20 June 2003
Arming Civil Society Worldwide
Getting democracy to work in the emergent American Empire?
- / -
Constitutions as guarantors of democracy
Second Amendment to the US Constitution
Armed citizens in other democratic countries
Exporting American-style democracy
Arming citizens to stabilize democracies in the American empire
Complementarity of US foreign and arms trade policies in support
Vital role of the gun lobby in democratic societies
From "one man, one vote" to "one gun, one vote"
Bearing arms publicly and in democratic gatherings
Intangible Responsibility: addendum on the occasion of the mass shooting in Aurora (2012)
This exploration is concerned with the conditions required for
comprehension and uptake of American-style democracy worldwide as a basis for
the viability of the emergent American empire. The focus is on a unique feature
of the American Constitution which ensures that citizens have the right to bear
arms. Given the recognition by Americans in general, and especially by the current
government of the United States of America, that the system of democracy in
America is one of the best, if not the best, in the world, this feature calls
for careful attention. This is especially the case in the light of the new security
strategy that envisages the establishment of what is now widely acknowledged
to be an American empire worldwide [more].
This preliminary investigation is a contribution towards a more
formal study of the systemic need for armed citizens for American-style democracy
to work effectively.
Constitutions as guarantors of democracy
The system of governance of a country is specified with great
care in the set of articles that make up its Constitution. Americans are rightly
proud of the innovative thinking that was applied to the development of their
Constitution to ensure a democratic pattern of governance and to protect that
system from dangerous tendencies to which it might otherwise be vulnerable.
A constitution benefits not only from principles clarified in constitutional
law but from the practical experience of people who have been exposed to the
strengths and weaknesses of attempts to give institutional form to such principles.
In this light, the set of articles making up a constitution may
be understood as a network of control factors that interact as a network of
checks-and-balances to maintain the system of governance in a condition to ensure
effective governance. In the case of a consciously democratic country like the
USA, the condition defined by these dynamics is necessarily democratic. The
various articles play off against each other to constrain the excesses of an
undemocratic nature to which unconstrained emphasis on any one of them would
give rise. The set of articles making up the European
Constitution (presented in draft form, 20 June 2003) should therefore also
be considered in this light.
A constitution may therefore be understood to be like a finally
tuned musical orchestra. Each article, like a particular instrument, articulates
particular themes which must necessarily be balanced against other themes articulated
by other instruments in order for the integrity of the whole to emerge. The
strength of a democracy lies in the emergent organization made possible by such
In a finely tuned orchestra, every instrument has its place. Each
is necessary to ensure the requisite complexity to provide a framework for the
dynamics of a complex society.
When a constitution is first agreed it is of course a somewhat
theoretical exercise whose final tuning comes in its early years of use in practice.
Such practice may draw attention to weaknesses in the basic pattern of checks
and balances that call for specific corrective action through the addition of
extra instruments to give better expression to the whole and to protect it more
completely from weaknesses to which it may be exposed under certain conditions.
Such is the case with regard to "amendments" to any
constitution. These are vital corrective measures to ensure that the constitution
best fulfils its function.
Second Amendment to the US Constitution
The US Constitution is the oldest written constitution in the
world that is in force. It was written in 1787 in Philadelphia by the Continental
Congress of the new American republic and was officially adopted in 1789. The
Bill of Rights (which were the first 10 amendments to the Constitution) was
passed by Congress on 25 September 1789 and was ratified on 15 December 1791.
Of the 27 amendments, the Second Amendment (forming part of the
Bill of Rights) to the US Constitution reads as follows: "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." This right is also reflected
in the constitutions of individual states of the USA, as noted by Robert Dowlut:
This Constitutional guarantee of individual liberty within the federal system
receives protection from both the federal and state constitutions. Reliance,
however, should first be placed on a state's bill of rights, or declaration
of rights, because the United States Supreme Court has explicitly acknowledged
each state's "sovereign right to adopt in its own Constitution individual
liberties more expansive than those conferred by the Federal Constitution."
In fact, the constitutions of forty-three states guarantee a right to bear
arms. Most state bills of rights provide greater protection of the right to
arms than does the second amendment. Presently, only five states track the
language of the second amendment, and only three link the right exclusively
to the common defense. (Bearing
Arms in State Bills of Rights, Judicial Interpretation, and Public Housing,
Clearly the provisions of the Second Amendment are vital to ensure
the viability of American democracy -- as demonstrated by the felt need to amend
the original Constitution. Without this amendment it was recognized that the
essential principles of American-style democracy could not be safeguarded.
