There’s the Rub

Staying alive

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I find P-Noy’s rejection of a gun ban for the coming elections rather disquieting. He himself has sought an exemption from it, as he has for certain groups of people who stand in harm’s way and need to defend themselves.

He argues thus: “I myself have been a victim of violence in 1987 and both the Church and the law recognize my right to self-defense. Self-defense habit is a skill.” Quite apart from that, a gun ban is futile and doesn’t solve anything. The problem, he says, is not guns, it is outlaws. “Magandang headline (‘yung gun ban), pero knee-jerk reaction. Maghanap tayo ng paraan na talagang maso-solve iyong isyu at hindi nagpapa-cute lang.”(“Gun ban” makes for a nice headline, but it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s look for real solutions to the problem and not just try to be cute.”)

His spokespersons promptly hailed the fact that despite being the Commander in Chief, he has taken it upon himself to apply for an exemption.

That is all very well, but that is not the point. Whether he did so or not, his opposition to the proposed gun ban sends the wrong signals to the public.

At the very least, as practically everyone has pointed out, what is the President saying—he doesn’t trust the Presidential Security Group to be able to protect him? That at the end of the day, he might be called upon to defend himself from his attackers? How secure can that make the rest of us? If the President himself cannot rely upon his own security group to secure him, indeed on a larger plane, if the President himself cannot rely on his own law enforcers to enforce the law, how can we? What do we do now, arm ourselves too to protect us from our enemies, real or imagined? That is a recipe for a wild, wild East.

I agree completely: Guns alone are not the source of rampant violence, electoral or otherwise; other, deeper, things are. But guns, or their proliferation, contribute immensely to it. They do not make things better, they make things worse. Far, far worse. Maybe guns protect people from those poised to harm them, though that’s a huge maybe. A good deal of history at least shows otherwise. Assassins, as we know from all the radio commentators who have been shot to death in their booths or while coming out of them, do not draw on their victims, they shoot them in the back. While on foot or riding at the back of motorcycles.

But you grant that the people who carry guns are able to protect themselves, the question is: Who will protect us from them? The argument that we have nothing to fear from civilians carrying registered, licensed, firearms outside of their homes, tucked in the glove compartments of their cars or the recesses of their attache cases, rests on very thin ice.

It presumes to begin with, that only responsible, sober and perfectly sane Filipinos get to register and license their guns, or indeed get a permit to carry them outside their homes. Of course the incident many years ago of a blind man getting to register his gun is a fluke, but not so a homicidal maniac like Jason Ivler being able to do so. In this country, you’ve got money, you can own a gun perfectly legally. In this country, you’ve got money, you will be presumed responsible, sober and perfectly sane. Until, like Ivler, you gun down the driver of another car and shoot it out with cops afterward.

But you still grant that only the responsible get to register firearms in this country, only the sane get to get permits to carry guns in the streets, why should that make us think the responsible and sane will remain responsible and sane at every moment of their waking hours? Or more to the point, why should that make us think they will not lapse into a fit of insanity, temporary or otherwise, and act horrendously irresponsibly, or indeed criminally?

For one, there is such a thing as road rage. Rolito Go was perfectly responsible and sane until he shot Eldon Maguan in a fit of road rage. If he didn’t have a gun, the La Salle student would have lived on to graduate and have a nice—and long—life. For another, and infinitely more worrisomely, we have a drinking culture, where the malakas uminom is looked up to with admiration, if not awe. It’s not just that drinking and driving don’t mix—and at that we don’t even have any proscription against drunk driving—it’s that drinking and carrying guns don’t mix. The deaths from people firing their guns last New Year’s Eve testify to the extent to which we lie at their mercy.

And we do have a profoundly macho culture where the perception of “nakakalalake,” whatever the cause, is an invitation to a fight. They don’t carry guns, they’ll just have a fistfight, or a knife fight. Of course knife fights kill too, but they have the no-small merit of not including us among the dead.

The logic that people have to protect themselves during elections, particularly in far-flung areas where the law can’t be enforced, is nothing more or less than the logic of the arms race. Who in God’s name cannot possibly argue that they need to defend themselves from their enemies? Even the Ampatuans can say that, and probably did, which was how they amassed their weapons of mass destruction. The result, which is arming yourself more because your enemy has armed more, is the same insanity the arms race has bred. The threat becomes self-justifying, the threat becomes self-perpetuating.

You order all of them to surrender their arms and run after those who do not, whom you may now rightly presume to be lawless, and the threat disappears. Or recedes like the ebbing of the tide.

No, the people who are earnestly, ardently, desperately advocating a gun ban for the elections, and strict gun control outside elections, are not trying to be cute.

They’re just trying to stay alive.

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