Bill Ayers, right-wing hypocrites, and the Second Amendment

>> Monday, October 27, 2008

I should probably start by making two things clear, so that you don't get the wrong idea and think this is a defense of William Ayers. I'm not really interested in William Ayers, I just have a question, or maybe it's not a question, maybe it's a beam of puzzlement to direct at some of the folks on the right who think Ayers is a despicable person. It's not puzzlement because they're wrong, but we'll get into that in a moment. First things first.

The first thing that I ought to try to get across is that I've spent most of my life considering myself a pacifist. And if I'm not sure I still do, it's frankly bitter resignation more than a philosophical or ethical change: "well, everybody else is violent, so I guess we're stuck with that." I tend to be a pragmatist. I don't believe in God, but if going to church keeps someone from smoking crack, I'm all about the efficacy of Christianity or whatever. If crazy lunatics in various parts of the world are going to shoot each other, I guess we have to have our own people to shoot each other. I suppose I figure if Jesus couldn't convince anybody to embrace nonviolence two thousand years ago, not even people who wear a reminder of his execution as jewelry, what chance does a lefty atheist intellectual have? But I still find real violence repellent and distasteful, and if I'm a bit of a hypocrite in my middle years, it's only because it gets harder to believe in things as you get old and tired and frustrated and resigned; I still believe in other things, don't get me wrong, the flame has guttered but it hasn't gone out. Not yet.

The second thing I ought to get across, though I'd like to keep it short and if it has to get complicated, maybe I could deal with it later, is about the Second Amendment. Typical of my breed, I suppose, I'm not a fan--but I'm also not particularly against it, you should understand. "Ambivalent" is a good word. On the one hand, I have a lot of family on my mother's side for whom guns have provided food; I love my family, and I like the idea of my family members eating, and sometimes they've sent me game over the years and I like that, too. So guns are undeniably good when you're talking about food, for instance. On the other hand, however, although I live in the South, I live in a city in the South, where anybody who is out hunting with a gun is probably looking for a dude who owes them money, or (worse yet by far) looking for somebody like me who might have money and would probably part with it if a gun was stuck in his face. And I'm not a particularly big fan of the self-defense school, the people who blithely buy pistols so they can shoot somebody over a stereo; certainly some people who break into an occupied home do so with bad intent towards the inhabitants, but it's never been clear to me that a gun has an overwhelming advantage for home defense over, say, a baseball bat--and there are some clear disadvantages in my opinion, since a baseball bat is unlikely to ever go off while you're cleaning it. Nonetheless, I also feel that the first Amendments to the Constitution, colloquially called "The Bill Of Rights," ought to be sacrosanct, and since the Second Amendment is in there we're stuck with it. But all this starts to take us off course: I hope it's enough to say that I'm ambivalent about the Second Amendment and we can leave it there for now.

Sort of a resigned pacifist? Check. Mixed feelings about the Second Amendment? Check. Still with me?

I suppose we're not quite done with the Second Amendment, but at least we're getting to the meat now. There are, as you know, a lot of people who aren't very ambivalent about the Second Amendment, they're all for it you know. Why, there are some folks who are so for it they've tried to mandate gun ownership in some places. And there are a lot of reasons these folks are all for gun ownership--the right to hunt I can get behind, and the right to defend oneself I can understand (though I don't think the proponents of this view have thought through things like, for instance, the fact that self-defense is an affirmative defense to a criminal charge, say, for instance, of first-degree murder1). But, of course, the Second Amendment doesn't actually talk about hunting or even self defense. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution says:

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.

...which obviously suggests the right is supposed to be about security of the various states and maintenance of local militias. There's been a lot of debate about that, of course, and usually the people who write and end up defending gun control legislation from the NRA in court end up arguing a strong version of that with varying degrees of success. But that's sort of not the point I really want to get at.

The point I really want to get at is that you hear a lot of strongly pro-gun folks, most of them pretty conservative and right-wing folks, arguing another reason for gun ownership, and one that's actually pretty Constitutionally and historically sound. And that's the position that people ought to be able to have guns so they can defend themselves against foreign invasion and/or a tyrannical government, just like the Founding Fathers did when they wrote the Second Amendment in the first place. I have to admit, I think this rationale is obsolete to the point of being laughable, actually--your hunting rifle really isn't going to do much against mobile infantry or an airstrike--but hey, you know, it's legally and historically sound even if it is at least a century behind military innovations.

Anyway, it's not an uncommon rationale, and it's historically sound, and it tracks the language of the Amendment. Sometimes you hear it more loudly than at other times. A lot of people who defended David Koresh, a cult leader, rapist and attempted-murderer who was killed during a tragically botched arrest by ATF agents in 1993, suggested Koresh had a right to defend himself against Federal agents. Ditto from supporters of Randy Weaver, a man allegedly connected to white supremacist groups, whose family was tragically killed during a botched arrest for Federal firearms violations. And even some people who don't necessarily want to defend Koresh or Weaver will say the right to bear arms is the right to stand up against a tyrannical government.

