Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wyatt Earp and America's Gun Issue

Legend has it that when Wyatt Earp took over as town marshall in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 one of the first things he did was begin enforcing a city ordinance that carrying guns was not allowed within the city limits.

You see, Tombstone, one of the wildest Western towns in the (largely fictitious) American West, was so wild that decent people couldn’t show their faces in town. The gunslingers ruled the day, and that was something Earp simply couldn’t abide. He and his brothers took back the town and shot down the few dastardly villains - in particular Ike Clanton and Billy McLaury - who opposed them. 

When Earp began enforcing Tombstone’s ordinance about carrying firearms, no one cited the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, as we so often do today. Perhaps that was because they were aware that in United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court ruled that, "The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence" and limited the applicability of the Second Amendment to the federal government. When the Second Amendment states 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,” it isn’t giving everyone free right to own and carry the weapon of their choice, it was referring to the militia system that existed in America at the time. 

In United States v. Miller (1939), the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” So the language here is clear, and only the massive contributions from the gun manufacturing lobby have warped the original intent of the Second Amendment to mean what it seems to today, which is that anyone can carry a semi-automatic assault rifle if they so choose. That is so far from the intent of the law as to be unrecognizable as a derivative.

Warping ahead to modern America, states like Texas have taken things one step further, not only making it legal to own just about anything short of a nuclear bomb, but also to openly carry those weapons. The streets of Texas are now beginning to have the ambiance of Tombstone, Arizona before the Earps arrived to stop the insanity. The natural progression of the “open carry law” was the disgusting display in Dallas last week, where a peaceful march in protest of police shooting seemingly-innocent black men turned into an opportunity for a military veteran with a weapons cache to declare war on white policemen who were there to keep the peace. When the shooting finally stopped, five police officers lay dead, while seven others were wounded.

This event, taken alone, can be written off as the work of an extremist who can be hated and held up as a modern day Clanton or McLaury. He can be seen as an abomination and vilified for his horrific act.

But is that really fair? Does that take in the bigger picture? Let’s take a moment to look at some facts dispassionately and from a Zen perspective before we decide what to make of the latest “lone gunman” to make headlines in Dallas.

America, as a nation, has decided that guns are good. In fact, the more the better. Americans want to shoot for sport, they want to feel that they can defend their property, and they want to be sure they can legally carry the guns that criminals carry illegally. Americans want hunting rifles, hand guns and semi-automatic assault weapons.

As a direct result of the American obsession with guns - and the military conflicts (public and secret) that the American government carries out around the world - gun manufacturers represent one of the most powerful lobbies in government. As such, there is little chance that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution will ever translate into laws preventing the abuse/perversion of said interpretation.

Due to the fact that just about anyone is liable to be carrying a gun around with them now, police officers are more on alert than ever, and some of those officers open fire on innocent civilians who do not appear to be any direct threat to them or the laws they are tasked with enforcing. 

In one recent incident, a police officer shot and killed a man who was in his car with his family. The officer asked the man to show his identification, and when the man reached for his ID the officer shot him because he thought the man might have been reaching for a gun.

In another recent incident, two officers confronted a man who was selling CDs in front of a convenience store. Video of the event shows the two officers essentially sitting on the man, who could not move, and then shooting him repeatedly because they thought he was reaching for a gun.

There are also many incidents each year in America where many innocent people are killed, such as in the Orlando, Florida night club shooting earlier this year, in which 49 people were murdered by a lone gunman.

A recent New York Times article breaks down an important statistic comparing gun crime in America to that of other industrial societies. Broken down into 24-hour periods and adjusting for population difference, the United States has more than five times the number of gun homicides as the next country on the list.

As a whole, America is not overly concerned about this situation. Yes, there are always the fringe protestors, but no one is putting real pressure on lawmakers to address this situation, nor is it likely that lawmakers could have much of an impact. After all, documentary after documentary has proven that existing laws are easily circumvented either covertly through the black market or openly at gun shows. Show a gun dealer the cash, you can probably take your pick of their stock without a background check or even a valid ID.

In all things, money rules the day. Money makes sure that the people who could most easily fix this problem keep turning blind eyes. Money makes sure that pseudo-news reports keep people afraid of the government coming for their guns, assuring that they keep buying more, assuring that the money is there for the gun lobbyists to make sure the government continues to roast in a disinterested glaze as they cash those checks.

In many ways American society has evolved tremendously since those gunslinging days of the wild, wild West. In this one way, however, de-evolution seems to be taking place, and this time there is no Wyatt Earp riding in to save the day.

The question is, how much longer will we tolerate this? We The People, not the government, not the police . . .US. 

Until we make gun violence the pariah on society that smoking became in the late 20th century, we are going to continue to have a hard time distinguishing between the evening news and the latest Quentin Tarantino film.


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