US faces the gun and tax cliffs

Updated: 2013-01-24 07:22

By Stephan Richter (China Daily)

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The fiscal cliff and the "gun cliff" - the two big tasks US President Barack Obama faces in his second term - are not separate issues. The resolution of both will speak volumes about the true grit of American civilization.

The trouble with the United States is simple: Virtually all the problems it faces, from guns to taxes, are eminently solvable. But solving them requires a basic sense of right and wrong, and that is precisely what is in question.

As its "moral compass", the US relies on an ill-fated, mechanistic concept of splitting the difference. That may sound like pragmatism but is not given that one side regularly negotiates from cynical, extremist positions.

Viewed in a global context, what is at stake is not just a stronger US economy or a tougher gun law. At stake is American civilization itself.

For all the pride that has traditionally been wound up in America's greatness, a society that is fundamentally incapable of agreeing on the most basic issues of fairness and decency at home puts more under threat than just the question of governability. That may sound like a stretch, but only initially, if one asks where is the evidence that the US, considering its level of economic and political development, is any more peaceable and governable than Egypt.

Somehow, the US seems stuck in the concepts of the Old Testament. The perverse self-justification of all those gun buyers who now sheepishly argue "why should my freedom be restricted just because some kids got shot?" attests not just to a level of naivet, but inhumanness that begs disbelief.

It remains to be seen whether, on the gun issue, Obama really achieves more than the customary default position of other US presidents in times of national tragedy. Serving as the sermonizer-in-chief is a far cry from providing effective leadership. And yet one can feel with the US president. Outlawing and collecting all assault weapons would seem to be the most basic measure of civilization in any society.

The crux of the issue is that Americans must abandon their childish ideas of how a society works. No person is an island unto himself or herself. We all live as part of a much, much larger group. The people must understand that using assault weapons for hunting or shooting is not an expression of freedom, but an expression of human sickness or perversion.

The US National Rifle Association has 4 million members, and far from all favor the essentially unrestricted use of assault weapons. And yet American politicians and society are afraid to take on the gun lobby.

What the NRA is peddling is an incredible hoax. Americans can no longer go on accumulating limitless debt but they can still buy weapons at every Walmart and plenty of other stores. The offer on hand to deal with one's frustrations is not to consume, but to shoot.

The blindness of American society, which is generally a very fearful one, is staggering. Putting that many weapons out there - almost 1 for every American man, woman and child - is not just bewildering. It is plain dumb.

Republicans always cherish supply-side economics. They ought to know that the stuff out there will exhibit a tendency to be used. In addition, these are nerve-wracking times for many people. They feel extremely insecure economically. Seeing Americans going on a gun-buying spree in the decade when incomes stagnated and a quarter of the population was for all practical purposes unemployed must be considered somewhat suicidal.

It is not unlike the "wisdom" shown by the Reagan administration to equip Afghan "freedom fighters" with stinger missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopters. It sounded good until the day American planes in the skies over Afghanistan were being shot down with the same US-made weapons.

The US should fix its problems not for people abroad to continue holding it in high regard. It ought to do so for one reason and one reason alone: self-preservation. Self-preservation of the nation, by the way, was the sole intent of the Second Amendment, contrary to how some recent court cases have sought to reinterpret the US constitution to serve the commercial arguments promoted by the NRA and its acolytes.

The only grammatically correct way to read the Second Amendment ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.") is not to see it as two independent clauses. Rather, the first half clearly qualifies (in fact, conditions) the second.

Moreover, the oppressor against whom the people need to militate today is no longer the state. If anything, it is the NRA and other gun-toting people who hold civilized America hostage with their gun fetish.

The people cannot defend themselves against the proliferation of assault weapons and other unnecessary weapons, but their "state" - their government - can. Self-preservation is the one and only reason the US should resolve the gun issue. If it fails that test, it will have a hard time staying on the track of modernity.

As a matter of fact, after the Newtown school massacre, there cannot be any doubt that a revised Second Amendment to the US constitution is urgently required. And it should read: "A well regulated society, being necessary to the security of a free people, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall be abridged." The very notion of civilization demands no less.

The author is the publisher of The Globalist and president of The Globalist Research Center.

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