The amendment has been the subject of extensive commentary because
of its apparently problematic implications for a peace-loving country such as
America. A law library is specifically devoted to it [resources].
The Second Amendment Foundation
is specifically devoted to the articulation of the arguments defending the principles
it enshrines in the protection of democracy. Many have written on it [more;
more]. The famous have
commented in favour of it [quotes].
Perhaps the most extensive study is by Stephen P. Halbrook (That
Every Man Be Armed: the evolution of a constitutional right, The Independent
Institute, 1984, 1994, 2000). One commentator concludes:
Rather than disarm -- unconstitutionally -- the citizens of this free nation,
a return to Constitutional government is in order. Americans have the right
-- unalienable -- to own and carry firearms of their choice. Other arguments
are moot: history has spoken. [more]
It might be assumed the the wording "security of a free State"
refers solely to its security with respect to external threats. However in a
large country like the USA, with many factions and internal tensions -- as evidenced
by the civil war -- the security of the state clearly calls for internal protective
measures as much as external protective measures. This has been most recently
exemplified by the creation of a Department
of Homeland Security.
With a history requiring extensive protection of peace-loving
citizens against hostile Indians, again it became only too evident that the
right to bear arms is vital to citizens that need to protect their settlements
against marauding savages. Equivalent challenges exist in contemporary American
society in enabling citizens to protect themselves against criminal elements
and possibly terrorists.
US Federal courts have generally ruled that the Second Amendment
protects the rights of states to have armed militias -- but provides no such
right to individuals. The Supreme Court established the current court interpretation
in 1939. Since then, eight US appeals courts have rejected arguments that the
Second Amendment extended firearms rights to individuals -- the policy of the
Justice Department legal counsel since the Nixon administration put it into
effect in 1973. On 11 May 2001, however, the US Attorney General John Ashcroft
affirmed the right of individuals to bear arms -- a position seen as a very
important development [more].
The absence of the Second Amendment would therefore jeopardize
the viability of an American-style democracy -- according to American understanding
of the necessary systems of checks and balances vital to democracy [more].
Armed citizens in other democratic countries
It is important to recognize a significant confusion in terminology.
The "right to bear arms" was unrestricted in the Middle Ages and remains
controversial. But this expression confuses "coats of arms" with the
bearing of weapons that is the focus of this argument. But the two senses are
linked in that both are aspects of the defence of identity of the individual
and the family. It could be argued that the two rights were mutually reinforcing
in practice. A common prejudice has associated heraldry exclusively with nobility
or gentry -- just as the right to carry weapons has been associated with the
powerful or their agents. But as detailed by François Velde (Right
to Bear Arms, 1995), this has no foundation in fact, law or history
of European armory. He summarizes the situation in terms of existing laws and
regulations (de jure) as well as in terms of actual practice (de facto).
Heraldry remained unregulated in most countries, with the significant exception
of the UK.
Whilst America is the only country to embody the right to bear
arms (weapons) in its Constitution, other democratic countries also ensure that
their citizens bear arms. This is notably the case with Switzerland where every
able-bodied man is required to maintain certain weapons at home in the event
of any call upon their services in the protection of the country. In Israel,
men are similarly required to bear arms.
The distinction in these countries, whose democracies do not correspond
to the American style, is that the bearing of arms is associated with direct
involvement in the national military service. In the case of the USA, the right
to bear arms is constitutionally specified as independent of an association
with any federal or state military service -- hence the specific reference to
"militia". The emphasis is on "the right of the people to keep
and bear arms" as being "necessary to the security of a free State".
This is a more sophisticated understanding of democracy than in either Switzerland
A more interesting example for comparison with the USA is Canada
where the citizenry has almost as many arms per capita as in the USA.
The absence of any reference in the draft European
Constitution (20 June 2003) to the right of citizens to bear arms, as a
fundamental right, is therefore an unfortunate indication that it may be difficult
to ensure the future long-term viability of American-style democracy amongst
the 25 member countries. This is to be regretted, especially in the case of
the so-called "accession countries" of the former Soviet Union --
many of whom enthusiastically joined the USA in the Coalition of the Willing
in the action against Iraq.
Exporting American-style democracy
A declared purpose of the new American project to achieve world
hegemony is to instill democracy, through democratic principles and democratic
institutions, in countries currently suffering from dictatorial and tyrannical
regimes. To achieve this the USA must necessarily take account of its own understanding
of democratic systems work and of how they work. This know-how is clearly embodied
in the American Constitution whose articles are necessarily, and by definition,
a template for any working democratic system.
