4 Dangerous Beliefs About Guns (3)

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In the previous installments we looked at the myths that the Second Amendment was intended as an authorization for citizens to take up arms against their own government, and that firearm regulation (“gun control”) is concomitant with tyranny. Now we look at a myth that ties these two together.

Dangerous Belief # 3: Armed civilians can defend themselves against a tyrannical government

This is going to be short and sweet, because we already covered this topic sufficiently in previous posts. See, for example, More on the Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban, Part 2.

But to review a crucial passage from that essay (pardon me while I quote myself):

A moment ago, I stated that when a small band of armed citizens defend themselves against armed government forces, the odds are overwhelmingly against them. What I probably should have said instead was that the odds of their success are essentially nonexistent — at least if history is any guide. Because I can’t think of a single unequivocal exception to this rule.

The gunsters, however, are convinced that they can.  There are several examples in particular that they keep lobbing in my direction: Afghanis against Soviets, the South Vietnamese against the North Vietnamese and even (I kid you not) the American Revolution. But none of these qualifies as an instance of a small contingent of armed citizens defending themselves against their government.

In each of these conflicts, the insurgents formed an army and/or were aided by outside forces; in the first two, it was the United States supplying much of the firepower. In the Revolution, the colonists formed their own organized and trained army (not just a band of armed citizens) and they were substantially aided by other armies — most notably, that of France. (Sorry, gun nuts. I know many of you love to believe that the French are anti-American socialist pussies; but the truth is that to a very large extent you owe to them the liberty you so fervently claim to cherish.) In each of these wars, moreover, the defenders were warding off invaders on their home turf — which was not the case in Germany.

And what about the French Revolution? Yes indeed, those brie-nibblers did have their own revolt and it was indeed successful, but it was a multi-pronged social upheaval rather than just a military action. And it wasn’t fought by just a small group of people, but by a large contingent of revolutionaries, including soldiers, against a corrupt aristocracy.  Note also that they were on the offensive rather than the defensive end of the clash.

Perhaps I was a bit too loose in my use of the word army , because in the context of this passage, it could be construed to include militia units. But as the folks at Armed With Reason so deftly point out, militias have been less than spectacularly successful in fighting tyranny, and indeed are even more likely to contribute to the rise of tyranny.

Militias that have been successful in warding off foreign aggression overwhelmingly opposed democratic rule. A few examples are Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cuba, Somalia, Iraq, and southern Lebanon; in none of these countries did the militias promote a free State. Add to this list countries where militias have ripped apart society in tribal states or civil war (such as Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Colombia, and the Palestinian Territories) and we can form an even clearer picture of militias. For a more immediate example, one only has to look at the bewildering array of militias (more than “1,000” according to Robin Wright) currently fighting in Syria to see how little they promote democratic values and how ineffective they tend to be on the battlefield. While there may be an example of victorious militias replacing tyranny with freedom since the industrial age hiding somewhere in an obscure footnote of history, the rule that militias are detrimental to preserving freedom holds.

The piece also includes this section, which I perhaps should have quoted in Part 2:

Yemen is currently the second most heavily armed country in the world (per capita), and it is currently a battlefield between a Western dictatorship and various Jihadist organizations who have no love for a free State. Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries are heavily armed, with what can only be described as tyrannical governments. Iraq before the 2003 US invasion is perhaps the best example. Saddam Hussein falls under any definition of a tyrannical dictator, yet the Iraqi people were very heavily armed with a gun culture mirroring that of the US. How armed a population is appears to have no empirical bearing on how free that society is.

Contrary to what the gun culture likes to proclaim, a militia is also a different thing from just a gaggle of armed civilians. Nor does dressing up in combat garb and drilling with guns make you a militia. And civilians have an even more dismal track record of thwarting tyranny than do militias. Furthermore, as we mentioned in the previous installment, those who believe in an armed citizenry as a remedy against tyranny are likely to be severely delusional individuals who make up their own warped definitions of tyranny. We witnessed this recently in Oregon, where a would-be militia occupied a government building and eventually engaged in a confrontation with authorities that resulted in a senseless death.

The profoundly silly article about Wounded Knee I mentioned before would have you believe that if only the Natives had been armed, they could have fought off the U.S. Army’s attack. Like just about everything else the gun culture believes, this is pure presumption with hardly a shred of evidence to support it. But suppose by some miracle this small band of Native Americans had warded off the assault. What would have prevented the army from returning with more troops and bigger guns? What’s that you say? The Indians could have sent for reinforcements too? Ah, but then you’re no longer talking about a citizen-state conflict. You’re talking about a clash between two armies, like Little Big Horn.