Which makes you wonder why some of the same people have a problem with William Ayers.

Ayers was, of course, a member of the leftist organization the Weathermen, which broke from the Students For A Democratic Society primarily over the issue of militancy. As in, the Weathermen wanted to blow things up and the SDS really didn't. And that's what Ayers did, or tried to do, anyway; the most popular accusations from folks on the right concern a pretty vile plan Ayers participated in to blow up an NCO dance at Fort Dix that was terminated when the bombmakers managed to blow themselves up instead. It shouldn't have to be said that it was a pretty reprehensible plot, not because they were trying to blow up American soldiers, but because they were trying to blow up anybody. And there it is, actually, the point. Because the folks on the right who believe that the Second Amendment protects the right to have guns so as to oppose a hypothetical tyrannical government cannot logically have a problem with blowing up American soldiers.

That's obvious, isn't it? Should America sink to tyranny, who, exactly, do the right-wingers who reserve the right to rebel think they'd be shooting at, anyway? They don't think, do they, that the new "President-For-Life" will come down himself, moustache-a-twirling, to tyrannize them in person, do they? No, the people who will be oppressing them, should it come to that, will be a bunch of fine young American men and women from the National Guard or United States Armed Forces, people who enlisted and are following orders from what they take to be the Constitutional government of the United States or whatever they're calling it at that point.

Do I need to point out that the Founders (and others, such as Noah Webster2) who espoused this interpretation of the right to bear arms had no problem blowing up their own? They were British subjects who renounced their citizenship and rebelled against their rightful King, and had they lost the American Revolution they would have been tried as British subjects and hanged for capital offenses including treason, seditious libel and murder.

I can think it's outrageous that William Ayers was a bloodthirsty punk kid3 because, on the days I'm not so jaded I sigh and wave in a general direction and say, "Oh whatever, blow it all to hell, somebody's going to do it anyway," on those days I'm not so jaded, I think it's wrong to kill people. But at least some of the conservatives who are outraged about William Ayers, or, really, outraged that Barack Obama spends more time gaining votes than he does going around damning William Ayers, or are outraged that the rest of us aren't putting Obama on an exile ship for not going around damning Ayers--at least some of these people have to be okay with killing American soldiers or law enforcement officers in the general conceptual sense or are specifically okay with killing them if the officers happened to be working for Janet Reno at the time.

Ayers believed the country had taken a tyrannical bent and he was entitled to rebel against it--considering this was during the Nixon administration, noted for its criminal acts against American citizens and habit of sneaking things past Congress, Ayers may have been at least partly right about the first half of that. So he took arms against his government. So at least some on the right are, what, outraged that a pinko stole their idea?

Be glad the Greenwich plot failed, enjoy the schadenfreude that the plotters blew themselves up if you must, and get over it already.

1What? First-degree murder? Well, yes--manslaughter is a more likely charge, but elements like "lying in wait" (I refer to North Carolina law here--your mileage, as they say, may vary) can elevate an offense to capital murder. Something to think about if you're hiding behind the bed with a loaded gat in your hand while someone's outside messing with your window. My suggestion would be to call the police, maybe turn on a bunch of lights and yell (from a safe location), "Hey, asshole, the cops are on their way!"

A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.

("An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution," quoted here.)

3And I do. I just don't see what it has to do with Obama.
As I've written before, Ayers was the guy for juvenile law in Chicago: all that Obama's connection with Ayers says about Obama is that Obama was a Chicago politician who dealt with juvenile justice issues, same as any other Democrat or Republican or independent in Chicago.


Leanright.,  Monday, October 27, 2008 at 3:57:00 PM EDT  

You will probably state that I am "missing your point", but my take is: Anyone running into buy a gun and need it RIGHT NOW, is someone who definitely needs a waiting period. I do believe in the second amendment, but I also believe we need to be wise about it.

I see no need for automatic weapons, and I do believe the constitution contains this amendment to take up a militia, should the brits get a little out of hand. This has segwayed into people having weapons for personal protection, and although I agree with your baseball bat analogy; it would be ineffective is anyone swung a Louisville Slugger like my wife does.

I believe the amendment has gone too far, but should not be taken away; just reigned in. I believe if a criminals are going to use a gun to commit a crime, the legality of acquiring said weapon it the least of their concern. The right to bear arms had a different meaning to the founders than it does today.

In the same argument, those who create Pornography, etc.. use "free speech" as their argument to continue to produce it. I don't beleive the founders created free speech to see Martha Washington in her knickers.

The constitution is used too often to fit the arguments of either side, without consideration as to why it was created to begin with.

