29 June 2010


HANDGUNS. In a 5-4 decision the US Supreme Court yesterday held that an individual's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws (thereby nullifying handgun control laws in Chicago, Washington, DC, and elsewhere).

As always in a discussion of gun control, I am torn. On the one hand, I grew up in the hunting culture of the northern prairie. As a teenager I took hunters safety classes, and further learned firearm discipline in the military. I own a .45 caliber semi-auto pistol and a .22 caliber semi-auto rifle. I also possess a Montana concealed-carry permit.

On the other hand, it is an undeniable reality that the gun culture of a rural community is a whole different animal from the gun culture of crime-ridden US cities. There is good reason why state and municipal governments have taken it upon themselves to pass ordinances regulating the sale of assault rifles and handguns. One reason is that over the years, access to these weapons by gang members and organized crime has often left the police outgunned, forcing law enforcement to enter into an ever-escalating and expensive arms race. Another reason is that within the home, domestic violence may take on a fatal dimension -- easy access to a weapon coupled with the heat of anger are a deadly combination. A third reason is that carrying a handgun for self-defense too often places one in greater danger, since many assailants are able to disarm their victims. Now you're faced with a criminal pointing your own gun at you.

Bottom line, firearms cause 60,000 deaths and injuries each year. Evidence indicates that Chicago's ban on handguns has save hundreds of lives since it was enacted in 1983. My own position is that states and cities should be free to pass and enforce their own firearm laws, based on their own unique situations. I have no qualms about gun registration, any more than I do about car registration. The phrase "gun control" does not carry the apocalyptic connotations for me, that it seems to do for many members of the NRA. Flip side? Ive seen so much death and disfigurement from firearms -- in Vietnam and as a civilian ambulance driver -- that I can count on one hand the number of people besides myself whom I trust with a loaded weapon. My personal short list does not even include most police officers.

The Second Amendment states simply that "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." The dissenting Justices, drawing on historical evidence, wrote "The reasons that motivated the framers to protect the ability of militiamen to keep muskets available for military use when our nation was in its infancy ... have only a limited bearing on the question that confronts the homeowner in a crime-infested metropolis today." Further, "firearms have a fundamentally ambivalent relationship to liberty." Which is precisely why convicted felons and people who suffer from mental illness may not own firearms, and also why firearms are not allowed in schools and government buildings.

A case could be made that the 18th century Militia referred to in the Second Amendment has long since been formalized into state National Guard units, and that the Second Amendment has decreasing relevance to individuals. Personally, I'm not prepared to concede that point just yet, since it would cede all control of firearms to government. But it is an interesting argument.

Here is an array of responses to the Supreme Court decision for your consideration.

INVISIBILITY. No, this is not science fiction, or a Harry Potter reference. Here is a provocative discussion of the development of a working invisibility cloak. Of all the powers available to superheroes, invisibility and flying (without an airplane) have always been the most intriguing to me. Just think of the possiblities, and see if you aren't harboring a secret grin.

NATIONAL CHARACTER. Finally, here is Justin E.H. Smith's thoughtful exploration into the nature and origins of how we come to define our identities as members of a nation. Prepare to question your assumptions in a most thought-provoking manner. The story is not as simple as being born in a certain place. As always, click on any image to enlarge for best visibility. Happy reading.

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