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A dangerous notion of freedom

Amended freedoms ... a man studies shotguns at the NRA annual convention in St Louis, Missouri, last week.

Amended freedoms ... a man studies shotguns at the NRA annual convention in St Louis, Missouri, last week. Photo: AFP/Whitney Curtis

The National Rifle Association held its annual conference in St Louis, Missouri, last weekend. Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney was a guest speaker.

The lectern at which he stood with his wife, Ann, was embellished with the slogan “Celebration of American Values” over a large photograph of an eagle. Here was a confluence of messages and symbolism both stridently defiant and subliminally insidious.

Romney may well be the next president of the United States. Although he has not been officially cast as his party's contender for the most powerful job on the planet, it is all but decided, with rival Rick Santorum pulling out of the race. Santorum, however, was also there, as was former UN ambassador John Bolton.

Where Romney appears, as indeed it does with any political campaigner, is where that person believes the power resides to deliver them votes. Hence Romney's bended knees in St Louis. Some gun-owners apparently don't think he is gung-ho enough, but anyone is better than a Democrat. Hence Romney's exhortation: “The right to bear arms is so plainly stated, so unambiguous, that Liberals have a hard time challenging it directly.”

It was, he said, an “attack on freedom” by the administration in trying to restrict gun-owners' rights.

Poor freedom, it is attacked every which way in the land of liberty. And, as everyone knows, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, with a Glock in your hand, under your bed, in the kitchen cabinet, in your car and under your hoodie.

Just so the gun-toting folk of the NRA didn't feel too lonely at the convention, Newt Gingrich, also running for the Republican nomination but far behind Romney, also spoke to them. Gingrich told them what they wanted to hear. They loved it. How could they not? They were told their reason for being emanated from a higher source. It was sublime theatrical tour de force, and tripe.

Gingrich exclaimed: “The right to bear arms comes from our creator, not our government. A Gingrich presidency will submit to the UN a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right to every person on the planet.

“We don't need to go across the planet trying to impose American values, but we do need to go across the planet spreading human values. The Second Amendment is a right for all mankind.”

I'll type that again: “The Second Amendment is a right for all mankind.” How generous. The people of Iraq, Grenada and El Salvador will be so pleased.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution came to life in December 1791, eight years after the end of the war with the United Kingdom, during which the United States was born. These were revolutionary times. The amendment states: “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.” Thus Gingrich conflated a law from more than 200 years ago that dealt with giving a fledgling state the capacity to exist with a universal mandate. And, we'll bring God into too, because God's on our side. Not yours.

No wonder he received a standing ovation.

Running in the background to the conference was the death of African-American Trayvon Martin in Florida in late February. Martin, who was unarmed, but wearing a hoodie, was shot dead while visiting his father in a gated community. George Zimmerman, who was part of neighbourhood watch, reportedly told police he shot Martin in self-defence. He has been charged with second-degree murder and will plead not guilty, his lawyers say.

Florida is one of about two dozen states to have on its books the law known as “stand your ground”. It's a self-defence clause that allows people to use force, deadly force, to repel an attacker. There is also the Castle Doctrine, in which deadly force can be used to protect one's home.

It's no wonder gun sales are doing so well. This year, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice-president, under an article on the NRA's website headed “More gun owners a good thing”, detailed the surge in gun checks over Christmas. “I'm glad more Americans are exercising their Second Amendment rights, but we need them to defend their rights as well by becoming NRA members. For our firearm freedoms, 2012 is going to be a crucial year.”

There's that word freedom again, and for crucial year, read election year.

The NRA was formed in 1871, primarily to improve marksmanship and foster shooting, including as a sport, an activity it still does. It helps gets the young involved, too, claiming a million youth take part in events. It is claimed to have more than 4 million members, which gives it considerable political clout. There is also the NRA Foundation, a tax-free organisation, that raises “millions of dollars to fund gun safety and educational projects of benefit to the general public”.

Education is certainly needed, to put it lightly. This is the most heavily armed country in the world, not just militarily, but internally. A report five years ago by the Graduate Institute of International Studies, based in Geneva, found that Americans owned 270 million firearms, out of a global arsenal of 875 million. More than half of the 8 million new guns bought each year were bought in the US.

Surely, this is insane. Yet people argue its sanity. Even the Supreme Court has come down in favour of the Second Amendment. There are anti-gun advocates, of course, but they carry too little firepower, and this lack of influence seeps into other areas of life. What sells in the culture? Violence does. The gun does. When a weapon of extreme violence becomes alluring, there is something seriously wrong. It's a point The Simpsons played out in an episode entitled The Cartridge Family.

It's true I'm writing this from afar. I don't live in America. It's a disconcerting notion to transport those figures and context onto the Australian landscape. What would you feel if you knew your neighbours were armed? Certainly not safer. But in this mutation lies the madness. Safety now comes with a bullet.

