The Liberties of Order - Gun Control Construed as Freedom
In the current debate over gun control, the key issue is whether the liberty of the individual should take priority over the needs of the collective, or vice verse.
If we look at the text of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, it is clear that, in the minds of those who framed the Second Amendment, no such tension existed. The liberties of the individual and the needs of the collective were seen as being one and the same thing.
Here is the text itself, which is short and to the point:
"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 United States of America no longer has a militia, nor does the security of America now rely on the armed strength of the individual citizen. The day of the Minuteman is over. The firearms currently held by private citizens in the US are not held against the day when the citizens must go jihadist and wage a war against the enemies of the state. Rather, the weapons are held for private purposes, and are used for such purposes.
In short, the world in which the Second Amendment was framed no longer exists. The modern world is completely different. The right to bear arms posits the existence of a militia, but there is no such organization, nor has there been at any time in my life.
A long time ago I read a science fiction story in which a quest was made for the most valuable object in the universe. I think this story may have been by Isaac Asimov. Whoever the author, the revelation at the end of the story is that the precious object is no other than the Constitution of the United States.
The writer had a romantic view of the Constitution, taking its values to be universal values that would be good for all times and for all peoples.
But that is not how those who framed the original Constitution saw it. They did not see themselves as creating the mold for all eternity. Rather, they saw the Constitution as a provisional document, one which would, from time to time, be revised.
The proof of this is that the framers of the Constitution included, within the text of the Constitution itself, a mechanism for its own revision.
Details, if you're interested, can be found online at:
The site says the following:
""To Propose Amendments
"" * Two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to propose an amendment,
"" * Two-thirds of the state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments. This version has not yet been used.""
The second option, the one that has never been tried, the national convention which could, if it so chose, put the whole Constitution into play, refashioning it at will, is one way for the Second Amendment to be changed. If America were to take that way.
If you want details on the price of the liberty to bear arms, you can Google "gunshot injuries united states statistics."
Here are some statistics taken from a Canadian source that the Google leads to, the source being:
In the International Herald Tribune in the week ending Friday 20 April 2007, I saw in an article that 30,000 people died from gunshot injuries each year. That bare statistic was given, the implication being that these were the annual statistics for the USA. The following excerpt from the onlooking Canadians puts a bit more flesh on that bare statistic:
[Additional paragraph breaks have been inserted for ease of reading, bu the text has not been modified in any other way.]
""Since 1993, firearm-related injuries and deaths have been declining steadily (1--3). However, in 1998, firearm-related injuries remained the second leading cause of injury death in the United States (3), accounting for approximately 31,000 deaths.
""The majority of these fatal and nonfatal firearm-related injuries result from interpersonal violence and intentionally self-inflicted gunshot wounds, but approximately 15,000 unintentional gunshot wounds are treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments (EDs) each year (4).
""Although firearm-related injuries represent <0.5% of injuries treated in hospital EDs, they have an increased potential of death and hospitalization compared with other causes of injury (5--7). In 1994, treatment of gunshot injuries in the United States was estimated at $2.3 billion in lifetime medical costs, of which $1.1 billion was paid by the federal government (8). These factors emphasize the importance of firearm-related injuries as a public health concern.""
So, if you want to be free, and if you define freedom as the right to bear arms, sure, that's fine by me, as long as you bear those arms in your own country, safely over the horizon, and use them to shoot yourself, shoot each other, or shoot Osama Bin Laden on the day when he finally shows up on your doorstep.
Meantime, my own stance on the gun control issue is that the needs of the collective should take precedence over individual liberty. In other words, for the good of the collective, the individual should accept subordination to the state.
And I submit that there are payoffs for submitting to the order of a rationally administered state, payoffs in the form of stability, security and certain liberties which are not to be found in a Wild West environment, these liberties including the freedom to walk around unarmed without the danger of being shot in the head by a passer by while en route from A to B.
While I think that control of society by the state can be overdone, in general I believe that such control is positive rather than negative.
An example of a society which I think has over done things is Singapore, a nation which I have visited twice but would never choose to live in.
The achievements of Singapore are truly amazing, and their struggle to form a prosperous, modern, unified, high-tech state is worthy of the world's applause. Singapore achieved everything it has achieved against the odds, working with scanty resources and a population of mixed ethnicities which, at the start of the foundation of the republic, was so fractious that its enmities threatened the viability of that state.
All those problems have been surmounted, and Singapore must count, today, as one of the world's success stories.
That said, I don't want to live in a society where the government not only tells you to wash your hands after using the public toilet but, on top of that, sends spies into the toilet to snoop on your to see if you're doing what you're told. If get caught going hand-dirty out of the toilet, you get hauled into court and convicted, and it's entirely possible that a photograph of the embarrassed you will show up in the local newspaper.
No, I couldn't live in Singapore.