To return to Nazi Germany (and we must always return to Nazi Germany, mustn’t we?), it is an article of faith among the gun culture that if only the Jews had been armed, the holocaust never would have happened (even though “gun control” supposedly doesn’t work). Which is another superb example of how ideological beliefs so often ignore the facts. Because the fact is that the Jews did manage to get their hands on guns. And they did engage in episodes of armed revolt — at least a hundred of them. And how much less dead were they in the end?

One reader who was a gun enthusiast himself responded to my observation that all these acts of defiance failed to alter the fate of German Jews, with some comments that were illuminating in a manner he hadn’t intended:

A citizen alone just has to get to safety. That could be as little, as, for example, holding a couple of border guards at bay. For some reason, liberals can’t seem to get off the straw man that the entire armed forces can’t sumultaneously (sic) come after everybody individually. I think this is a symptom of the left worshiping government as a god; the notion that government is not all-knowing and all-powerful is something the left just can’t seem to grasp.

That’s a whole pasture full of straw men, including the one about the “straw man”. I assume the one about “worshiping the government” is an allusion to my mentioning the inescapable fact that it is armies, and not civilians, that defeat other armies. I’m not sure what significance the references to “liberals” and “the left” are supposed to have, but this reader inadvertently makes a meaningful revelation about “conservatives” — particularly those “conservatives” who put great stock in lead. Namely, that they live in a make-believe world in which they have only to pull a lever (or trigger) and the universe will neatly align all of its cherries for their benefit.

He assumes in this fanciful little scenario that he would be able to make it to the border. He assumes that there would be only a “couple” of guards at the border crossing point and no other security measures in place. He assumes that those two guards would be so involved in playing Tetris or watching porn that he could get the drop on them. He assumes that he would be able to maintain the upper hand, unimpeded by anyone else who might arrive on the scene. And he assumes that once he had crossed over into his new homeland (Canada? Mexico?) the authorities would open their arms to a fanatical American bearing a loaded weapon. But alas, real life is usually not like the movies.

Look, it’s not hard to see how such naive fantasies might take root. Most of us want to feel empowered rather than powerless. We want to believe that we can fend off the wolf at the door, blow up the Death Star, topple Goliath singlehandedly. And guns seem to offer an easy, or at least readily feasible means to achieve this.

But they are not what they seem. Behind the screen of gunsmoke, the collective recoil is much greater than people realize. In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that on balance, guns do far more harm than good. As we shall see in Part 4.

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Silly Scalia Stories: the Obama Exception in Action

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After Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly on February 13, the American Left became giddy at the prospect of having an opportunity to see a measure of sanity restored to the Supreme Court — they were making the rather naive assumption that President Obama actually will have a chance to appoint a replacement.

Many of us feel that if you don’t have anything good to say about the recently departed, you probably shouldn’t say anything at all. And while one well might have nothing but contempt for the man’s actions on the bench, he surely must have had endearing qualities as a human being; indeed, colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is about as far removed from him ideologically as humanly possible, was effusive in her praise, and declared that she and the deceased were “best buddies”. And hey, the guy even loved opera, so how bad could he be?

That said, it’s very difficult to remain silent, however, when you see some of the rampant nonsense that has followed his demise. The late judge’s fans went overboard in their accolades, lauding him as a legal superhero. Perhaps the most commonly reiterated motif was that he was a champion of the Constitution. Well, one certainly should hope so, given his job description. But in truth, his championing of the Constitution wasn’t exactly consistent.

When it suited his ideological purposes, he was quite willing to use the Constitution as wrapping paper for gifts to his cohorts. He was instrumental, for instance, in rewriting the Second Amendment to the specifications of the gun lobby. Coincidentally, he belonged to an arcane “hunting society” whose motto translated into English means, I kid you not, “honoring God by honoring his creatures”. Let’s hope we’re not among the creatures they choose to honor.

Lest we forget, he was also a key player in Bush vs. Gore, which twisted the Constitution into a Moebius strip in order to hand the presidency to a man with whom some of the justices had ideological and personal ties. Coincidentally, Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan while Bush’s father was vice president, and his son worked for Theodore Olson, lead counsel for Bush in his suit.

A few years ago, he was questioned about whether he had any remorse about the ruling, and he remained defiantly unapologetic, even inserting the baldfaced lie that the margin was 7-2 rather than 5-4, and that it “wasn’t even close”. For good measure he even displayed his much-praised sophistication and elegance by adding the tags “get over it” and “so there”.

Unfortunately, the excessive praise heaped upon Justice Scalia isn’t the only way in which right-wing fanatics have played loose with the facts in the aftermath of his death. They have used the event, as they use virtually any other event, as an occasion to fire a few broadsides against President Obama. In so doing, they have provided even more illustrations of what we could call The Obama Exception: i.e., the unswerving, obsessive conviction that the current president should be judged by a radically different set of criteria than any other mortal — that anything involving him, however obliquely, must necessarily be a thousand times worse than it would be if it involved anyone else.

