Early last Monday, I got a text message from my good friend, Nandy Pacheco. “Look at the PDI today,” he said. “We have laws versus actors brandishing mock-up guns on billboards but not versus public servants pointing real ones at the camera on the front pages of newspapers.”
I did as bidden and saw the source of his disaffection. There was the photograph of several people aiming their pistols at the reader, trying to look like Dirty Harry despite their bulging middles. The caption read: “Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Andres Reyes leads the ceremonial shoot to open the one-day firearms proficiency training for justices on Saturday, a defensive measure prompted by the spate of killings targeting members of the judiciary. With him at the Camp Crame firing range are PNP Director Emelito Sarmiento and retired Associate Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr.”
I felt Nandy’s consternation, although I confess the first thing that filled me was not dismay but hilarity. The thought of judges engaging in running gun battles with would-be assassins I chalked up not to action movies but to comedies. But Nandy is right: In the end, this is a sorry spectacle, doubly so for being paraded by people whose calling society associates with sagacity or wisdom. There is nothing sage or wise in this, there is everything foolish and wretched in it.
At the very least, arming judges so that they might defend themselves against threats to their lives has got to be one of the most idiotic ideas in the world. Tied with arming journalists for the same reason, which was also proposed some years ago in the wake of the wholesale decimation of their ranks. The problem is not merely that hired assassins do not make it a point to give you a sporting chance when they assassinate you, they attack you in your unguarded moments. If they can assassinate Rolly Kintanar, who was fully armed, who had bodyguards with him, and who was in a constant state of preparedness against any attempt on his life, they can assassinate anybody.
The only protection you can really have is government firing the chiefs of police of precincts where the murders of judges and journalists happen to improve their disposition toward their jobs. And public outcry at the deed, calling for the heads of the executioners themselves, which comes from you enjoying the reputation of being a pillar of your profession.
But the problem is not just that it is an exercise in futility, it is that it is an invitation to abuse. You arm judges and journalists with guns and you do not add to the number of people who may now protect themselves from harm, you add to the number of people who may now harm the public. The judiciary and the media do not just harbor reputable members, they also harbor disreputable ones. They do not just harbor knights, they harbor rogues.
Guess who are more likely to arm themselves, if they have not done so already? Guess who are likely to relish the prospect of being allowed to carry guns wherever they go, those who spend their days sharpening their minds and their pens by reading and writing, or those who spend their days shooting their mouths off, assassinating character, and killing complaints for the highest bidder? They may be able to protect themselves from assassins, but who’s going to protect the public from them?
At the very most, Nandy has a point when he objects to that target-practice being displayed in all its naked splendor before the public. The message that beams is not that of perfectly serious ponentes making a case for their lives with the ultimate argument, it is that of truant officials reveling in new toys for the boys. That target-practice misses its target completely. What the judges should really be doing is not improving their aim, it is discovering their shame. What the judges should really be doing is not being obsessed with their safety, it is being concerned with their honesty. What the judges should really be doing is not making sure that they can shoot straight and true, it is making sure they can judge fair and square.
Indeed, it’s not just that that target practice misses the target, it is that it hits the wrong one. A gun, like a car, is not just a tool, it is a culture. It is a lifestyle. It is a fetish. Repeated displays of it promote that culture, perpetuate that lifestyle, deepen that fetish. P-Noy himself has not appeared in the media firing a gun, but he has been reported to be indulging in that pastime. Which has given rise to the third “K” in the KKK, “kabarilan,” and which is not entirely unjustified. Frankly, I don’t know which is worse, golf buddies or gun buddies. You have more public officials showing off their own gun prowess—and how can you stop them when their own Chief Executive takes the lead on it—and government will end up beaming a message worse than the Porsche.
With the most unsavory effects on its efforts to curb the culture of impunity. The culture of guns and the culture of impunity are not inimical to each other, they are blood brother to each other. The one feeds on the other as maggots do on carcasses. You are not going to curb the culture of impunity, or the utter ease, the utter lack of fear, the utter lack of compunction with which assassins ply their trade when you pitch to the world however unwittingly, however subliminally, that owning a gun is cool, firing a gun is cool, being a crack shot is cool. You are going to cultivate it. You are going to nourish it. It’s not just that all that target practice won’t discourage thoughts of murder, it is that it will encourage them. Next time you pick up a gun and aim it at the world, judges and juries, cabbages and kings, understand something very well:
You have only yourselves for targets.
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