Random Michelle K Monday, October 27, 2008 at 4:26:00 PM EDT  

I (and here's where I take leave from the Dems) believe that...

"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."

...means that we need to remain armed in the event of a tyrannical government.

Which means that the government should not be able to restrict ownership of any type of gun.

Waiting periods? Hell yes. Registration databases? Not so much.

As far as home defense goes, it seems to me that the proper instrument for home defense would be a shotgun, since it allows for far more room for error.

Plus, you can used rock salt and silver pellets and be on guard against supernatural predators as well as your common everyday B&E thugs.

Figure out how to load a cartridge with holy water and you're totally set.


More seriously, how do I reconcile that with my pacifism? I recognize that pacifism is personal choice and not something I can force onto others, and that until the world is a better place, we need people who are willing to defend the innocent.

It's an ugly cobble, but it works for me.

Eric Monday, October 27, 2008 at 5:24:00 PM EDT  

Michelle, I hate to point this out, but how do you reconcile your sense "that we need to remain armed in the event of a tyrannical government" with the fact that this would mean shooting your fellow Americans serving the tyrannical government?

I'm not philosophically opposed to rebellion, notwithstanding my lawyer's affirmation to uphold the Constitution and government. But anything I did against a tyrannical government would have to be tempered by my reluctance to not only harm people, but to harm my fellow Americans. (I have a liberal intellectual's suspicion of patriotism, but I'm not immune to it.)

This is what rebellion or civil war means: taking up arms against your own. Ayers, like a lot of Americans of his era, thought that he was taking up arms against a tyrannical government--whether you agree with him factually about Johnson and/or Nixon, I think it's hard to condemn him morally if you agree with the premise that it can ever be okay to take up arms against your countrymen if they serve tyranny.

Yes, I believe tyranny should be fought with every atom of one's being, but I hope there's a line that stops short of maiming and killing one's fellow man. (That this is merely a hope and not a first principle is only due to the cynicism and weariness I discussed in my post.)

Eric Monday, October 27, 2008 at 5:26:00 PM EDT  

Oh, and Leanright, ironically, it sounds like we probably agree on the Second Amendment more than we disagree.

Leanright,  Monday, October 27, 2008 at 6:12:00 PM EDT  

Wow....we agree on something! I bet we both like pizza and Dairy Queen Blizzards as well!

I knew there was middle ground somewhere.

Random Michelle K Monday, October 27, 2008 at 8:19:00 PM EDT  


I decided a long time ago that my pacifism was a personal belief, and one that I don't believe I can or should impose upon anyone else.

To wit, my pacifism stems from my need to restrain my own violent tendencies. It is not something I feel should be forced upon other people; to be honest I don't think my pacifist beliefs are even viable in our society--at least not yet.

I believe we need an armed forces and people who are willing to defend innocents. I also believe the last eight years have shown us that we are at greater risk of falling to a tyrannical government than I ever would have believed possible.

If we had another revolutionary war, I believe it would be my duty to volunteer as a pacifist in the medical corps or something similar. I could not and would not take up arms, but I believe that patriotism and defense of innocents requires a militia or military to take up arms in defense.

Our country has been willing to play fast and loose with the law in times of war. So far the government has pulled back from the brink. But there is no guarantee we will do so in the future.

Of course this requires more than arms. It also requires an active, aware, and educated citizenry. Which is far harder to achieve and maintain I believe.

Eric Monday, October 27, 2008 at 8:53:00 PM EDT  

Michelle, I agree with you about pacifism, and to the extent I remain a pacifist, it's for much the same reasons you offer.

The problem I was trying to get at in my comment is that if you believe that armed rebellion is justified against a "tyrannical government," then you believe that in that circumstance it's okay to injure or kill the American soldiers who would enforce that tyranny. And that's what Ayers, in his mind, was doing: what Ayers was up to in the early '70s is no different from what some right-wingers have said was justifiable as a reason to possess firearms, and so their outrage seems to me to be a bit thoughtless, hypocritical and false.

This is the crux: if you (generic "you," not necessarily you, Michelle) believe the citizenry should be armed to defend against a tyrannical government, you must necessarily believe it's sometimes acceptable to use those arms against your fellow Americans. There's not any way around that I can see.

Random Michelle K Monday, October 27, 2008 at 9:18:00 PM EDT  

"This is the crux: if you (generic "you," not necessarily you, Michelle) believe the citizenry should be armed to defend against a tyrannical government, you must necessarily believe it's sometimes acceptable to use those arms against your fellow Americans. There's not any way around that I can see."

Yes. I do believe that. (Sorry it wasn't clear.)

However, I believe that the situation would need to be more dire than anything we have yet seen.

But I hope to whatever Gods there may be that we never see another Civil War on our soil.

