Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Is it my right to carry a gun?

President Trump famously said of the church shooting in Texas on November 5th that "This isn't a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event." Meanwhile, a town mourns its dead and injured. Back in 1999, when we arrived in an equally gun-violent South Africa, we were told by our bishop that there was an absolute ban on guns in church in his diocese, and that any minister found to possess a gun licence would lose their church licence. For us, it was a relief to know that there was a clear choice.

About four years later, our racist white Irish neighbour was shot and killed while cycling to work. Why? Because the thieves wanted his proudly displayed gun, tucked into his waistband. I wish I could say that those who live by the sword die by the sword. The trouble is, that so often the innocent bystander and the vulnerable get taken down as well, or instead. I'm not a pacifist (I wish I could be, but the world is a fallen place), but I do not think that guns lead to a safer society. The evidence is quite clear.

So maybe it's a matter of human rights? The Second Amendment of the American Constitution says that "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." We'll leave aside the particular interpretation of this held by gun-rights advocates, as there is a debate about the implications of the text. I have two questions about it. The first is whether the right of the people is an absolute right or a right relative to other rights, like my right to safety, and society's right to walk in public without fear? I personally don't think that a constitutional right is a human right. It is a political and social right, and, more importantly, it is a political and social responsibility.

The second question is whether Donald Trump's denial that the shooting was a 'guns situation' is expressed as a conviction of the truth, a moral stand, a fear that he might lose his power base, or a deeply paranoid reading of the way to control the world. His approach to North Korea seems to me even more dangerous than the American love of gun freedom: let's all have a big shoot-out between the West and North Korea, and may the best gun win? Really? The costlier way is the way of dialogue, but it takes time, effort, and a commitment to play less golf...

The pictures that I have posted to accompany this blog are from Namibia and Angola, where mines, bombs and shells continue to maim and kill decades after they were laid or shot in anger. As for the fallout from a global nuclear conflict, Chernobyl is a sobering and terrifying reminder of the stain on all our lives, and consciences.

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