Arguments to the effect that there continue to be imperfections
in American-style democracy must necessarily be set aside in this undertaking
Such defects must necessarily be recognized as isolated phenomena that do not
challenge the inherent integrity of the American system from which citizens
of other countries should necessarily benefit if they are to experience the
full fruits of liberation to which they have a right. It is American-style democracy
which is the guarantor of universal human rights -- of which the USA is the
prime defendant. Those failing to recognize this are necessarily part of the
problem in ensuring that people around the world benefit fully from participation
in the American imperial enterprise.
With respect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted
in 1948 by the United Nations), there are several accounts of the drafting process,
stressing the role of different individuals, powers and cultures. In the USA
there are few challenges to the view that the Roosevelts shaped and molded the
human rights story, and indeed, many consider the human rights project to have
been primarily an American project (cf Tony Evans, US Hegemony and the Project
of Human Rights. 1996) [drafting
As noted by Douglass Cassel (The
Universal Declaration at 50: Changing The World? The Christian Century,
December. 23-30, 1998 at 1249):
the Universal Declaration embodies most rights cherished by Americans. Among
them are life, liberty, security of person, freedom from slavery and from torture
and inhumane treatment; equality before the law; the right to judicial remedies
for wrongs; freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; fair trials and due
process of law, including the presumption of innocence;privacy; freedom of
movement; equal rights in marriage; freedoms of speech, press, assembly and
association; and free elections. On the other hand, the Universal Declaration
omits the Anglo-American right of trial by jury, and two peculiarly North
American devices: the right to bear arms, and the prohibition of established
In the light of such unfortunate omissions, attention clearly
needs to be given to the role of the Second Amendment in ensuring that citizens
of other countries participate effectively in the democratic systems envisaged
according to the American principles enshrined in the US Bill of Rights -- to
which they will be given access through regime change in their countries if
The initiative of the American Heritage
Institute and the Federalist Society for
Law and Public Policy Studies in June 2003 to launch a new website (http://www.NGOWatch.org)
to expose the funding, operations and agendas of international NGOs -- and especially
any efforts by them to constrain US freedom of action in international affairs
and influence the behavior of corporations abroad -- is therefore much to be
welcomed as a vital step towards the protection and promotion of democracy in
the world. The importance of this initiative is signalled by the fact that the
two bodies are supported by 42 senior US administration foreign-policy and justice
officials. As NGOs of the USA, the two bodies will naturally be very sensitive
to the need to ensure that civil society worldwide reflects the provisions for
the protection of democracy of the US Constitution -- especially those embodied
in the Second Amendment. Indeed for a right wing policy, heavily influenced
by Christian fundamentalists inspired by Christian militancy, civil society
bodies might easily be conscripted as the "militias" envisaged in
that Amendment -- in a new crusade. Care must of course be taken not to convert
such bodies into the kinds of "front organizations" that were typical
of the NGOs controlled by the government of the USSR -- and widely disparaged
for that reason.
The broader challenge is to respond to the misguided attempts
to implement global governance in which NGOs have taken the lead role. The UN
, Secretary General Kofi Annan notes (24th September 2000) that, "The momentum
for combating small arms proliferation has also come from civil society, which
has been increasingly active on this issue. The establishment early this year
of the International Action Network on Small
Arms [IANSA] has helped to sharpen public focus on small arms, which has
helped us gain the public support necessary for success." According to its website
IANSA will "provide a transnational framework" for the mobilization of a broad
citizen movement in favor of gun control. IANSA is made up of hundreds of otherwise
Unfortunately the greatest tragedy of gun control is its affront
to common sense. Like almost all other "solutions" to international problems,
gun control will only make gun violence worse. Numerous studies have shown that
gun control increases violent crime. Every nation that has implemented strong
gun control measures in the past few years has seen a dramatic jump in gun related
violence. When criminals and governments believe they can rob, murder or rape
people with impunity they do so. [more]
Arming citizens to stabilize democracies in
the American empire
In the light of the principles of the long-tested Second Amendment,
and the role it performs in ensuring the security of the State in a democratic
country, it is clearly essential that citizens newly liberated from the yoke
of tyranny in non-democratic countries should have every right to bear arms.
This principle is clearly vital to the sustainability of any American concept
of democracy that could be conceived as desirable from the perspective of US
From this perspective any suggestion that citizens of such countries
should be disarmed is clearly poorly thought out -- if not dangerously flawed
-- given American expertise in understanding how democracy works in practice.
