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David Beem Headshot

The Dignity of the Second Amendment

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My last gun control blog stirred up quite a kerfuffle on my Facebook wall and in the comments section on The Huffington Post. It came to a head when I chose to share my opinion that gun owners "share a portion of responsibility for all gun crime." I said, "You cannot have gun violence without guns."

Believe it or not, it is possible to acknowledge that these are factually true statements while at the same time acknowledging that it is beyond one's personal power to change the world.

Yes, guns and gun violence will still be there if you choose not to buy a gun, but it is also true to say we wouldn't be in this situation if everyone rejected violence and guns. No, I'm not speaking about a "stupid liberal utopia." These are reasonable philosophical arguments that aren't intended to judge or demean. After all, we all buy cars and we all share responsibility for the condition of the ozone layer. Can we still sleep at night? Sure. As grownups, we concede that we're not going to wean ourselves off fossil fuels overnight. Neither will world peace come just because a few of us don't buy weapons.

When it comes to guns, many gun owners become frighteningly hostile when a single word is brought against their ideas about the Second Amendment. Even when it comes from the likes of me. And why? I'm not in charge of public policy. I'm a complete nobody who happens to have an opinion, researched the topic and presented relevant data with links for people to explore and form their own ideas.

Commenters on The Huffington Post have called me a coward, among other insults, and though, to date, I've not yet been overtly threatened, I can see how quickly it could come to that. I've read many blogs from public officials who are threatened, bullied and intimidated -- now I have some firsthand experience also. But what other topic could I write about to elicit such a response?

I'm not perfect. I lost my temper with perfectly reasonable people; I knew it would be like this to write a blog on gun control. I care deeply, you care deeply. What some don't seem to grasp though is, when you're armed, and arguing with heated rhetoric, it's easy to misinterpret a threatening posture. And this, in a nutshell is the problem with the gun advocates I read about in the news and those sorry folks like Wayne LaPierre and others speaking on behalf of the NRA. They fail to recognize the dignity of the Second Amendment, and how every gun owner is, in a very real way, an ambassador for the right to bear arms.

"I'm polishing my gun," was a joke a former beloved professor left on my wall. I didn't think it was funny. In fact, my first reaction was that perhaps he was mentally imbalanced. The remark can literally be construed as a threat. He explained it was a joke, and I accepted that, but it underscores a large problem in how the shared responsibility of the Second Amendment is thought of in our country.

The Second Amendment asks everyone who lives here to trust those who are armed to be lawful with their weapons. Some would argue it promotes mistrust and we're all preparing for trench warfare, but I rather like to think of it in the positive abstract: Every gun owner is an ambassador for gun rights.

Nice, but that's a lot to ask. A single trip to YouTube will uncover just how irresponsible many folks who no doubt consider themselves "good guys with guns" are. (Try searching "rednecks with guns.")

One intelligent Facebook friend told me quite earnestly that he never understood why folks like me were mistrusting of law abiding citizens with guns. As if Adam Lanza's mother wasn't at one time also responsible. But, fair enough. Let me explain my thought process on the challenges of trusting the law abiding folks.

How well do I know you? Maybe not at all. Let's say I kind of know you. Let's say I kind of know you, and you're armed. Let's say you're armed and you're mad. And now you're armed, mad, and you're up in my face yelling about your rights. And now you're armed, mad, up in my face and yelling about your rights, and demanding I trust you with a machine gun because you might need it to fight looters after a hurricane, or you're a single mother who wants to use it to defend against home invasion. Because, as you say, you're "responsible." No doubt you still think you're responsible and reasonable and all that even after that display of hysteria.

Maybe this doesn't describe you at all, but these are the voices of many who defend the Second Amendment. So, while you think I should casually trust you, and perhaps privately believe so many liberals are dense for "not getting it," all I see on the news are examples that somewhere, some "responsible" gun owner did something wrong. A gun slipped out of the "responsible" loop and into the irresponsible loop. Somewhere, someone "responsible" did something decidedly not responsible.

The Second Amendment's implicit request for societal trust is a really tall order -- even if your spokespeople weren't displaying such a conscience-shocking lack of sensitivity to what a delicate, precious gift we've been given: The right to bear arms. The right to defend ourselves. In fact, many "gun ambassadors" trot around like angry assholes with complete disregard for the dignity of the Second Amendment. They say things like, "Better not fuck with me or I'm going to start killing people if gun legislation goes one inch further!" Face it: it's obnoxious. And what do the grownups do with obnoxious children who can't manage their privileges? Most will take them away. But, you know what? That's not what your concerned American brothers and sisters are asking to be done. They're calling for reasonable limits. Think of it like two hours of TV a day instead of four.

Of course, the pessimist in me expects gun control advocates will fail, and that's why I'm writing. The gun lobby is so powerful and its specious arguments are fooling too many. "New laws won't change a damn thing" can just as easily be transferred to Wayne LaPierre's ideas on fixing the mental health system: "inadequate and won't fix a damn thing." That's not really an argument.

There's one more thing I need to speak my mind about.

There's a prevailing sense from many that the "weak" and "cowardly" members of society who choose to reject gun ownership as a means of self-defense should be grateful to concealed weapons carriers. (Again, to be clear: I'm very grateful for the gun on a law enforcement officer's hip. I don't like vigilantes.) The idea that I'm supposed to be grateful to the roosters strutting around like secret super heroes in our midst is offensive. Why? Because that person is a potential menace, whose expression of his/her rights is rubbing up against mine -- and it burns. Many of these folks will end up killing someone in the event they're ever given the chance to use their weapon in self-defense. Some will shoot themselves by accident. Others will shoot someone they love -- even though they're trying to help. Good intentions won't bring them back to life. Some are delusional and fancy themselves as ninjas, and then the heart rate elevates, the hands start shaking and maybe they shoot their wife by accident. Or a child, because, after all, he's in a damned school with a gun because a bunch of people thought that sounded smart.

Can a cop shoot and miss? Sure. Happens every day. Are cops incorruptible? Of course not -- but they're the cops. They're the law. That's how civilization works. This ain't the wild west folks.

Yes, you have the right to defend yourself and your family. But we have laws in civilized societies. We expect our police to uphold them as the ones who are legally accountable in a way private citizens aren't trained for. Ask George Zimmerman about how well the Stand your Ground Law works. Ask him about accountability for the private citizen who thinks he's doing the right thing. I'm not here to argue the merit of his actions, only point out how wishing for a utopia where citizens can gun down other citizens and not have their lives ruined is as unrealistic as wishing for a utopia without guns.

I make no secret of disliking guns. But your gun is your gun. Period. I'm not trying to take it away from you. I'm not trying to tear down the Second Amendment. Period. I'm not expressing my ingratitude to law enforcement officials and our armed service men and women who use weapons on my behalf, die on my behalf, or any of the other specious, slanderous things that have been thrown at me for having the audacity to speak my conscience and sign my name to it in what one person calls "cowardice."

Mark my words: A society who passes the buck on so grave a responsibility as the Second Amendment is one that is in a race for the bottom of the bloodbath. We can make reasonable legislation. We can also look at improving mental health in this country. We can do a lot of things if we can just stop yelling at each other and put our minds to it.