The Critical Mass

Founding Fathers, welcome to the 21st century

The Founding Fathers not only owned slaves, but were computer illiterate.

The Founding Fathers not only owned slaves, but were computer illiterate.

The 21st century has been tough on our Republican friends. This week has been particularly unnerving. The world’s most-famous Marine, Gomer Pyle, married his longtime boyfriend. Female soldiers were granted a privilege formerly reserved for men, engaging in hand-to-hand combat.

And now, we’re finally having that gun discussion that, as a nation, we need. And what a conversation, indeed!

  • Gayle Trotter, a senior fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, said this to Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence: “An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon. And the peace of mind she has … knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.” Trotter is a lobbyist, and a tax attorney by trade. I’m not sure why a person with such credentials would be testifying before Congress as an expert on guns. But I ain’t messin’ with her babies.
  • South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham had this to say: “There could be a situation where a mother runs out of bullets because of something we do here. Six bullets in the hands of a woman trying to defend her children might not be enough.”
  • Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said this during an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday: I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.”

Is this really the greatest country in the world, as self-proclaimed patriots of the far right love to bray? A country where the only people who look like Bruce Willis in a Die Hard flick can walk the streets with some assurance that they won’t be bothered?

National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre testified Wednesday as well. He’s famously known for insisting on armed guards in all schools, claiming “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But LaPierre had no answer for Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head, never to be the same woman again. Kelly pointed out what many people have forgotten about that awful morning in Tucson two years ago, when six people were killed and 13 wounded. There was a good guy with a gun. He pointed that gun at one of the brave guys who had tackled and disarmed the shooter. The good guy with the gun, Kelly reminded the Senators, “admits that he came within about a half a second of shooting the man … and nearly killing him.”

Wednesday’s hearing on gun violence has brought out the crazy. But this is nothing new, is it? We’ve been hearing this kind of talk for a while, now. The difference being, when Mitt Romney told a room full of rich people that he didn’t care about 47 percent of Americans because they’d never vote for him, he wasn’t holding a gun to our heads. All we had to do was vote for the other guy.

This is the 21st century, but conservatives never tire of proclaiming that they want to take back the county. Back to the 19th century. They refuse to vote for legislation that would assure women get equal pay as men for doing the same job. They deny women the right to have control of their own lives and bodies – rights confirmed by the Supreme Court – by introducing laws that force the closing of abortion clinics. They introduce legislation in this country of immigrants that treats new immigrants to this country with suspicion and disrespect. They insist school boards that do not include in their curriculums the teaching of articles of faith – creationism, Bible stories – are attacking their religious freedoms, but they refuse to concede that those same religious freedoms should be granted to people who share the beliefs of American Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists.

The NRA claims that its aim to protect the rights of gun owners, but its intransigent positions on gun-control proposals that even NRA members agree are good ideas – like background checks – reveal the NRA to be merely a lobbyist for the billion-dollar-a-year gun industry. Like any business, the makers of  guns and bullets do not want to see their customer base reduced. The National Shooting Sports Foundation web site suggests the gun industry creates jobs. Yes, for paramedics, emergency-room personnel and morticians.

This kind of thinking wants to take the country back even further, to the 18th century. When the Founding Fathers walked the Earth. Conservatives falsely claim that old fellas like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, in their wisdom, created a Judeo-Christian nation. They falsely claim that the Second Amendment allows 21st-century man to walk around his neighborhood armed like an extra from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. But the Second Amendment does no such thing. The Founding Fathers were smart men, but they were creating ideas for an 18th-century world, not a 21st-century world. Many of them owned slaves, and their women could not vote. They couldn’t envision a world with nuclear bombs and the Internet, or a time when we would be able to alter the planet’s climate through our own arrogance.

America was a tiny, upstart nation in 1790, when the first U.S. census counted just 3.9 million people. The Founding Fathers saw the need for militias because the young country couldn’t afford to keep a standing army. They hid behind trees to shoot at Redcoats, never imagining the day would come when wars could be fought with pilotless drone aircraft dropping bombs on people who we can’t look in the eye, don’t understand, and aren’t even sure are a threat to us.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did not write the Constitution or the Bill of Rights mindful of future Americans casually acquiring personal arsenals that could almost single-handedly destroy George Washington’s Continental Army.

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