Specifically any suggestion that citizens of such countries should be disarmed
is clearly a guarantee that the uptake of democracy American style will be poor
and the systemic pattern of checks and balances will not be appropriately comprehended
-- notably within the emergent civil society so vital to such democracy.
This argument points to some significant failures in the implementation
of democratic principles in various countries in which the US has extensive
involvement or influence:
- Northern Ireland: The ineffectual peace process in this province
of the principal ally of the US has long been subject to a requirement for
"decommissioning" to which the IRA has failed to respond satisfactorily.
Curiously the requirement emerged from a commission chaired by a US citizen,
Senator Mitchell. It is clear that the Senator has an inadequate grasp of
the basis for American democracy as embodied in the Constitution of the US.
Had he been more fully aware, and had the UK government been better informed
of how to ensure the sustainability of a democracy as exemplified by its principal
ally, the emphasis would have been placed on ensuring the arming of citizens
rather than on their disarmament. The US position is all the more curious
given the documented role of US citizens over many decades in assisting the
IRA to acquire arms -- presumably in the light of their clearer comprehension
of the functioning of an effective democracy.
- Afghanistan: Following the liberation of Afghans from the yoke of
the Taliban, the US should have paid greater attention to ensuring the widespread
distribution of arms amongst the citizenry. Specifically, given the importance
attached to the oppression of women by the Taliban, efforts should have been
made to ensure the access of Afghan women to arms in order to safeguard the
security of the new democratic state.
- Iraq: Again, following the change in regime by coalition intervention,
efforts should have been made to ensure the widespread distribution of arms
throughout the country, rather than seeking to ensure that the citizens of
the emergent democracy hand in their weapons (after being entitled to one
Kalashnikov AK-47 per family [more])
and to criminalize possession of some weapons. It is unclear how Iraqis can
be expected to appreciate how an American-style democracy works unless they
can retain weapons to the same degree as American citizens. The situation
is especially problematic in that the Iraqis had already developed a fully
armed militia to defend the security of the State in accordance with the precepts
of the Second Amendment.
- Liberia / Sierra Leone: Given the historical responsibility of America
for Liberia, it is regrettable that US insights into the workings of democracy
could not have been more effectively communicated to the armed gangs in that
country in order to build on their early uptake of the principles of the Second
Amendment and extend it into a comprehension of the other dynamics of democracy.
- Israel / Palestine: The manifest failure of declared policies in
this arena suggests that the full significance of the Second Amendment has
not been appreciated in enabling stable democratic solutions to work. Clearly
the Israeli settlers have recognized its significance and have fully armed
themselves to ensure the security of the State. The policy error has been
the failure to recognize the need to extend the arming of Palestinians citizens
rather to regret the arming of such civil society groups as Hamas. Surely
it is only when all citizens are fully armed can a viable solution be expected
In each of the above cases it is regrettable that US advisors
could not have integrated the effective uptake of the Second Amendment into
the other constitutionally-defined principles fundamental to comprehension of
American democracy. Efforts to disarm citizens would appear to inhibit the emergence
and stabilization of a democratic system in each case -- in effect an exercise
A professor of law, Glenn Harlan Reynolds (The
Next International Right, Fox News, 17 October 2002) summarizes
the arguments of Daniel Polsby and Don Kates (Of
Holocausts and Gun Control, Washington International Law Quarterly,
75, 1997, 3). The point made is that the international community has a dismal
record of preventing or stopping genocide or punishing those responsible; the
victims of genocide tend to be unarmed civilians; the best way to prevent genocide
is to ensure that civilian populations are armed. Using Rwanda, Cambodia and
the Congo as examples, Reynolds argues it is nevertheless an arresting reality
that not one of the principal genocides of the twentieth century, and there
have been dozens, has been inflicted on a population that was armed. According
to law professor Daniel Polsby and criminologist Don Kates, there is a connection
"between the restrictiveness of a country's civilian weapons policy and
its liability to commit genocide." Reynolds argues that human rights groups
"should be prepared to endorse a new international human right: the right of
law-abiding citizens to be armed." [comment]
Complementarity of US foreign and arms trade
policies in support of democracy
It is clear that US foreign policy is inadequate in its explicit
articulation of the role of the arms trade in preparing the ground for American-style
democracy in countries around the world. This is regrettable given the major
role that American arms manufacturers play in endeavouring to ensure widespread
dissemination of technology essential to uptake of the Second Amendment in any
emergent democratic society. However it may be the case that for strategic reasons
it was considered more appropriate to avoid explicit mention of the role of
armed citizenry in emergent democratic societies.
