Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When Congress was armed (and dangerous)

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 12:09 PM

OK, OK, we are all freaked out about the horrible, tragic shooting in Arizona. But, should we be freaked out that a North Carolina congressman, Heath Shuler, has announced that he'll be carrying a gun around town? Nah. I don't think so.

First of all, it's his right to do so. Second, there are plenty of gun owners in this world who never, ever turn their guns on their fellow (wo)man. We cannot allow one man's actions, in this case Jared Loughner, to convince us that everyone with a gun is dangerous or that guns should be banned. (Now, should the laws be tweaked ... probably. All laws should be reviewed regularly.)

There is a very real and legitimate reason why American's have the right to bear arms: To protect ourselves ... sometimes from our government. Yes, I know that sounds extreme today, but put it in the context of the time during which the Bill of Rights was written. It's also critical to understand that ours is a "government for the people, by the people."

One of the main reasons why we have a Second Amendment is to remind us and our leaders that, should they fail to represent us as we see fit, it is our right to start this governmental experiment all over again. Again sounds radical today — especially when everyone has voting rights, and we're so far removed from the wars we wage that it seems like they don't really exist, but that's reality.

In other words, pick up a U.S. history book. Now read it.

Speaking of history, there's a great op-ed in today's New York Times by Joanne B. Freeman, a Yale history professor, about a time when Congress was armed and dangerous. It talks about a Congressman getting caned by another on the Senate floor, a Congressman nearly biting a journalist's finger off and the regular brandishing of weapons in political debates — no kidding. I highly recommend reading it, which you can do here.

But, for now, I'm going to skip to the end. Here's why: No matter how many guns you or I have, or how many our country has, conflicts are usually started and ended with words, not guns.

Today, in the wake of an episode of violence against a member of Congress, we’re again lamenting the state of political rhetoric, now spread faster than ever via Twitter, Web sites, text messaging and e-mail. Once again, politicians are considering bearing arms — not to use against one another, but potentially against an angry public.

And once again we’re reminded that words matter. Communication is the heart and soul of American democratic governance, but there hasn’t been much fruitful discourse of late — among members of Congress, between the people and their representatives or in the public sphere. We need to get better at communicating not only quickly, but civilly.

But — and this is why gun-control issues remain emotional and confused, as with the incident in Arizona, not every gunman is someone we can reason with. Here's Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, a former Congresswoman, testifying before Congress on gun control about the day her parents died at the hands of a crazed gunman in 1991. (Yes, I realize she's a conservative gun rights activist.) I'm posting this as a reminder that the incident in Arizona, unfortunately, isn't a new experience for our country.

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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