The sun is settin’ on the century and we are armed to the teeth
We are all working together now to make our lives mercifully brief
Schoolkids keep trying to teach us what guns are all about
Confuse liberty with weaponry and watch your kids act it out
Every year now like Christmas some boy gets the milk-fed suburban blues
Reaches for the available arsenal and saunters off to make the news
And women in the middle are learning what poor women have always known
That the edge is closer than you think when your men bring the guns home

Look at where the profits are that's how you'll find the source
Of the big lie that you and I both know so well
It the time it takes this cultural death wish to run its course
They're gonna make a pretty penny and then they're all going to hell
He said the chickens all come home to roost yeah, Malcolm forecasted this flood
Are we really gonna sleep through another century while the rich profit off our blood?
True, it may take some doing to see this undoing done
But in my humble opinion here's what i suggest we do:

Open fire on Hollywood open fire on MTV
Open fire on NBC and CBS and ABC
Open fire on the NRA and all the lies they told us
Along the way open fire on each weapons manufacturer
While he's giving head to some Republican senator
And if I hear one more time about fool's rights
To his tools of rage I'm gonna take all my friends
And I'm gonna move to Canada and we're gonna die of old age

Ani DiFranco, To the Teeth

37 comments so far

  • Considering the amount of people the US leadership have killed in foreign lands over the last 50 years the American population would be foolish not to have weapons to defend themselves.

    street professor
    Date and time
    April 18, 2012, 8:32AM
    • Brilliant, Newt now wants everyone to have a gun because God says so.

      The only saving grace is that he has very little chance of running, let alone winning unless another gun crazy American assassinates both Romney and Obama which would be ironic.

      Here is a message for Newt, I don't want your guns and I dont want your stupid American justification for having them. Its no wonder the majority of people who follow American politics wonder how idiots like this get such a profile and potential to have their hands on a nuclear button!

      Date and time
      April 18, 2012, 8:55AM
      • If 31,000 annual deaths involving guns can't wake Americans out of this nightmare, nothing can. That's freedom for ya ...

        Date and time
        April 18, 2012, 9:01AM
        • What is it? 30,000 handgun deaths per year? I could say not enough, but there are many good Yanks who need international support to begin a process of sanity. A start would be to demonise the propaganda from Hollywood- gun totin' goodies and baddies. Disconnect the religious right from the gun lobby. Ban advertising, inform school kids....
          Hmmm, ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

          Date and time
          April 18, 2012, 9:08AM
          • These are the same people that elected George W Bush ................twice.

            It's a clear demonstration that power and money does not equal intelligence. Clive Palmer springs to mind.

            And we complain about the left side of politics here in Australia.

            Date and time
            April 18, 2012, 9:10AM
            • "A Gingrich presidency will submit to the UN a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right to every person on the planet."


              Got to love Newt, in that wierd "what a freak" kind of way. Mind you, it is the sort of thing that you might expect that dismal man to say to a horde of potential voters.

              Like this to an audience on Florida's "space coast":

              "By the end of my second term," Gingrich said, "we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American." ...he was just getting started; by 2020, he said, there would be regular flights to Mars.


              Add a promise of $2.50 a gallon "gas", Peurto Rican statehood, a "Cuban Spring". But I guess when you have Buckley's you can say whatever you want.

              Geoff Edwards
              Date and time
              April 18, 2012, 9:25AM
              • The right to self defense is a fundamental human right. Government does not grant this right. It follows as a consequence of self ownership.

                All tyrants in history have been in agreement - we need strict gun control!

                By the way, If the governments of Iraq, Granada and El Salvador respected the citizens' right to own weapons, then far fewer people would have been dragged off to their deaths by government as well as private thugs.

                All governments seek to render its citizens defenseless and dependent upon the state.

                As Jefferson said:

                "...Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes...Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man..."


                "...The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government..."

                Natural Rights
                Date and time
                April 18, 2012, 9:42AM
                • An interesting article, although it is written as though you have an audience that, like you, believes they sole possession of the truth. Unfortunately the simplicity of your argument ‘Guns are bad’ does not make for a very convincing argument. The issue has so much more complexity and your intentional ignorance of this complexity gives the reader no further understanding of the issues involved. Of course the United States and Australia have vastly different gun laws and regulations, but what really distinguishes them is the culture within which these firearms are owned. I would suggest that the USA generally has an unhealthy firearm culture, all about self-defence, property defence etc. In Australia it is different. You ask ‘ What would you feel if you knew your neighbours were armed?’ I would say I would feel indifferent, in Australia firearms are a tool of the farm, an implement to hunt or a sporting good, they are not for self-defence, property defence or any other purpose suggested by your article. To extrapolate an extreme American view into an Australian context is misguided, wrong and misleading to less informed readers. Also, if you think the gun culture in the USA is unhealthy, what about the culture in Afghanistan? Totally different, but I would suggest, somewhat more out of control than the USA.

                  Date and time
                  April 18, 2012, 9:59AM
                  • My neighbours being armed is my reality. Constant domestics, drug dealings, all night yelling and fighting with other neighbours.

                    Thankfully they only stabbed each other a few months back but it will eventually escalate to shootings - no doubt.

                    Guns, if not in a rural setting, should not be allowed to be kept at peoples homes.

                    It is asking for trouble and I am happy to give up a few rights (& I am a leftie!) to remove guns from our cities.

                    If you own an unregistered weapon, in city areas, mandatory 5 years inside.

                    Thankfully most idiots can not shoot a pistol to save themselves but TV & movies make these clowns think they can hit a running target at 50 metres. "The Wire" showed it beautifully, so to speak.

                    Date and time
                    April 18, 2012, 11:13AM
                  • With firearms incresingly being used here locally for as the police put it 'minor disputes' I would suggest you have taken a rather simplistic view and tried to over intellectualise it - when in all probability the opening cliche 'guns are bad' was a simple enough statement as to be a starting point from which to develop a policy. Gun ownership legal or illegal isn't needed in a modern society.

                    Tired Camel
                    Date and time
                    April 18, 2012, 4:18PM

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