Many wingers, for instance, are still doing their damnedest to make a “scandal” of the fact that terrorists killed four people in Benghazi three years ago. Yet many of them are among the people who hailed George W. Bush as a hero after terrorists killed 3000 civilians on American soil. There are quite a few of them whom you’d never convince, no matter how much documentation you provide, that the president is an American citizen; they just know he can’t possibly be, since his father was from Kenya. Yet many of them would have no problem with throwing their support behind red-blooded American Ted Cruz, who was actually born in Canada. They built a three-ring media circus around Obama’s “latte salute” without even mentioning George W.’s canine salute.

And so we have several popular narratives built upon the death of Antonin Scalia that illustrate Obama Derangement Syndrome at its looniest and nastiest. To wit:

1. President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral was unprecedented

There is no established protocol for whether a sitting president should attend the funeral of a Supreme Court justice. But it’s an outright lie that (as many right-wingers proclaim) this has never happened before. Only one sitting justice has died in the past 60 years; but of the past 10 current or former justices who have died, the sitting president attended the funeral in only 4 cases.

2. President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral was disrespectful

The president paid his respects by sending Vice President Biden to the funeral, and by himself attending the wake and a memorial service at the Supreme Court. Considering what a high-profile distraction his presence would have been at the funeral, the president’s decision not to attend was perhaps the most respectful thing he could have done. In any case, it is quite clear that he is as usual the target, rather than the perpetrator of disrespect — particularly since the right-wing rumor mill insisted that he didn’t go to the funeral because he was busy golfing.

3. There’s nothing unusual about blocking the appointment of a successor

Those poor “conservatives” just can’t seem to keep it straight about what is and what is not unprecedented. Previously, the longest time the ninth seat on the high court has gone unfilled after a death has been 174 days (the longest is 391 days for all vacancies). At Scalia’s death, Obama had some 340 days left in his term; and the GOP has hinted it is willing to extend the record at least an additional 730 days if another Democrat is elected in November. Additionally, it’s important to note that during those previous vacancies, the process of nominating and deliberating on justices proceeded. Congressional Republicans now have declared that they will not even consider a presidential appointment until one of their guys is in the White House. And this is something that truly is unprecedented.

4. Blocking the appointment of a successor would give the voters more of a voice

For this one we can thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who offered this side-splitting excuse for the obstructionism:

The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.

But which Mitch is which? Presumably, it was the evil twin of this Mitch McConnell who voted (along with all of his fellow Republicans) to confirm a nominee in the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and, only a few short years ago during the reign of George W. pontificated that

Any President’s judicial nominees should receive careful consideration.  But after that debate, they deserve a simple up-or-down vote. . . . It’s time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent.  The stakes are high . . . . The Constitution of the United States is at stake.  Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges.

Yet now, thanks to the all-powerful Obama Exception, the voters deserve their voices to be heard. Mitch, Mitch. Barack Obama won two elections by very convincing margins. He is the first president since Eisenhower to win twice with a majority of the popular vote. How much louder do those voices need to be before you can hear them too? Do you really believe that President Hillary or President Bernie will appoint someone more to your liking? Or do you believe that President Donald will appoint someone who speaks with the voice of the American people?

5. Democrats who object to the stonewalling are being hypocritical

Over at the ever-entertaining National Review, Jonah Goldberg has been doing what he does best: making an utter ass of himself. This includes some rather asinine “thoughts” on Scalia and how the GOP must “stand firm” on having him replaced any time soon. He has also stated that:

Democrats have been blowing up the appointment process piecemeal since they turned Judge Robert Bork’s last name into a verb back in 1987.

He’s in good, or at least plentiful company here, as other wingnut ideologues have also suggested that it’s hypocritical for Democrats to complain about infantile Republican behavior today, when Democrats torpedoed the Bork nomination 3 decades ago. Media Matters pegs this as a specimen of apples and oranges, though it’s really more like apples and iguanas. As noted above, there is a vast difference between rejecting a nominee and refusing to even deliberate on a nominee, any nominee, put forth by a particular president. As for Robert Bork, he was an exceptionally godawful candidate even by Reaganesque standards (thus Goldberg’s starry-eyed praise for him). Even so, it took the Democratic-controlled Senate 109 days to reject him. (The seat was ultimately filled by Justice Kennedy, who was confirmed in 65 days.)

6. The nomination “controversy”

Why exactly should it be considered controversial? The president nominates, and the Senate votes on the nomination. Period. So there. Get over it. Even Mitch McConnell’s evil twin acknowledged as much, once upon a time.

Ah, but there’s always the Obama Exception, isn’t there?  It provides all the justification they need to indulge in frothy-mouthed, faux patriotic eliminationism at the expense of the American public. It’s not exactly a controversy. But it is an outrage and a national disgrace.