If winning is the only thing, there is no democracy. If winning is by murder and intimidation, there is only Darfur, Iraq, the Congo, what was once Yugoslavia, and scores of other killing fields around the globe.
If you think none of that is relevant to America, what do you call the century of violence and intimidation that ruled the South after the Civil War?
If you turn aside because it was in the South or you aren’t black, what do you make of long periods of rigged elections here? What do you make of the goon squads big city machines used to control the public.
This country spent a century trying to gain control over forms of bribery and intimidation that squashed democracy and broke voters’ bones in much of the country.
If you think it was only in big cities, you have little idea what life can be like in small towns.
Democracy is fragile, far more than we like to admit. American democracy took shape for much of the country only after the New Deal took over welfare from the political parties that handed out jobs much like Hamas does now, and only after the soldiers came back from World War II and had no taste for the politics of bribery, humiliation and intimidation.
Even now we have groups that are training to resist authority by force, calling themselves Sovereign Citizens or Patriot Militias among others.
We aren’t immune if we think that democracy is automatic.
We aren’t immune if we think we can put guns in the hands of every group of homegrown thugs without restriction, registration, or the ability to track what’s happening, while watching only for foreign thugs.
We aren’t immune if we think our gun stores can arm the Mexican drug lords without their criminal organizations threatening us here.
It’s true of course that people kill, and people cause car accidents. But we’ve padded the dashboards, kept passengers from hitting windshields, being hurled against hard objects inside or hurled out of the cars. To deal with guns, we’ve made no progress since the Ten Commandments – it said Thou Shalt Not Kill. Our law still says Thou Shalt Not Kill while we watch ever more effective means of murder and mayhem. The law abiding among us still say only “Don’t; it’s illegal; we’ll convict you.” How totally reassuring.
The vast majority of us are law abiding. But we have grown used to inspection as we get on planes, or walk into office buildings. We do the calculus and think it’s better to be more secure. But you can take a gun anywhere else and never mind the calculus. It’s OK to show up armed at political events. Maybe the authorities can stop someone after he or she takes aim? Any policeman will tell you that’s almost always too late.
Once upon a time, it seems so distant now, conservatives used to say that liberty requires responsibility. It still does.
So let’s support our local police, the men and women who try to protect us, our presidents and other civil servants, and let’s insist on real gun control, for the sake of our country.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, January 18, 2011.