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Is The Gun Lobby Stronger Than American Democracy? March 6, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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The Constitution of the United States, in Article I, Section 2 states, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states…. Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union.” In the country’s early days, there were several states, and each state’s male citizens of some means were permitted to vote, and there were territories – not yet states, to whom the right to vote was not extended. And today we still have territories, Peurto Rico and Guam. They, like D.C. residents are entitled to an at-large member in the House, but that member cannot vote. The difference is that D.C. is neither a state nor a territory, and while residents of Puerto Rico and Guam are not subjected to Federal Taxes, D.C. residents pay all U.S. Federal Taxes, which in 2007 totaled $20.4 billion, the highest per capita taxes in the country. So, while the Constitution does limit the right to vote to state residents, it also requires that only those with representation pay taxes to the Federal Government. Thus, D.C.’s unofficial motto, ‘taxation without representation,’ a concept that, at the time, was held to be of the utmost importance. Remember the Boston Tea Party? The Stamp Act of 1765? American Colonialists rebelled because the British Government sought, in violation of it’s Constitution to tax them without the tax being approved by their legislators, which was not possible as they had no representation in Parliament. This denial of the the franchise was an important factor leading to the American Revolution and to the founding of our nation.

The withholdnig of the franchise has long reflected a hesitancy on the part of those in power to expand democracy’s reach – our founding fathers denied the right to vote to white mean without means, to women, to Native Americans, to African Americans. Our government has long denied an entire city the right of self rule of any form, rather subjecting them to the rule of a Congress in which they had no representation whatsoever. Some vision of restoring to D.C. residents their right to vote in federal elections was evidenced in 1801 when the Federal Government formally took land from VA and MD to form the Dictrict of Columbia, for they allowed residents of the newly formed Capitol to continue to vote in their former states for 11 years. This course of action suggests that it was a stop gap measure until some other solution that would reinstate these citizens’ voting rights. Proposals were made, though many failed, to give VA and MD back their land, and D.C. residents have protested their loss of representation ever since, though the government did, in the mid 1840s, return much of the land previously belonging to VA amidst concerns over the slave trade in the Capitol, thus restoring the voting rights of those who lived in this part of the District. Over time, as the city’s residents lobbied for the vote, while the overall population hovered around 150,000 residents, the African American population grew such that, by the 1860s, free blacks made up 88% of D.C.’s residents. Given our Country’s history in this era, it is no surprise that the right to vote was denied to D.C. citizens.

Residents were given some governmental representation when, in 1873, President Grant appointed a Governor to oversee Washington, but he did away with his office just one year later after the Governor bankrupted the city.

For nearly the next 100 years, until the passage of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment in 1961, did D.C. residents have a hand in electing a single governmental official; they had no say even in the election of our President and Vice President. And the number of those denied the franchise grew substantially as D.C.’s population exploded to around 850,000 during World War II. The amendment granted to them the right to electors on a scale on par with those of the states. These electors would be considered ‘to be electors appointed by a State’ though no State appointed them. A nice fiction by Congress to overcome Constitutional concerns.

A dozen years later, in 1973 Congress passed the Home Rule Act, allowing D.C. residents to elect a Mayor and a City Council, though, amid evidence of poor management, Congress retook control of the District’s purse. No further extension of voting rights have been granted since that time, making ours the only democracy that denies resitdents of its Capitol city the right to federal representation. This was the state of affairs this week, as Congress again debated whether D.C. residents will, in 2009, receive the right of representation in their government. The time for change has come. But there was a glitch.

That our country is so divided around all the issues surrounding gun ownership is terribly unfortunate. We are so much stronger when we are united, and we should not be divided by this issue. The concern among gun owners that the left wants to take away the guns of law abiding citizens seems to me a myth created and fostered up by the NRA. I’m sure there are some who would like to see all guns banned in the US. I’ve heard the arguments, but I have never met a single person who holds that view.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitutional guarantees a right to bear arms, and that right should be respected. The First Amendment, which by virtue of being first suggests its relative importance, guarantees the freedom of speech, assembly and religion. Yet, despite the fact that the right to free speech and a free press are vital to our form of government, those rights are not absolute. Rather we must abide by, among other things, time, place and manner restrictions on our speech. Likewise, I would argue, the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment may be Constitutionally regulated.

I do not want to take guns away from hunters and sportsmen. Some of my fondest memories of are my Grandfather teaching me to shoot a rifle. As a young girl, I was shooting tin cans off the top of fence posts. My grandparents regularly welcomed hunters onto their land. It’s a part of the culture of many Americans, and they should be allowed to choose their way of life so long they abide by sensible regulation. We must be trained to drive and we must register our cars; we should require appropriate firing and safety training, and should register our guns. We should lock them safely away from children. The aim here is not to place an undue burden on gun owners, but to recognize that a right can be limited to protect the safety of others, and guns, like cars, can harm unintended victims. As for guns in urban areas, I wish they weren’t there, but I realize that many people believe that they are safer with a gun in their home. And they should be able to make that decision for themselves. They need only be responsible in their ownership.

