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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gun Control and the Second Amendment

'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' - Second Amendment, Constitution of the United States of America. (1)

This is the Second Amendment which the pro-gun advocates claim will be infringed if gun-control legislation is passed in the United States.

Gun advocates often quote only a portion of the Second Amendment, '... the right of the people to keep and bear arms ... '.  Yet, before arriving at this one phrase, the Second Amendment has a preamble that establishes the context and intention of the Amendment. The Second Amendment is clear that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is dependent on the necessity for a Militia, and a 'well-regulated' Militia at that.

A militia is a civilian army. At the time the Second Amendment was passed, the United States Army was very small and relied on the use of militia to aid in its defence. The Second Amendment clearly states 'being necessary'.  Today, the USA has one of the world's largest and strongest defence forces as well as a large contingent of civilian militia in the form of the National Guard. The arming of every citizen in the country is not necessary to the security of the nation.

One of the arguments used by pro-gun advocates is that the arming of civilians is necessary in the event of a tyrannical government. Just what is a tyrannical government in their eyes? Listening to many of them, it is a government that would regulate access to guns. So are such advocates also traitors if they declare their intention to overthrow such a 'tyrannical' government? In most countries, that would amount to treason.

Another argument is self-defence. Given that the United States is one of the most violent countries in the  western world (2), it is understandable that many of its citizens live in fear. However, arming civilians is not the answer. It merely means that criminals have a soft-target if they wish to illegally acquire a weapon. They know that they can mug someone or burgle a house and the chances are they will score a free firearm. I would challenge anyone to pull a weapon in time if they are taken by surprise. How many would see a king-hit coming or even have time to pull out a gun in such a situation?

Of course, the old chestnut, 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' is logically weak. People using guns kill people and they tend to kill more people than those using other easily obtainable weapons, such as knives or baseball bats.

As a stark contrast, on the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, a man wielding a knife attacked children at a school in China. He injured 22 children and 1 adult. There were NO fatalities. (3) The outcome would have been very different if he was also armed with an assault rifle as the shooter at Sandy Hook was.

The pro-gun lobby has blamed both violent video games and mentally ill people for the mass murders. Most people who play violent video games will not feel the urge to go on a real-life rampage. Of course there are always those who are disturbed enough to kill, whether they play violent games or not. Nonetheless, blaming violent video games or mentally ill people is an admission that the rifles should be controlled, considering the number of violent video games out there and the levels of mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four people over the age of 18 suffers from a mental disorder, equating to approximately 57.7 million people. (4) Having a mental illness does not mean a person will become a murderer. However, with the prevalence of mental illness, surely the logic is not to arm people who may be inclined to commit violent crime, but instead to provide public funding of mental health programs.

There are even those who claim that the violence is related to prayer being banned in schools. Prayer has not been banned in schools. Public schools are not allowed to organise prayer, however students are free to pray under the 'free exercise' clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1). The Government cannot prohibit individual prayer as long as it is not disrupting other students. If Christian students are not praying in school, then this is not the fault of the government. Additionally, why aren't these people praying for the safety of their children at school instead of inventing fallacious arguments to justify the provision of firearms to mass-murderers?

More guns does not equal less crime. America has more civilian-owned guns than all of the developed countries in the world, and has the highest rate of murder by firearms of any country in the developed world. (5)

Many of the recent mass shootings in the USA have been done by gunmen using assault rifles, such as Aurora, Oregon Shopping Mall and Sandy Hook Elementary School. However, the largest mass shooting, Virginia Tech, was done with two semi-automatic pistols.

While there have been a number of Supreme Court cases which have upheld the rights of individuals to 'bear arms', the US government must regulate the access to these arms given the carnage that has eventuated from access to guns, particularly from people using semi-automatics and assault rifles. No civilian has a need for an assault rifle.

Regulation does not violate the Second Amendment and is, in fact, a requirement of the Second Amendment. Given the level of gun-related murders and assaults, firearm regulation and its enforcement is well overdue.

The Second Amendment was meant to protect the security of the United States of America, not to arm civilians against each other.


1. United States Government Printing Office. 'Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America'.

2. Healy, Kieran (Sociologist at Duke University). 'America is a Violent Country'. 20 July 2012. Accessed 9 January 2013.

3. Bodeen, Christopher. 'China School Attack: Knife-Wielding Man Injures 22 Kids, 1 Adult Outside Primary School'. The Huffington Post, 14 December 2012. Accessed 9 January 2013.

4. United States Government. National Institute of Mental Health. 'The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America'. Accessed 9 January 2013.

5. 'Gun homicides and gun ownership listed by country', The Guardian online, 22 July 2012. Accessed 9 January 2013.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Do-gooder v Do-nothing: Activism v Apathy

The most dangerous people in the world are those too apathetic to speak up against injustice and evil. They take the 'Doris Day' approach to the suffering of others: 'que sera sera' - 'Whatever Will Be Will Be'. They are the 'do-nothings' and they give evil victory through their inaction:

'all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'. 

