There’s the Rub

Peace on earth

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If there’s one thing I don’t mind us copying, or imitating, or aping America, it’s in drawing attention to the proliferation of guns in this country. It’s in our Congress bestirring itself to pass laws regulating gun ownership. It’s in our executive branch leading the way toward enforcing gun control.

Barack Obama is doing that in the United States right now, though why it had to take the massacre of the children at Sandy Hook for him to bestir himself to do it, only he can say. His government’s record in curbing the rise of Fortress America is dismal. Not wishing to go against the pro-gun sentiment in the United States, given strident voice by the National Rifle Association, and impair his chances of being elected and reelected, he has been less than sanguine in putting his weight behind gun control legislation. In fact, many of his fellow Democrats have been vigorous gun exponents.

During his first term, Obama failed to curb the proliferation of assault rifles and heavy weaponry. His current drive to control guns, quite incidentally, is aimed only at this, his argument being that they have no business inside America and in peace, they have a business only in foreign lands and in war. The drive has nothing to do with handguns and standard firearms, including hunting rifles, which you can get with ease in neighborhood gun stores, if not mom-and-pop groceries. Public sentiment continues to favor gun ownership, or indeed to oppose any effort to “infringe” on the constitutional right to bear arms, a deep-seated belief that has abated only somewhat with Sandy Hook. It did not abate after a crowd fell as the Dark Knight rose.

What can one say? Good luck in solving shooting rampages with that tack.

Theoretically, we should have an easier time legislating gun control since we do not have a Second Amendment, we do not have a long-cherished belief in the people’s right, and duty, to bear arms, we do not have a public demanding free access to guns. I suspect that if you put the thing to a vote, most Filipinos, unlike Americans, will not support a policy of free traffic in guns. We’ve seen enough of what guns can do to want them in unrestrained supply. We may not have the kind of senseless carnage that has been happening plentifully of late in America, but we do have runaway crime, massacres, and a culture of impunity plaguing us. The second is no more benign than the first.

Theoretically, because the problem is not the public, it is government. It is the congressmen, the judges, Malacañang itself. But that is formidable enough in itself, too. As Nandy Pacheco can testify: He has been waging a near-lonely crusade to control guns—not quite incidentally, he doesn’t oppose people having guns at home to defend themselves, he opposes people lugging them around, especially in cars—and while the public calls him courageous, the public officials call him outrageous. It’s all he can do to convince the congressmen, who own guns, who like guns, who like displaying guns, to even contemplate gun control. And it’s all he can do to convince Malacañang’s current residents, who own guns, who like guns, who like displaying guns, to push gun control.

Do we need it badly today?

Hell, we needed it badly yesterday. The arguments against gun control are just an exercise in denial.

At the very least, of course it’s true that the availability of guns by itself does not guarantee an explosion of mass destruction. It takes a certain kind of mentality, or the warping of it, for it to happen. But it’s also true that motive alone does not make a crime happen, you need means and opportunity to make it happen, too. There is no means and there is no opportunity, the crime will not happen. Particularly where the motive is spontaneous or sudden or fleeting, you do not have the means and opportunity, it will go away after a while. Road rages are the prime example of it. Without the gun tucked in the glove compartment of the assailant, many victims would still be alive.

You don’t have to go far to see how gun control can stop crime, even if the example is unfortunate. Shortly after he declared martial law, Marcos ordered everyone, warlords in particular, to give up their private arsenals. Rocky Ileto would later tell me he himself was astonished at how people complied with it, truckloads of firearms pouring into the camps for weeks on end. The result? Crime fell to near-zero. Of course, martial law itself was a crime and its executors criminals, and before long crime came back with a vengeance. Which is another story. But what if P-Noy were to order it?

At the very most, guns are not neutral things, they are a culture. At their worst, they are a fetish. The whole notion that you’re okay if you put guns only in the hands of the sane and responsible is silly. It presumes that the sane and responsible won’t stop being so while in the grip of road rage, while in the middle of a violent altercation. Guns represent power, guns display power, guns create an aura of power. And power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nowhere does that apply more than in a culture steeped in machismo. Look at the pictures of hunters posing proudly beside the antelope and deer they’ve bagged, and see if guns by themselves have not created a mentality that says killing animals for sport is cool. Look at the stickers in the back of some of our cars that say “Baby on board” with an AK-47 above the words, and see if guns by themselves have not a created a mentality that says airily, “Don’t mess with this dude.”

Tools by their nature demand to be used. Guns are a tool, they will demand to be used. Something to think about as we greet each other today and tomorrow and the days to come:

“Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

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