The UK, as another major arms trader, may well share this preference
for a discrete foreign policy with regard to arms trade as a catalyst for emergent
democracy. Again it is regrettable that the UK government is not more proactive
in ensuring that its citizens are more effectively armed -- now that it is adopting
a style of democracy closer to the American system for which an armed citizenry
is a requisite. The flaws in its declared current policy are evident in the
manner in which UK society is increasingly menaced by armed gangs against which
citizens have no defence. The absurdity of this policy is evident in a case
in 2003 in which a burglar was given legal aid to sue a farmer who had wounded
him during an attempt to burgle the farmhouse -- the farmer was required to
pay his own legal costs.
Vital role of the gun lobby in democratic
The above arguments make clear the flaws in official international
policies seeking to constrain the arms trade and prevent access of citizenry
to arms in order to perform their key role in ensuring the security of the State.
Bodies such as the National Rifle
Association (NRA) in the US clearly perform a vital function in reminding
citizens and the US government of the role of arms in protecting the institutions
of democratic societies. It is to be hoped that, within the emergent American
empire, this body will seek to form effective partnerships and alliances with
armed militia and citizenry everywhere in the world [links]
-- to provide a firm backbone to civil society. Furthermore it is to be hoped
that the NRA will continue to constrain the unrealistic efforts of pacifists
and other groups to undermine a principle -- embodied in the Second Amendment
-- essential to the protection of the delicate balance of democracy in modern
The experience of the NRA and other US gun bodies will be vital
in providing recommendations, in the light of the experience of the US citizenry,
on the quality, specifications and quantity of weaponry to which it is appropriate
for citizens to have access in order to be able to perform their role in ensuring
the security of the State. In consultation with the arms industry, the NRA may
be able to recommend appropriate upgrades to weaponry already held by citizens
in emergent democracies in order that they can perform this function more effectively.
The NRA may also be able to provide valuable advice to the somewhat amateur
gun merchants in countries such as Afghanistan ad Pakistan to ensure that they
upgrade their facilities into fully equipped professional gun shops of which
a truly democratic country could be proud.
From "one man, one vote" to "one
gun, one vote"
Democracy has traditionally been promoted under the slogan "one man, one
vote" -- now presumably to be corrected for its sexist bias. Unfortunately
as elections in most democratic countries are now indicating, the degree of
voter apathy is effectively triggering a democratic deficit. There is widespread
concern that citizens do not sense that their participation in the electoral
process is meaningful. This is notably the case in the USA and the UK -- two
of the world's leading democracies whose governments are highly motivated to
bring democracy to countries whose peoples are deprived of any effective form
The problem may be that a single vote in any political process is felt by citizens
to have little weight attached to it in practice. It is for this reason that
the Second Amendment points to advantages of the American system -- advantages
that seemingly have not been adequately explored to their full potential. In
according the right to bear arms to every citizen, the Constitution potentially
reframes the nature of participation of the citizen in the political system.
"One gun, one vote" is a much more powerful statement in which the
weight of citizen participation reflects the respect in which individual citizens
should be held by their government. Whereas a single vote may be neglected and
set aside -- as with a single signature on a petition -- this is not the case
with a gun that can fire a bullet if the view of the voter in defence of democracy
is not respected. The gun is therefore a much more powerful expression of citizen
involvement in a democratic society -- in which government is designed to be
at the service of the people and a reflection of the opinions of the people.
The US Constitution is unique in reflecting this insight even if it has so far
failed to give it the explicit meaning that it warrants.
The implications of "one gun, one vote" are especially evident at
the bureaucratic interface between the citizen and government. Whereas a citizen
is exposed to every form of abuse in dealing with bureaucrats -- however much
they are presented as "public servants" -- this is not the case for
a citizen bearing arms, as presciently envisioned by the Second Amendment. Whereas
bureaucrats, notably in developing countries, can often only be persuaded to
act through some form of bribery, the provision of the Second Amendment prevents
the transaction from becoming ethically degrading in this way. Each party in
the transaction is then fully aware of the power of the citizen -- which does
not need to be expressed through monetary persuasion. Bureaucratic alacrity
is to be expected in a democratic society in which citizens exercise the right
provided under the Second Amendment and present themselves appropriately armed
to benefit from public services.