It is most likely that the real sticking points center around the issue of what guns, if any, should be banned. We call weapons capable of killing many people weapons of mass destruction. Our foreign policy centers around trying to keep the most dangerous of these weapons out of the hands of many. I think we, too, should aim to keep automatic weapons out of public circulation. Some criminals will still get them, this we know. But others will have a harder time of it, and that could save lives. This restriction, though, requires that the police in urban areas are vigilant about keeping unregistered guns off the streets and regularly patrolling dangerous neighborhoods. I think reasonable people can disagree here. But I also think that this limited disagreement has too much of an impact on our politics because the NRA and its supporters paint an exaggerated picture of our differences. We are not at polar opposite points on this issue, though to hear Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and far too many others to name tell it, gun owners are in serious danger from we communists who want to take their guns. And this week, the the NRA, through Senator John Ensign (R-NV), fanned these flames when the Senator attached an amendment that would overturn gun control laws in the District AND would strip D.C. of the right to enact gun control legislation of any kind. The amendment remove gun registration requirements and would not even allow D.C. to set an age requirement for gun ownership. Sixty-one Senators voted for this amendment, including 22 Democrats.

One NRA representative actually said that he would prefer to see D.C. residents freed from gun control laws than to see them get the vote. He thinks that unfettered right to own guns is more important than a democratic form of government. Does he really want to live in a dictatorship where everybody’s packing? This is the rhetoric that divides, and this week, as before, its affects were far more serious. While it looked that D.C.’s residents would finally get the right to elect one member to the House of Representatives, the legislation is now stalled because of the gun control amendment.

The larger point, in this instance, is that this was all beside the point. This amendment had absolutely nothing to do with the legislation to which it was attached and should never have been part of the discussion. This is the politics we’re all tired of. Each issue that is important enough to the American people to come before Congress should be voted on with votes based solely on the merits of that bill. We’ve had enough of politicians placing considerations of their political futures before the concerns of the country, and here of democracy itself. The NRA ostensibly threatened to make this vote one that it would use as a gauge in its annual candidate ratings, which are based on the number of times the legislator supports their organization’s interests. And Democrats, too, voted for the bill with the amendment attached. Again, we read that it would likely removed in the House. But, just like the tax cuts that were added to the stimulus bill that every one said would be limited in conference, the lets give guns at christenings amendment wasn’t removed and a clean bill passed. Rather, it sits, amendment still intact, stalled in the House.

President Obama should take a stand. This is not a spending bill, it is not ‘last year’s business.’ This is important legislation that would, setting Constitutional concerns asides for now (suffice it to say there is a vibrant debate), finally enfranchise all American citizens. It is about time. Dedicated and serious minded Americans have worked since the beginning to fully expand the franchise, and politics as usual is again getting in the way. President Obama’s promise was to bring a new kind of politics. So let it be. We are beyond ready. Americans should call, write, email their representatives in Congress and their President to demand a clean bill granting the right to vote to our citizens who live in our nation’s Capitol.

Our leaders in Congress need to be called out, as the president would say, on their weak support for the expansion of democracy. Not only did they allow the insertion of the gun amendment, Senators bickered over the fact that giving D.C. the vote would be a gain for the Democratic Party, and thus Republicans demanded that another Republican State be given a new Representative to bring ‘balance.’ Truly democratic leaders do not let an advantage to the opposition party, particularly one so small, stand in the way of the spread of democracy itself. This country’s leaders have always been stingy with the vote. Every advancement has come through great struggle. Neither blacks nor women gained the franchise through the spontaneous passage of legislation by enlightened leaders seeking to expand democracy at home. Rather, we have paid dearly to enfranchise (almost) all of our people. Thus, the hailing of ours as the world’s finest democracy (as our leaders love to do) by leaders who prefer that only those who agree with them (and who are, in their minds, their equal) be able to vote is a sad smudge of hypocrisy worn by far too many American leaders throughout our history.



1. Is The Gun Lobby Stronger Than American Democracy? « Perfecting … - March 10, 2009

[…] Is The Gun Lobby Stronger Than American Democracy? « Perfecting … […]

2. Kerra Mascaro - March 10, 2009

Thanks for informing about DC residents not having congressional representation. I did not even know this!

I agree with you about each issue being voted on based on the merits of that issue. Tacking on amendments that have nothing to do with the proposed legislation does not allow for a fair vote because the Congressman may support one but not the other. And I am in total agreement with DC citizens having representation. This is democracy 101.