Quite apart from anything else, I'm one of nature's jaywalkers, and jaywalking is one of the (many) absolute no-nos in Singapore.
If I had to live in an Asian city outside of Japan, then I'd opt for either Bangkok or Hong Kong. I've visited both on a number of occasions.
If I actually had to make the choice, I'd opt for Hong Kong, because I'd prefer to live near the sea. But either city, lived day by day, would be fine by me.
Here in Japan, I think a nice balance has been set between the power of the state and the liberties of the individual.
The Japanese state will not permit you to own your own Glock handgun, your own biowar arsenal, your personal nuclear backpack bomb, your own surface-to-air missile, your own machinegun or your own collection of landmines designed to safeguard your garden against wandering homeless people.
All those things are verboten.
Some people do manage to evade the regulations and to get their hands on handguns, and, in consequences, there are a certain number of shootings, such as the recent assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki.
What follows is the Japanese response to the shooting of the mayor, taken from the following page:
""TOKYO, April 20 (Reuters) - Japan is set to hold a task force meeting on gun control next week after the mayor of the southern city of Nagasaki was fatally shot by a suspected gangster on Tuesday. Japan already has strict gun control laws, but the shooting of Itcho Ito has prompted some, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to call for even tighter supervision.
""Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said an annual task force meeting on gun policy would be held on Wednesday.
"" "(The shooting) was a challenge to democracy," he told a news conference on Friday, referring to concerns that Ito's death would stifle freedom of speech in political campaigns.""
Note that, in the Japanese context, gun control is construed as being the defense of democracy and the defense, likewise, of free speech.
Here's a report on the Nagasaki shooting from the Wall Street Journal, taken from the following page:
[Once again, additional paragraph breaks have been inserted.]
""Just as Japanese commuters were still digesting lurid headlines about the mass slaying in Virginia, on Tuesday they came home to evening news reports that Itcho Ito, the popular mayor of Nagasaki, was shot by a gangster while campaigning for re-election.
""Tetsuya Shiro, 59, the number two man in the local affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest criminal syndicate, was arrested on the spot.
""The nation woke the next day to learn that Ito, 61, died of his wounds and that Shiro had a personal grudge related to his dealings with the city office.""
Meantime, living in the ordered society of Japan, I enjoy the following liberties. (The list which follows is not exhaustive.)
1. I do not feel the need to own or carry firearms.
2. My wife and I do not feel the need for a home security system.
3. I do not live in fear of street violence.
4. The regulations tell people NOT to talk on their cellphones while on the train, so I can read my newspaper in peace.
5. As a rule, nobody in Japan eats on public commuter trains, so, consequently, there's no law against it, so if you want to have a snack on the subway nobody will stop you, though that is an offence for which you could be arrested in New York.
6. Similarly, nobody in Japan drinks alcohol on short-distance commuter trains, so there's no law against that. Consequently, if you wanted to start tucking into that bottle of booze you were taking home, there's no rule stopping you. I never do this, but the option is there.
Note: on long-distance trains in Japan, eating meals during transit is normative, and some trains will have a vending cart that goes down the corridors selling boxed lunches.
7. I live in a society which is (pretty much) without graffiti. I don't have to worry about someone spray painting my garage door because nobody ever will.
8. I live in a society which is (pretty much) without garbage in the streets (unless you wander off into agricultural enclaves in urban areas, where you will find everything imaginable dumped and abandoned, up to and including wrecked cars).
9. The regulations prohibit smoking on the trains and in selected areas of Tokyo, one of these areas being Meguro Ward, which is where I work. Consequently, I do not have to put up with second-hand smoke.
(What I do have to put up with, though, is occasional delays for the toilet while I wait for the smoker who is using a station toilet stall for illicit smoking. I know this happens because (a) I sometimes smell cigarette smoke after the perpetrator has left and (b) I sometimes find an unflushed cigarette butt floating in the toilet.)
10. Although I have to carry an ID card, because I am not a Japanese national, I have total freedom from being hassled by the cops. The Japanese police generally mind their own business and don't, as a rule, inflict themselves on the citizens without cause. (Though I've heard that they will sometimes stop you at night if you're on a bicycle, and will check to see if it's yours or if it is stolen.)
In a closing note, the Canadian report on American gunshot injuries notes, as seen in the quote interpolated earlier, that a certain proportion of gunshot casualties are due to "intentionally self-inflicted gunshot wounds."
Here in Japan, one liberty that you definitely do not have is the option of killing yourself, very very easily, by the simple expedient of shooting yourself in the head.
However, even so, Japanese people still have the option to commit suicide, easily and reliably, and hundred of Japanese citizens take this option every year: choose the right train (some research is advised here), choose the right moment, then jump.
Even though trains are occasionally delayed by people jumping in front of them, one good point of my life in Japan is that, as a rule, the trains do run on time.