From this perspective it is perhaps appropriate to reframe the pattern of political
assassination which is especially characteristic of American democracy. It can
usefully be seen as the expression of a citizen exercising a right provided
under the Second Amendment in defence of the "security of a free State".
Clearly in the case of Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan, the bullet was a concrete
expression of voter disapproval in a democracy.
The recently publicized creative initiative of a bank in the USA, that furnishes
each client opening an account with a rifle of choice [more],
should be emulated when citizens register as voters. There is a need to move
beyond the fuzzy principle of the supposed power of the voter to the concrete
principle of a voter armed in defence, and in exemplification, of that power.
This is an appropriate interpretation of the provision of the Second Amendment
with respect to the "security of a free State".
Clearly it is vital, in order to ensure that emergent democratic societies
do not become paralyzed by bureaucracies, that citizens should be armed in order
to be able to appropriately articulate their power within that democracy. Again
efforts to disarm citizens in such countries would appear to be completely misguided
if a fully operational American-style democracy is to work.
The policy of "one gun, one vote" -- envisaged as an outcome to the
Afghanistan intervention of the US [more]
or to the actions of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe [more]
-- should therefore be welcomed as an opportunity rather than regretted .
It is curious that armed citizens appear to participate more actively
in public demonstrations in pre-democratic societies than is the case in the
USA -- despite the rights accorded to US citizens under the Second Amendment.
Despite the lack of protection of any equivalent to the Second
Amendment, citizens of countries like Afghanistan and Iraq -- or those of some
African countries -- engage in popular demonstrations armed with automatic weapons.
This would appear to reflect an essential principle of American-style democracy
and yet apparently American citizens do not choose to exercise that right when
they engage in democratic protest.
Curiously it is also the case that American citizens do not choose
to bear arms when they attend their place of work, ball games, or other gatherings
of civil society -- other than those specifically associated with the use of
arms. And yet again, it is in pre-democratic societies like Iraq and Afghanistan
-- and some African countries -- that people, including children, openly bear
arms even though they are not part of the government military apparatus. It
is typical of some Islamic countries, especially in rural areas, for civilians
to celebrate weddings and football matches by firing rifles or automatic weapons.
By contrast, in the USA, children may indeed carry automatic weapons
to school, for example, but only concealed in a way that suggest they are ashamed
of them -- rather than in celebration of their precocious uptake of rights embodied
in the US Constitution. It is curious that metal detectors should have been
installed in so many US schools to prevent children from exploring their constitutional
rights. It is even more curious that it is the child soldiers of pre-democratic
societies that anticipate so precociously the transition to genuine respect
for the Second Amendment and full participation of children in democracy --
a shift that is happening so haltingly in the USA itself.
Bearing arms publicly and in democratic gatherings
Given the provisions of the Second Amendment, it is curious that
in an American-style democracy there is apparently little call to bear arms
during a democratic gathering, whether a town hall meeting, a public consultation,
or a meeting of Congress. Bearing weapons would surely be a symbolic affirmation
of the principles enshrined in the Constitution? The situation is even more
serious in that an increasing number of public buildings in the USA actually
have security guards and metal detectors to prevent citizens from exercising
their right as citizens under that amendment when they enter the building --
and notably when they come face to face with their elected representative or
Such double standards were unfortunately manifest in the expressions
of shock in the USA when Yasser Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly on
13 November 1974 wearing a revolver holster at his hip -- the first person to
exemplify the Second Amendment principles within that plenary assembly. In consistent
defence of his principles, it should be noted that Arafat at that time wore
a revolver on all occasions. Whether or not the revolver holster actually contained
a revolver during his UN address, and according to what non-democratic principles
it may have been removed from the holster prior to his address, remains unclear.
It is certainly the case that in many countries, and notably Islamic
countries, it is normal for an adult male to bear arms at most times. Even in
the most sophisticated circles of modern Arab society, wearing a dagger is an
accepted feature of normal dress. It is unfortunate that this is not recognized
as an exemplification of principles enshrined in the Second Amendment as indicative
of a degree of disposition to adopt American-style democracy.
Condemnation of such behaviour is both narrow-minded and historically
short-sighted. It is narrow-minded in that it fails to recognize norms in other
cultures. It is historically short-sighted in that it fails to recognize the
degree to which citizens bore arms publicly through long periods of European
history and, in the case of the USA, in its more recent, culturally formative,
pioneering periods. Bearing arms is clearly on the development pathway to the
full expression of American-style democracy. Any condemnation should more rightly
focus on the fact that it is women who are deprived of the right to bear arms
in such countries -- especially since they are then obliged to disguise themselves
to avoid provoking harassment and possible rape. It was notably in order to
permit women to "uncover themselves" that American women supported
the attack of the USA on the Taliban.
