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die Tageszeitung, Germany

The Right to Shoot

By Johannes Thumfart

To seek stricter gun laws because of shooters who go on a rampage is the wrong approach. Social problems cannot be solved by prohibition.

Translated By Ron Argentati

25 January 2013

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard

Germany - die Tageszeitung - Original Article (German)

Germany has had bad experiences with government ordered gun control, such as the 1938 Reich Weapons Law that resulted in the categorical disarming of Gypsies, gays and Jews.

Government persecution of these minorities would in some respects have played out otherwise had a majority, in best bourgeois fashion, insisted on their right to bear arms, a sign of the citizen par excellence ever since the French Revolution. Possibly the catastrophic failure of the 1848 German democratic revolution could have been avoided had there been more liberal gun laws in Germany.

It's surprising that here in Germany there's such strong support for stricter gun controls, which are being currently debated in the United States. They are, in European eyes, stereotypically connected with a general indignation over trivialities on the other side of the Atlantic in which hillbillies empty one magazine after another just for fun.

Naturally it eventually comes down to campus massacres such as the recent incident at Lone Star College in – where else? - Texas. It's understandable that massacres such as the one in Newtown take place, and of course the answer to it all is “prohibition!”—preferably gun ownership in general along with killer video games, such as the latest satanic app from the NRA, which causes outrage because those playing it get to use the same type of weapon that was used in Newtown. Never mind that practically every ego-shooter has an M-16 in his arsenal. Never mind that it's been the standard issue weapon in the U.S. armed forces for nearly 50 years.

Letting the Fox Guard the Hen House

In view of such unanimity one might be tempted to think that the political catastrophes of the twentieth century and the mountains of corpses in twenty-first century Iraq and Afghanistan were the work of young gunmen run amok and weapon exports blessed by juvenile psychopaths. Of course that's not the case. So it follows that putting guns under government control is akin to putting the fox in charge of guarding the hen house.

As is the case with the German mainstream, the problem is easiest seen on the U.S. East Coast where Democrats dominate. In response to Newtown, the state of New York quickly pushed through the strictest gun control laws thus far. It contains psychological criteria as well as the prohibition of assault rifles such as the M16. Obama will introduce similar legislation into the U.S. Congress shortly. It is immaterial whether the legislation passes or not: Other states are free to follow New York's example.

Meanwhile, gun murders constitute just a fraction of those deaths attributable to traffic accidents, suicides, smoking and eating junk food. In 2010, there were 11,708 people killed by others using guns; 37,961 died in traffic accidents; 38,364 committed suicide; 158,318 died of lung cancer and at the top of the list, 780,213 deaths were caused by various diseases of the circulatory system. Wouldn't it make more sense to forbid McDonald's instead?

But there are better arguments against gun control than comparison with other causes of death in our society. As far as urban violence is concerned – and that's the real core of the gun problem – other elements such as socioeconomic factors are more causative than just the availability of guns.

The Gun Debate is a Sham Debate

Despite the fact that middle class gun owners tend to commit suicide or murder family members with guns, they don't mow each other down en masse. That happens mainly among young black men who see no chance of upward mobility. The gun debate is a sham debate. The real debate should focus on racism and social inequality.

The white middle class mass killer is the comfortable exception that provides the illusion of addressing an uncomfortable problem by simply forbidding it. It's an illusion that's unrealistic since the lion's share of urban guns comes from illegal sources. Bans affect only those who legally buy a gun. The black market is already salivating at the prospect of a boom in illicit gun sales that will follow in the wake of stricter gun laws.

So far, that only means that gun regulations are not necessarily useful, but neither are they terribly harmful. Although the majority has since turned to other matters, a large part of American society is reacting more sensitively to the current initiatives. That has a connection to American democracy and to liberal democracy in general through the Bill of Rights that assures the right to keep and bear arms.

The Right to Self-Defense

The liberal theorist John Locke, unlike Thomas Hobbes, held that a citizen had a right to protect himself from government, writing that self-defense was a natural right that could not be denied to the people. Some 100 years after he set forth those principles, the founding fathers incorporated the principle into the Declaration of Independence stating, “ . . . Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government . . .”

That passage legitimized the War for Independence and is also cited as legitimizing private gun ownership via the Second Amendment which states, “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.”

Threats from Within

Although it appears at first to deal solely with threats posed by foreign powers, it's clear that in the context of the War for Independence it also includes threats from within. Or, more properly, threats from above. The Second Amendment became a sort of “resistance paragraph” guaranteeing Americans the right to resist tyranny originating from their own government—namely by way of owning guns and becoming proficient in using them.

It's impossible to say that, in contrast to many European countries with stiffer gun controls, the United States has never had a totalitarian government because of the Second Amendment. What is certain, however, is that the massacre in Newtown wasn't political resistance. Nevertheless, it's dangerous to use a mentally disturbed individual as a reason to solidify a monopoly on force that—when things got really serious—could not be overcome.

The right to gun ownership is based on the liberal utopian idea that society is dependent upon the free will of the individual and that people trust one another in questions of life and death. We accept that on our autobahns. To categorically reject private gun ownership is thus a political gesture whereby authoritarian control mechanisms are given preference over liberalism.

Strict gun opponents sugarcoat a fact that, despite all the Habermasian debate kitsch, will remain valid as long as there are people: That power comes out of the muzzle of a gun and its focus is not entirely desirable.



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