling down from age and wear.
At home, violence is glorified, depicted rapturously in movies and TV. Professional athletes bring guns into their locker rooms. Rap stars fall in shoot-outs. Our video games are violent. African Americans and Latinos are constantly depicted on television shows as more violent than we are. Our news programs run on the theory that if it bleeds, it leads. Far too many of the tea party zealots flaunt their guns, threaten violence and specifically invoke the president’s name in threats.
The National Rifle Association, supposedly a hunters’ organization, pushes for legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons–even to ballparks. Sadly, the Obama administration has quietly conceded ground to the NRA, now allowing guns to be carried into our National Parks and onto trains. The NRA has so cowed Congress that the assault weapons ban remains dead on arrival.
We undervalue the power of nonviolence. In fact, the whole measure of civilization, to some essential degree, is premised on civil order.
Ironically, the positive changes that have transformed the world have largely come from nonviolence. World War I led only to the next global war. World War II led to the armed camps of the Cold War.
But the suffragists did not need guns to win women’s right to vote. Dr. King did not need guns to bring down the Cotton Curtain. Gandhi did not need guns to free India. Lech Walesa did not need guns to lift up Solidarity in Poland. Vaclav Havel did not need guns for Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. Chile did not need guns to bring Pinochet to justice.
When the Berlin Wall came down, the protesters did not wave their AK-47s; they sang “We Shall Overcome.”
Whatever the gang of five in the Supreme Court rules, we have to find our way back to nonviolence, to the belief in law, order and civil peace. We need to reduce our spending on the military and increase our commitment to diplomacy and engagement, spend less money policing the world and more money rebuilding America. Citizens of a great, civilized country do not pack iron and settle arguments with lead rather than reason. Whatever a divided Supreme Court rules, at the end of the day, we will decide. It is time to think again about guns and about nonviolence.