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The Tree of Liberty

There has long been a horrible concern in the back of my mind: that this country, founded on violence, couldn’t get away from violence.  How do you reconcile a country born in revolutionary war to governance by peaceful means?

When our Founders fought the Revolution, it was because they had no alternative.  They didn’t have representation.  They weren’t allowed to be part of England’s political life.  They were simply exploited and used.  They weren’t allowed a peaceful solution.  They couldn’t say these things they hated were the will of the country.  They couldn’t lose an honest political fight because they weren’t allowed a political solution.  So they fought.

I still question the wisdom of going to war, sometimes.  A country born in violence can find it hard to escape future violence.  But I can understand why our Founders felt driven to it.  They had tried and failed to obtain representation.  They had no other way to take their destiny into their own hands.

We don’t have that excuse now.  We have a democratic system, however imperfect, and we have a ballot box.  If the majority of your fellow citizens can’t be brought around to your views, it’s not a license to pick up a gun and achieve by violence what you couldn’t achieve by democracy.  This is not a dictatorship.  We are not ruled by a tyrant.  We’re ruled by a duly-elected government, and if we don’t like it, we can vote in a different one.  If we don’t manage that, well, too fucking bad.  Just because we have the right to vote doesn’t mean we’ll win.

Just because we don’t win doesn’t mean we get to turn to assassination.

And the right doesn’t understand that.

No, they take Thomas Jefferson a little too seriously.  They use his “tree of liberty” remarks as a blank check, a license to preach all the violence they want.  It’s too bad we can’t dig Jefferson out of the ground, bring him back to life, bring him up to speed, and ask if inciting unstable people to gun down senior citizens and children is what he had in mind when he wrote, “What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?”  I’m not sure that this sort of blood is what he had in mind for his tree.

We have extreme gun violence in this country.  And yet we have a Constitution that we’re assured won’t allow us to control guns.  But what if that’s not true?  Jerry Coyne voiced an important thought:

Right-wingers, gun advocates, and the NRA use the Second Amendment as justification for Americans owning all sorts of guns, including automatic and semi-automatic weapons. And that’s the way the courts have interpreted it, too.  That Amendment says this:

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.

Well, we have a militia now—it’s called the military.  How can anyone, even an originalist, say that this Amendment justifies untrammeled access to weapons by everyone? It’s about a militia!  And a “well-regulated” militia, not a bunch of unorganized Americans with rifles.  And if you respond that without guns, ordinary Americans couldn’t overthrow the government and the military like our ancestors overthrew the British, well, I’ll take that risk.

How did we go from “well-regulated militia” to “let the deranged have all the semiautomatics they want”?  How do we pull back from that brink?

I wonder if the Founders’ attitudes would be a little more nuanced in this age of hate radio, propaganda television, and weapons whose destructive power they couldn’t have imagined?  I hope this isn’t what they wanted for this country.

But I think it’s time for us to admit that, if we had the power to free slaves and give them rights as full human beings even though the Constitution originally didn’t, we surely could do something to end the right to bear Glocks.  If we fail in that, we at least need to find a way to push the eliminationist rhetoric that gives deranged people with Glocks an idea for a mission to the fringes where it belongs.

And we need to remind our fellow citizens on the right that failure to impose their will on the country by convincing the majority they’re right does not then give them license to impose it by force.