The Boston bombing suspect will be charged with using Weapons of Mass Destruction; pressure cookers packed with explosives and metal debris. Three people were killed and 300 injured. This event captured the attention of the USA and a good part of the rest of the world, while more destructive events were taking place and being ignored. Why is that? And what is a weapon of mass destruction?
According to good ole’ Wikipedia, a WMD is “a weapon that can kill and bring significant harm to a large number of humans (and other life forms) and/or cause great damage to man-made structures (e.g. buildings), natural structures (e.g. mountains), or the biosphere in general. The scope and application of the term has evolved and been disputed, often signifying more politically than technically.”
Meanwhile, the gun control debate is raging. My question is: Are automatic weapons WMDs? Anders Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo, killing eight people. That was a WMD. Then he proceeded to an island campground and shot dead 69 people, mostly teenagers. The gun, however, was not a WMD. Surely the distinction is, as Wikipedia says, more political than technical.
Since the shooting deaths of 20 children and six teachers at Newtown, CT which reinvigorated the gun control debate in the US, over 3,000 gun deaths have taken place in the USA. More people have died in the past four months from guns than were murdered on 9/11. Apparently deaths are more significant if they are perpetrated by foreigners using explosives than citizens using guns. But it makes no difference to the victims, who are just as dead either way.
The NRA was once a group of mostly hunters and outdoorsy types interested in conservation. In the late 1970s the paranoid fundamentalist wing of the NRA ascended. Harlon Bronson Carter* head of the newly- formed NRA lobbying group (the Institute for Legislative Action) when asked if violent felons, drug addicts and the mentally deranged should be allowed to have access to guns, replied, Yes; that is the “price we pay for freedom.”
Carter was part of the “New Guard” at NRA which detested the emphasis on sport and conservation the Old Guard advocated. A statement in the NRA Fact Book on Firearms Control characterizing the Second Amendment as being “of limited value” as an argument against gun controls particularly panicked the New Guard, who saw their mission as fighting a government determined to disarm them completely. Carter and the Old Guard pulled off a parliamentary coup of the NRA, ousting the sportsman-conservationist leadership.
The New Guard has done its lobbying job well and many Americans think, in contradiction to the former NRA, that the Second Amendment was written to protect the sacred and inalienable right of owning firearms. To some of them it is the most sacred right, more sacred than free speech and freedom of conscience, because basically, if you have the firepower, you can get everything else you want; kind of a Wild West, every man for himself worldview.
Actually, the Second Amendment was intended to induce Virginia to ratify the constitution, which was running into opposition in getting ratified. Slave owners (justifiably) feared slave rebellions, especially in places where slaves outnumbered white folks. They had established armed citizen militias to patrol the plantations to keep order. If the new federal government disarmed them, they thought they would be in mortal danger. They were probably correct about that; there were many slave revolts. The Second Amendment was to reassure Virginia and the other slave states that the north was not planning to end slavery by disarming the slave owners. It worked.
The Second Amendment was never intended to insure that citizens had guns to fight their own government. The founders did not look kindly on such activities. They had just repressed Shay’s Rebellion and discussed their need to keep down “insurrections” at the constitutional convention. A few years after the constitution was ratified, a tax revolt among Pennsylvania farmers (the Whiskey Rebellion) was put down by 13,000 militia led by George Washington himself.
Yes, Thomas Jefferson said there should be a revolution every twenty years. He was chilling in France when he said that, while the other guys were hashing out a constitution in Philadelphia. The framing of the constitution was intense, the disagreements and jockeying for advantage exhausting. One delegate warned the others against of the evils of “Giving way to… jealousies and prejudices, or to partial and transitory interests.” Many of our leaders are still giving way to prejudices and partial and transitory interests as the NRA’s lobbying clout continues to steam-roller over its opposition. Meanwhile over 3,000 people have been killed by guns in the past four months…
*When he was 17 years-old, Carter shot dead a Hispanic youth and was convicted of murder “without malice aforethought.” He was sentenced to three years, but his lawyer appealed and the conviction was overturned. Five years later, Carter joined the US Border Patrol. National Rifle Association, chapter 2: Revolt at Cinncinnati