It is curious that the arms which citizens have a constitutional
right to bear in the democratic USA now tend in most cases to be borne secretly
-- in contrast with the pride with which they are borne publicly in pre-democratic
societies. Since guns are a classic penis substitute in Freudian terms, this
behaviour calls for detailed examination -- especially since penis envy is seen
as a characteristic of the anti-gun movement [more].
How is it that weapons are worn publicly in pre-democratic societies where women
are obliged to conceal themselves to some degree, whereas they are concealed
in an American-style democracy where women tend to be overt in the display of
their own charms? Ironically in American-style democracies, the only acceptable
overt display of a penis substitute is the neck tie. Has the proud exercise
of a constitutional right been reduced to such feeble symbolism even in the
In the light of the insights of the Second Amendment there is
clearly scope for exploring the advantages of having participants -- men and
women -- bear arms visibly in democratic assemblies and committee meetings.
Given the ineffectual nature of expression of democratic opinion through voting,
participation in any such democratic gathering with suitable weaponry would
considerably sharpen and focus endless debates in situations which now tend
to fail to converge on any meaningful conclusion. Even if bearing arms is considered
too risky, then participants should at least be encouraged to wear holsters.
The conditions under which bearing arms is forbidden (airplanes, clubs, etc)
should be carefully examined to determine whether holsters could be worn in
celebration of the Second Amendment.
Should peaceful demonstrators be prevented from carrying "violin
Addendum on the occasion of the mass shooting in Aurora (2012)
On 20 July 2012, a mass shooting occurred during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a movie theatre. Such events are not unusual, whether in the USA or elsewhere. Nevertheless, many were "shocked" (Aurora Shooting: Shock, Sadness, A Search For Clues, The Huffington Post, 21 July 2012; 'Batman' massacre: World in shock, Emirates 24/7, 21 July 2012). People claimed to be unable to understand "why" -- as with an equivalent shooting in Norway in 2011, with a greater number of fatalities. There the perpetrator claimed it was "gruesome but necessary", using a slogan from a highly popular online game (World of Warcraft), as separately discussed (Gruesome but Necessary: Global Governance in the 21st Century? Extreme normality as indicator of systemic negligence, 2011). Potentially more "shocking" is why people have been so "shocked" in a period in which hundreds of fatalities are announced on a weekly basis -- as a consequence of the uncontrolled trade in arms, cultivation of a gun culture, and indulgence in a daily diet of increasingly extreme media violence.
Attention is currently being drawn to the fact that in the USA there are more guns in civilian hands than there are people. Neither the number of deaths, nor the frequency of such incidents, are expected to ensure significant change to gun control legislation or to the Second Amendment -- understood as fundamental to American understanding of democracy. As a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, the USA continues to be a primary manufacturer and distributor of weaponry worldwide -- and therefore with a vested interest in the perpetuation of violent conflict. Multilateral regulation through an Arms Trade Treaty has been proposed for trade in conventional weapons -- and was the subject of a UN Conference in July 2012 (Why we need a global arms treaty, Oxfam International).
As noted on that occasion, there are more regulations governing the production and marketing of bananas than there are of weaponry (Scott Stedjan, What's the deal with bananas and the global arms trade? Oxfam-America, 26 June 2012). However the debate made it clear that regulation of arms trade was perceived as a potential infringement of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (Larry Bell, The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty: Are Our 2nd Amendment Rights Part Of The Deal? Forbes, 10 July 2012; Madison Ruppert, U.N. Finalizing Arms Trade Treaty, U.S. Claims Second Amendment will be Protected, theintelhub.com, 7 July 2012).
Put bluntly, the Second Amendment is not negotiable -- even if it eventually enables the death of millions. According to the Wikipedia summary on gun violence in the USA: There were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries there during 2000.The majority of gun-related deaths there are suicides, with 17,352 (55.6%) of the total 31,224 firearm-related deaths in 2007 due to suicide, while 12,632 (40.5%) were homicide deaths. The Second Amendment is vital to the sustainability of American-style democracy and therefore should be expected to be reflected in the constitutions of all genuinely democratic countries, according to that understanding of democracy.
