Posted by: gdevi | December 17, 2012

Obituary 2

I don’t know about you, but I cannot stop thinking of the children who died in Connecticut. Grades are due tomorrow and all day yesterday and today I was grading, but my mind was constantly thinking of those children who are no more. I just posted all the grades half an hour ago, made some fried rice for my daughter, and I wanted to think through this absolute horror that I feel in the pit of my stomach. I cannot think of anything more horrible that I have heard in my 46 years, really. And I am from India where children die every day of hunger and diseases that can easily be cured if anyone cared. I have asked myself why the death of these children distress me so much. I am not a person who believes in abstractions such as “evil” etc. I am distressed the way I am, I think, because these deaths remind me of other premeditated hate crimes, like genocide and the various holocausts of any group of people.  I think the man who killed these children and these teachers chose to kill them very clearly and very lucidly with absolute hatred for them. I find the mystification of this crime in terms of mental illness and metaphysical evil etc rather disingenuous and disruptive to the memory of these dead children and their teachers.  In other words, I am very distressed and frustrated when I hear the television folks and newspapers etc talk about how the man who killed these children was mentally unstable and ill etc. I am very skeptical of this medical rationalizations of violent crimes. I have worked with severely mentally ill people, and with supervision and medication, mentally ill people are not murderers or violent people at all.  I used to work at a residential program for cognitively and psychiatrically disabled adults in Grand Forks, ND, and one day one of my clients who was severely schizophrenic walked up to me with a knife in her hand. We used to keep all the knives carefully under lock and key and I think she snatched one when I was making dinner for them in the kitchen and I had the knife out to cut vegetables etc. She said to me, Gayatri, I am going to cut off your neck. I didn’t know what to say, so I said the first thing that came to my mind.  I looked at her and asked her, “But, S., who is going to give you your medication tonight if you cut off my neck?” She said, Oh. She put the knife down and laughed like a little barking puppy and walked away. What I mean to say is that real mental illness is not a choice. People who are mentally, psychiatrically ill, are really ill. The man who killed these children might have suffered from social anxiety etc, but that does not automatically and by default turn one into a violent murderer. That is a distinct, clear and lucid choice made by this man, living in a context with many other factors, including the easy availability of guns.  Autistic people and those with Asperger’s syndrome etc do not routinely go around killing small children  with assault weapons every day.  I find it really insulting to people who are really suffering from mental illness to have this kind of gut reaction discourse disseminated across the media about the latent criminal propensity of the mentally ill. It is a bunch of hogwash.

I am also worried that this manufacturing  of medical rationalization and metaphysical mystification of violent hate crimes will serve outfits like NRA to get away with their extremely loose, dangerous and indulgent ideology of weaponry.  Just one day after the children were killed in Connecticut, a man in Chicago was arrested for having claimed that he would shoot up an entire elementary school. Police found 47 guns and 100, 000 dollars worth of ammunition in the man’s house. Who needs 47 guns? Who among us needs 47 guns? For what? I was just reading the FBI database on gun purchases in our country, and apparently this year the NICS system has received 16, 808, 538 applications for gun purchase. Really? These are not the army, the military, or the national guard applying for gun purchase. These are people just like you and I. This is the type of weapon horde one associates with an army going to some sort of war or invasion. Which civilian needs these many guns in our country? And why? This number is just the “legal” applications FBI has received for their NICS background check. The actual number of illegal street sales of guns can never be known. Why do we need these many guns?  It is irresponsible for anti-guncontrol groups to say that those who engage in mass gun violence are all mentally ill, and that guns per se have nothing to do with the gun violence. The easy availability of guns has everything to do with gun violence. We have the highest gun ownership of any country in the world; with less than 5% of the world population, we are home to 35-50% of civilian owned guns in the world. That is, about 88 guns per 100 people.  60% of all of our homicides are by guns. Shocking.

I am very curious to find out what, if any, reform the government would put into place towards gun control. What a sad, sad thing to have happened. I have not felt this hopeless ever in my life before.

Dec. 18th.

I have been reading up on what constitutional scholars say about the second amendment, or what is known in every nook and corner of the country as “the right to bear arms.” (I should say that local discussions of guncontrol in the newspapers and television sort of flatline out with this kneejerk and fantastical suggestion that the best way to prevent school shooting is to arm teachers with guns in the classroom. I can see the job description for a kindergarten teacher: “Must be state certified by the Board of Education to teach language arts, math, science, art, health, music and physical education; must construct and implement lesson plans as specified by the Board of Education; must use a variety of instructional strategies such as discussion, lecture, enquiry, discovery etc; must collect and maintain records of student growth, assessment and progress reports; must communicate student growth to parents and the school board; must establish standards of student conduct in the classroom; must be able to hit a moving or stationary target with a gun precisely within 100 metres inside or outside the classroom.” What an idiotic suggestion, really. Unbelievable.)

