Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Second and The First

We're talking about the 2nd amendment now. Again.

And it makes me think about my first conversation on the issue. It was in a fifth grade social studies class at St. Ita's Elementary School. I remember challenging my teacher (surprise!) on why it made sense for a daddy to have a gun in his house to fight a soldier. I told her wars happen on battlefields, not in someone's house, right? I remember this vividly because I didn't have a dad at home most days so I was desperate to get clarification on this point - could a soldier come into my home where it was only me and my mom? Could we get taken to jail by some unknown heathen trying to reshape our government through the capture and torture of my family? Keep in mind that, as a Cuban, the experience of having an armed militia fighting the established government was viewed quite differently in our living room than it was in U.S. history books.

It was all a jumble in my head until ,my teacher said, essentially, this: 'The United States wouldn't exist without regular people having guns.'

Our country was formed through armed conflict. Fighting that did not occur between a formal army and a trained military opposition. Farmers, cobblers, tailors - regular men - pulled themselves together, armed themselves, and created a legitimate (and ultimately prevailing) counter to the trained armies of the British empire. That's some pretty amazing stuff, isn't it? I can't imagine my husband, the realtor, and the neighbor across the street who owns a dollar store, and the guy behind me who's an artist, pulling guns out of closets and fighting the British army today. Can you? And yet our forefathers did that, just as the Cubans did. Whether you like the outcome of one or the other there are some parallels.

And so having discussed this with my teacher, and later with my mom, I walked away simply agreeing to disagree with myself. Part of me felt it was absolutely appropriate for a person to be able to defend themselves against unreasonable invasion by any force - whether criminal or not. The other part of me felt  there was real and mighty danger in allowing anyone to exercise that power because in one case (let's argue the Americans) the result might be o.k. but in another (let's, for the moment, say the Cubans) the situation that survives might be awful. I left it at that for years and years and years - I just didn't think about it.

Then, maybe ten years or so ago, I read an article in the Tribune about a mom who's daughter had been killed at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The mom had been raising her family in a poor neighborhood when, some short time prior, her son had been gunned down in an act of random gang violence. She took the extraordinary measure of moving her whole family elsewhere, to a place she expected would be safer. Not many have the wherewithal or the initiative to do this but she was determined to assure her girls that they were protected, that she was protecting them. When her daughter was shot and killed at her part time job in this better neighborhood, the thing that struck me - and has stayed with me all these years - is what she said to the reporter - 'I have one baby left. How am I going to convince her that she is safe? That I can keep her safe? I can't.'

That mom's simple but complete pain was indellibly impressed upon me. Nothing is more important than keeping your baby safe. Freedom to own a gun doesn't matter when your baby is dead. Only the freedom to keep her safe matters.

We talk a lot about freedoms in this country. We're free to do this that and the other and we're very insistant about that. What many fail to remember when they're railing about their freedoms is what they trade for the freedom.

You want to be free to walk in and out of buildings without search? OK. Then someone may walk in with a bomb strapped to his chest. We'll take that bet, in most cases. You want to drive around without the police asking you for identification? Yes. Then sometimes, foreign nationals without legal authority to be here will drive down that same street. For the most part, we'll suck that up too. You want a free press? Absolutely. Good. Then you may hear more about Kim Khardashian than a body should ever know. I think she'd agree with that one.

You want everyone to have the right to own a gun - any kind of gun? Fine. Then every so often someone will randomly enter an elementary school and kill babies. OK?

The question this country has to ask itself - and we are, and continue to be - the great self-correctors in governance - is 'Are we willing to trade our babies for the freedom to own any kind of gun?' I can't imagine anyone saying 'yes' to that question, but somehow, some find the way to do so by invoking the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment has a good and reasonable purpose - to offer protection to regular people against an unreasonable, armed, threat. In what may be its most profound case of irony to date, it appears this amendment has become the unreasonable threat it seeks to obliterate.

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