Why are the apathetic more dangerous than the perpetrator? Evil has manifested itself since time immemorial and while there are people in the world, there will be people who perpetrate it. Evil resides in the heart of humanity, so it important that we as a society ensure that evil is controlled and not given licence. The apathetic give evil licence through their silence, which in turn encourages and empowers evil-doers. Silence is complicity and the do-nothings are complicit in the worst crimes against humanity because of their inaction.

Sometimes it is easy to identify injustice and tyranny, while similarly nefarious activities masquerade in a cloak of decency, 'justified' in the name of democracy, capitalism, or God. It's almost as if the right marketing can legitimise evil, making it harder to identify the perpetrator as evil. Yet no matter how evil is presented, it is still evil and the perpetrator and the do-nothing are guilty of it.

Albert Einstein stated, 'The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it'.

These days people who speak up for the rights of others are labelled as 'do-gooders'. The term being used as an insult to imply that such people live in a Utopian fantasy world. Is it Utopian to expect that everyone is entitled to justice, respect and freedom from tyranny and evil?

The do-nothings criticise do-gooders, believing that social justice threatens their freedom. Yet, what sort of freedom allows injustice and tyranny? The apathetic criticise those who stand up for others, while doing nothing themselves to defend the victims.

The do-nothings take the 'Doris Day' approach to life: 'que sera sera - whatever will be, will be', as if they have no control over what happens in the world. This approach is for the lazy, cowardly or those who don't understand the power that they wield. Do-nothings are driven by fear and hate.  They certainly don't care for others. Leo Buscaglia stated, 'I have a feeling that the opposite of love, is not hate - it's apathy. It's not giving a damn'.

Desmond Tutu once said, 'If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality'.

For centuries 'do-gooders' have campaigned against injustice in its various forms, whether it be human rights abuses, slavery, apartheid, equal rights.

What have the do-nothings achieved, other than to benefit from the actions of others? A prime example of this is those who oppose unionism while benefiting from all that unionists have achieved, such as the end of child labour, and all they continue to achieve, such as pay-rises. Many do-nothings complain about refugees coming to their country while doing nothing to end the issues that have caused the refugee crisis in the first place. In fact, many of those crises have been caused by wars that the do-nothings have tacitly supported through their inaction.

Plato said, 'the heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself'. This has been paraphrased as, 'those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber'. Government must be held accountable, so it is imperative that every member of society be active in the political process. At best, the do-nothings facilitate the rise of inferior politicians; at worst, they facilitate tyranny.

The history of the world resounds with the results of successful activism by 'do-gooders'. For instance:
  • workers rights achieved through left-wing agitation in the 19th and 20th centuries, bringing an end to child labour in many countries and providing workers with the 40 hour week, overtime, leave entitlements, sick-pay.
  • Mahatma Gandhi undertook non-violent civil disobedience to end discrimination and racism in South Africa, British rule in India, tyranny, human rights abuses and poverty. Gandhi opposed mixing religion and politics. He also opposed the British-led partition of India which had resulted in massacres and the displacement of millions of people and worked to help the victims of this violence. India was eventually granted its independence because of the work of Gandhi and others like him. Gandhi has inspired millions of non-violent activists throughout the world.
  • the suffragette movements in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in women being granted the right to vote in a number of nations, including the USA, UK and Australia and inspired women's rights movements decades later, that resulted in equal rights for women.
  • civil rights movements in USA, resulting in equal rights for African-Americans.
  • aboriginal rights in Australia, which resulted in indigenous people being given the right to vote, recognition of land rights and overturning the principle of 'terra nullius' (land without a people). 
  • the trade union movement, Solidarity, in Poland, led by Lech Walesa, resulted in the Gdansk Agreement between striking workers and the government, and eventually to free parliamentary elections that saw Lech Walesa became President of Poland.
  • ending of apartheid in South Africa, resulting in freedom for 20 million indigenous South Africans and the election of prominent anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, as President of South Africa.
  • the U.N. vote for Palestine on 29 November 2012 because of the agitation by millions of human rights activists world-wide, resulting in de facto recognition of Palestine after decades of genocide and ethnic cleansing by Israel.
  • letter-writing campaigns by Amnesty International which have resulted in the release of thousands of political prisoners across the world.
  • the Protestant Reformation movement led by Martin Luther, which ended the 'indulgence' system in which Christians bought their forgiveness of sin by paying the church. It also resulted in the bible being translated into local languages, rather than only in Latin. Essentially, this brought Christianity to the masses, rather than concentrating it in the hands of the Pope and priests who were using it for their own corrupt means.
  • the Magna Carta which was demanded by feudal barons to limit the power of the King. This led to our modern system of Constitutional Law and various Bills of Rights.
  • Jesus, a Palestinian Jew who spoke out against corruption in the temples, giving ordinary people the power to communicate directly with God rather than by paying priests for the privilege. His activism resulted in a religion dedicated to love, peace, forgiveness and caring for the poor and downtrodden.
The world will never be perfect, however this should not stop us from speaking up when we identify exploitation or tyranny in the world. It may be like putting out bush-fires, with some burning while others are being doused, however, it is better that some fires be put out than the whole world burns.