Random Michelle K Monday, October 27, 2008 at 9:20:00 PM EDT  

Sorry. I'm really distracted right now.

By more dire, I'm thinking the bloody excesses of the French Revolution.

Nathan Monday, October 27, 2008 at 10:31:00 PM EDT  

In the early 70's there were a lot of people (on both sides) who were absolutely convinced we were on the brink of Revolution or Civil War. I'm really glad I was too young to have any meaningful understanding of what the stakes were at the time.

Jim Wright Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 12:27:00 PM EDT  

Well said, Eric, as usual. You've said precisely what I've been telling my own hard right family, Bill Ayers, get the fuck over it.

Guns. Speaking as a gun owner, and a highly trained military officer - I don't keep loaded weapons in the house. Everything I own is locked in the gun safe - with the single except of a 12ga shotgun I keep in the shop (locked in a quick rack, ammo separate) for bears which do occasionally wander into my driveway.

When it comes to home defense, well, that's mostly just bullshit.

1) Unless you're a crack dealer, it's damned unlikely that anybody is going to kick in your door and invade your house. Honestly, how often does that happen?
2) In an invasion, unless you are sitting on the couch with your loaded pistol in your hand, it's worthless.
3) If someone breaks into your house and you're not home and you keep the weapons unlocked - you've just given the criminals another gun - one registered to you. Have fun with that.
4) A standard .357 magnum round from a model 29 S&W (the most common "home defense" pistol will penetrate completely 5 plasterboard interior walls, a full sized refrigerator/freezer, the outside wall and your neighbor's outer wall. Pull the trigger in the hallway and miss your target and you can expect those rounds to go completely through your kid's bedroom, i.e. you're a fucking idiot.
5) A lot of guys watch too much TV. They think they can take a pistol round in the shoulder and keep fighting. Bullshit. Nevertheless, I've seen shitheads try to walk into a pistol. On the other hand, nobody walks into a shotgun (as Michelle noted above). If you must have a weapon for home defense, get a short barreled, 12ga pump shotgun. The sound of that thing racking is usually enough to scare the piss out of anybody (which is why the first man in a Navy combat boarding team carries a shotgun, he steps on deck and racks the action - then you've got everybody's attention). Load it with #8 quail shot. That probably won't kill anybody, but it sure as shit stop him and knock him down, but it also won't go through your kid's bedroom wall.

Finally, when it comes to home defense: best defense is to take your cell phone, go in the bathroom lock the door, sit on the floor with your feet against the door AND CALL THE POLICE. That's what they get paid for.

What kills me, is that idiots will spend a fortune on hand guns for "home defense," but don't put in a fire escape ladder in their kid's 2nd story bedroom or put adequate smoke detectors in their house. What's more likely? A fire or a home invasion?

Again, I'm a gun owner, and highly trained and know more about weapons than most people, and I live in an open gun culture (Alaska). Here's how I see it:
- Waiting period, all for it. Should be longer, 15 days. Nobody needs a gun RIGHT NOW!
- Background check: absolutely.
- Ban guns sales at gun shows, not enough control (and gun shows piss me off in general - see today's post on Stonekettle Station, after I get it posted that is)
- Mandatory training prior to first gun purchase, just like driver's ed. Period and no exceptions.
- Strict accountability. You own guns, you better own a gun safe. You better keep those weapons away from kids. You better not be fucking around. Else you go to jail and don't get to own weapons ever again.

I'll have more in today's post on my own site.

Jim Wright Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 12:31:00 PM EDT  

Oh, and for once I actually agree with Leanright, there is no need whatsoever for anybody to own automatic weapons, or civilian versions of military weapons - there is no fucking need, period, for anybody to have an AK-47 or an AR-15 (even if only single shot). These are not sporting weapons, they have one purpose and one purpose only. An AR-15 round leaves the barrel at 3700 yards per second (as apposed to a .45 pistol round at 850 feet per second). Try to imagine the kinetic energy, try to imagine the range. Then tell me why a civilian needs to own one other than to compensate for having a little dick.

Carol Elaine Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 9:00:00 PM EDT  

Leanright, I'm a hardcore lefty pacifist (I usually refer to myself as a neo-hippie, tree-hugging vegetarian, so it's pretty easy to figure out where my politics lie). I hate guns. In my early 20s I fired a few different kinds of 9mm handguns, as well as a rifle and a Desert Eagle, so I have some idea of the power behind them (my boyfriend of the time was a gun enthusiast - ah, my days of being young and stupid -- er, I mean, agreeable).

However, I absolutely agree with you regarding the Second Amendment. I actually have no problem with citizens owning guns as long as they do so responsibly, i.e., taking the precautions that Jim has outlined. I would even go so far as to have gun owners take refresher courses so that the initial training never entirely fades away. And NO automatic weapons. Ain't no reason for the average citizen to own one. Ever.

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