The controversy is especially interesting in terms of understandings of responsibility and how this is enshrined in law, in the light of the following:
- as indicated by the statistics, the Second Amendment effectively ensures that people have access to a device which gives them the right to commit suicide, which is otherwise prohibited. People do not otherwise have the right or the means to commit suicide. This is clearly vital as an "exit strategy" from democracy as currently conceived. Access to that facility is not enabled in many countries.
- the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to armed response to threat. This capacity has recently been reinforced, as a right to self-defence, by the US Senate (T.W. Budig, Controversial self-defense bill passes Senate, HomeTownSource.com, 23 February 2012). Critics have claimed that this is a legal invitation to summary executions instigated by any citizen.
- as the leader of the world's major democracy, the President is now legally empowered to authorize assassinations of individuals in other countries -- when they are perceived by him to be a significant threat to the American people. No democratic oversight is required. As with individual self-defense, the person authorizing the act performs the function of judge and jury in deciding the termination. Collateral damage to civilians, as in the case of drone strikes, may be regretted but is considered acceptable. It may even be treated as a joke (Obama Jokes About Killing Jonas Brothers With Predator Drones, 2012; Did You Hear the Joke About the Predator Drone That Bombed? AlterNet, 2012)
- whilst the President does not carry out assassinations in person, it is his agents -- acting on his behalf -- who perform the task. Since they are acting as agents of the state, they do not have any legal responsibility in the matter and may expect every form of legal impunity.
- such impunity naturally applies to pilots of drones, irrespective of the frequently cited deaths of civilians -- considered as collateral damage, whether regretted or not.
- the degree of impunity extends to some degree, and controversially, to so-called massacres and shootings by military personnel. This is exemplified by the case of the My Lai Massacre resulting in the death of 347 to 504 unarmed civilians. While 26 U.S. soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses for their actions at My Lai, only Second Lieutenant William Calley was convicted -- guilty of killing 22 villagers. He was originally given a life sentence, but only served three and a half years under house arrest. A similar pattern is expected with respect to Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, alleged perpetrator of the killings of 16 Afghan civilians in 2012.
- the erosion of responsibility extends most evidently to the manufacturers of arms and their ammunition. No concern is expressed by them regarding the potential for irresponsible use of their products. Their responsibility cannot be called into question by any legal means -- other than in the case of equipment malfunction. Any responsibility is even more deniable in the case of the employees of those corporations -- as in the case of those who constructed the weapons used in the Aurora shootings. It is appropriate to note however that every effort would seem to be made to avoid detailed indication of the manufacturers of the weapons used in major recent conflicts (Libya, Syria, Congo, etc). Nor is any effort made to trace the origin of the weapons used murderously back to the towns and citizens responsible for their hands-on construction -- as is possible in the case with bananas (cf. Identification of Bullets: human right and human responsibility? 2009). How "shocked" is it appropriate for a community to be if it is directly implicated in arms manufacture and marketing?
- the erosion of responsibility is further diluted in the case of the cultivation of a gun culture, most notably through the omnipresence of media violence (ironically exemplified by the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, shown at the time of the Aurora shooting). How "shocked" is it appropriate to be for a movie industry dependent on such violence (cf. Jake Coyle, Shooting at Colo. theater shocks movie industry, WISHTV.com, 20 Jul 2012)? In the case of the Norwegian shooter, the point has been repeatedly made regarding his use of online games in training for his act (Norway Terrorist Used World Of Warcraft As A Training Simulator, 27 July 2011; Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik Used Modern Warfare 2 as "Training-Simulation", 23 July 2011). Such games -- in which millions engage daily, often for many hours at a time -- are also employed in conventional military training.
This pattern is interesting in that the credibility of the logic hangs on a set of intangibles -- through which people acquire a "right" which "authorizes" them to undertake certain actions in response to "threats" they "perceive", whether or not these are confirmed by others. For these acts they may, or may not, be claimed to be "responsible". As in the case of Robert Bales: When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues - he just snapped (Accused G.I. 'Snapped' Under Strain, Official Says. The New York Times, 15 March 2012). His case bears comparison with that of William Calley. The case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan -- accused in the case of the Fort Hood shooting in 2009, involving the death of 13 and the wounding of 29 -- has yet to go to trial. Might the perpetrator of the Aurora shooting be assumed just to have "snapped" -- thereby absolving him of a degree of responsibility? Curiously, in the case of the Norwegian shooting, Anders Behring Breivik strongly emphasized that he was sane at the time of the act and therefore fully responsible for it.