This is what the constitutional scholars say about the second amendment. First, here is the exact wording of the second amendment of our constitution: “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 operative words here that form a semantic field of sorts across several constitutional amendments are the words “well regulated,” “militia,” “security,” “free state,” “the people,” “to keep and bear arms,” and the passive clause “shall not be infringed.”

A quick look at this quirky syntax should immediately clue us in to the obvious competition between two entities in this amendment. On the one hand, we have “the security of a free state.” On the other hand, we have “the right of the people.” To us, in the twenty-first century, the main challenge is to interpret what the eighteenth century framers meant by this competing enumeration of “security” and “rights.” A second look at the quirky syntax should also tell us that to the framers of this amendment, these two competing interests were equally important and were organically related in a tenuous balance of control and power. The “role” of “the militia,” in the eighteenth century was to protect the “security of the free state.” The syntax makes its clear that the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” is towards this end. In other words, the second amendment is not about hunting deer in the game lands or target practice in the local rifle range; it is to protect the “security of the free state.” And it is certainly not about gun collecting or shooting up elementary schools.

Why did the eighteenth century framers of the constitution envision a “militia” to protect the “free state”?  Wasn’t there a standing army? What did the framers of the constitution mean by “the militia”? What did they mean by “the people”? Because the constitution makes a clear distinction between two related (but for us, in the twentieth century, rather synonymous) but distinctly used terms — “people,” and “persons.” The constitution uses “the people” consistently for “the collective”; “”persons” is used for “individual personhood.” These usages are consistent across the many texts of the Constitution. Constitutional scholars point out an analogy between the concept of “trial by jury” and the second amendment’s “militia” clause. What is a jury? Why do we need a jury, when we have judges, prosecutors and lawyers? The jury is a ‘local people’s body” summoned by the government, but is “independent” of the government and is “outside” of the government, and represents “the people” collectively. Its primary purpose is to check the possibility of abuse of power by the government. It is actually a beautiful and original concept in a pragmatic sense. The “militia,” likewise, in the eighteenth century, were “the collective people,” the militia were all able-bodied “voters” in the eighteenth century (not women, not African Americans in the 18th century) that were summoned by the government to check the abuse of power by the standing army of the government, should the government turn against its own “people.” The “militia” were not gun clubs. They embodied the collective political will of “the people.” In the eighteenth century, of course, the term “the people,” was narrowly defined. It did not include everyone. Only those who had the right to vote. Militias in the eighteenth century had nothing to do with keeping and bearing arms for hunting or sports. It had everything to do with standing armies, troop quartering, martial law and the security of the “collective people,” should the government turn against its people. In a most critical sense, the concept of the militia rose out of the nascent republic’s colonial status under an imperial government, and the clear pattern of abuse of power by a “government.”

What is the meaning and importance of the phrase “well regulated”? Can a collective of people with guns who come together against the government be a militia, in the eighteenth century sense of the term? No. They are just a gun club. Just as a group of 12 people who come together to pronounce judgement on a court case does not make a jury. The militias were summoned by the government, but they were outside of the government, they were not part of the government and they contained the political will of the collective body of the people. This is why, constitutionally, former Attorney General Janet Reno was justified in ordering the ATF to storm the Waco compound where David Koresh had gathered arms against the government in his own style of a militia. David Koresh did not represent the collective political will of “the people” and he was not licensed to gather himself into a militia. The National Guard, while made under the Militia Act is not really a militia in the eighteenth century sense of the term either. The eighteenth century militia, while summoned by the government, was meant to check the abuse of power by the government and its standing army. Our National Guard acts under the government. The various militias that pop up around the country do not really meet the second amendment definition of a militia either. They are just gun clubs with their own agendas. They are not summoned by the government and outside of the government.  Our government can outlaw them any time.

The fact of the matter is that while our judicial system has survived intact from the eighteenth century, our national defense system has not.  The social and political system under which the militias were recognized as a para-political entity in the eighteenth century does not exist in the America of twentieth and twenty first centuries. We have no militias. We have only gun clubs. NRA is just a gun club. Its only constitutional validity is the phrase “to keep” arms; not even “to bear arms.” To bear arms in the eighteenth century sense is a right of the militia; it is an act of collective political will against an abuse of power by the government. Americans can “keep arms” under the second amendment, but we are loosely, very very loosely interpreting the second amendment if we say that the second amendment gives us the right to keep arms, collect arms, and bear arms etc for hunting or gun shows etc. The Second Amendment says nothing about any of these things. It is a misuse of the Constitution to claim such “rights.”

Here are some constitutional scholars and constitutional historians who have written extensively on the second amendment from both sides of the debate: Sanford Levinson, Stephen Halbrook, Saul Cornell, David Williams. Very very interesting scholars. I look forward to reading more of their work over the break.

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