However, as far as the gun issue, I am always amazed at the fond memories people have of “hunting with my grandfather” and learning how to shoot the rifle. I have no such memories but am in full support of a 2nd amendment with little to no restrictions. The 2nd amendment was not written to support hunting or sport. It was written so that the citizens could be armed in order to be able to resist a tyrannical government. We could not have fought the Revolution if people didn’t have their own guns. The 2nd amend does not just need to be “respected” ( this leads to “respectful” restriction). What is restricted one year, will lead to additional restrictions in future years, just a soon as the people get used to the first restriction so that it does not seem like a restriction at all !!!

Furthermore, gun ownership and their use is not comparable with having a car that needs to be registered and having lessons in order to drive. Being able to own a gun is a Constitutional guarantee; owning and using a car is NOT. The first ensures our civil liberties are not stolen while the second is a necessary convenience.

In Switzerland, all males are required to own a gun and know how to use it. Switzerland was not invaded during WW II and many historians attribute this in part to the fact that the populace was so well armed and trained. On the other hand, Hitler implemented gun “restrictions” over a period of years, PRIOR to his famous atrocities. Just something to consider.

Remember, the criminal will ALWAYS have guns as you said, or some weapon. No amount of police patrolling an area will stop this.

Also, the police never arrive before the crime is committed; it is always after the fact; after the rape; after the murder; after the robbery etc.

I agree we are usually stronger when “united” but disagreement and argument is what keeps democracy alive. I also think that owning guns is one of the foundational necessities to a thriving and surviving democracy and perhaps if more people owned them rather than feared them, we would not be seeing so many attacks on our American democracy and civil liberties. I find it curious that a government such as ours, that does in fact want to restrict gun ownership, (regardless of what the republicans say) is willing to force, I mean promote democracy around the world using the very same weapon. Where is the logic in this?

So, all people should be able to vote and all people should be able pack!!!

Suzanne Robinson - March 10, 2009

thanks for your comments. you make some very good points, and while we may not be in total agreement, yours is a valid argument.

what i was trying to say about our constitutional rights is this. we have no rights that are without limitation. none. the first amendment was deemed by the founder to be the most important of all rights. To sustain a Democracy, the people must have the right to express political views without threat of harm or death. They must be able to assemble to discuss and to petition their government for the redress of grievances. Voting is a form of political speech, etc. Still, though we could not have our form of govt without first amendment rights, they have long been restricted, sometimes more than we’d like (especially in times of war, particularly the war on terror in which countless groups were denied the right to assemble in protest.) Under ideal circumstances, we still have, among other things, time, place and manner restrictions, even on political speech. so you can’t protest within a certain distance of some govt meetings, things like that. the bottom line, though, is that what our founders deemed as the most fundamental right in a democracy is restricted. and citizens must be ever vigilant that even further restrictions won’t be imposed, as i said, esp. in times of war when the power of the executive branch of govt always expands.

we are granted, in the second amendment, the right to gun ownership. and no, it wasn’t so folks could go hunting – i get that. the second amendment grants this right “in order to form a well regulated militia.” The founders explained that it is the government that has the power and responsibility to regulate these militias. At that time, we didn’t have professional armed forces, rather we had only volunteer militias. From this standpoint, then, one could argue that in today’s world this right doesn’t carry the same weight. But it implicitly gives the govt the right to regulate. That said, we still have the right to own guns. And while I understand your slippery slope argument – across the board when it comes to individual rights, not just the one to own a gun – a part of active citizenship is to work to keep our rights intact. And we certainly do that in the US. The gun lobby is one of the strongest interests out there. So, while we must be vigilant, I would still argue that the government has the right to put into place reasonable regulation. Of course, as you point out, the question then becomes what is reasonable. I’d say age, training, and safety, and registration requirements are the most important. These regulations are in the interest of public safety, which our govt is charged to protect. And my point about car ownership, while it isn’t a right guaranteed to us, most of us want to drive cars and do not let the requirement that we learn to drive before being granted before we can get a license to drive alone or the requirement that we register our cars stop us in any way. Thus, I was positing that these same regulations as applies to guns cannot be reasonably argued to be an undue burden.

So, up to here, I think we’re probably close to agreement. What more people might take issue with is disallowing citizens from owning certain types of guns. And, here, I’ll just have to say that you’re right, a meaningful dialogue, argument even, is vital to democracy. My hesitancy from allowing even the most dangerous weapons to be circulated to the population comes from the sad reality that too many people, usually young people, use them to kill one another. And Washington D.C. is one of the best examples of this danger. So let the debate continue!! I love that you put such thought into your response! And, I love your point about our government’s desire to restrict ownership at home, while “bringing democracy” around the world by using guns and other weapons to kill their people…. shameful!

Thanks again for writing. You also told me something I didn’t know – that all males in Switzerland must own guns. But I, for one, am glad that they must, too, be trained to use them!

3. RaiulBaztepo - March 31, 2009

Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

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