I’ll be starting trial this week in Norwich. My client is accused of murder. The victim was shot to death, point blank, with a hand gun. The gun has never been found. As near as I can tell from reading the police reports, a bunch of people were hanging out in a low-income neighborhood, rolling dice, getting stoned, and passing a communal bottle of alcohol. A hooded man walked up, pointed a handgun at the back of man’s head, and pulled the trigger. The shooting seems almost random, casual even.
I’ve seen far too many of these sorts of cases in recent years. They are far too common. Young men get in a beef about something, a girl, a slight, drugs, and then, someone returns with a gun. Shots are fired, and quick death is delivered courtesy of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Dis’ me and die, sucker — that’s the new motto for patriots.
This right to bear arms, to transform our streets into killing fields, is overrated.
Why don’t we repeal the Second Amendment once and for all?
We love our guns. They are supposed to keep us safe and secure. Government is supposed to shudder at the prospect of an armed citizenry’s resorting to self-help to chase tyrants from office. That’s patriotic nonsense. We don’t revolt. Despite all our wild rhetoric about the dangers of federal tyranny, we’re a highly regulated and largely supine people. Every four years, a verbal war of words takes place prior to presidential elections. Then we settle down into a compliant torpor, moaning and groaning about government, but trusting and obeying every step of the way.
When we use our guns, we turn them against one another, and for the pettiest of reasons. The rhetoric supporting the right to bear arms does not match the reality of how we use them. We’re not concerned about foreign invasion, or federal tyranny: we just want the right to shoot our neighbors to death if they give us the evil eye.
We have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world: there are 88 guns per every 100 people in this country. We account for about 5 percent of the world’s population, but own at least 35 percent of the handguns in the world. Some estimates claim we own half the world’s handguns. The nation just behind us? Yemen, the land of a failed state and apocalyptic anarchy. The African nation has 55 firearms for every 100 people, according to statistics gathered by the United Nations.
I got in my share of fistfights as a kid, and I’ve been angry enough to kill on more than one occasion. But, to date, I’ve never shot at another human being. I expect to die without ever having fired a shot in anger. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be on my death bed filled with regret.
I do recall the first time I saw a handgun in the hands of a child, however. I was in high school, at Edwin Denby High School in Detroit in the 1970s. I ran track briefly, and would get to the school early to run up and down the stairs before classes started. One day, I headed to the showers after my workout. It was early still. I heard two guys a row of lockers away whispering. Then I heard a whirling sound. When I peaked around the corner to see what was whirring, I saw a small black revolver in the hands of another student. It scared me. I gave up heading into school for morning runs. Not long after that, a classmate was shot to death in the parking lot in a drive-by shooting.
Then the man my mother was living with made new enemies, enemies who threatened to come to our home to exact vengeance on him. He took a handgun and sat in the front of our duplex waiting for visitors. I was assigned a rifle and told to keep an eye on the back of the house. My mother, frantic, was forbidden to call the police. We kept vigil, me wondering whether I’d have the courage to shoot, and hoping someone would arrive at the front of our house and put an end to the man who’d brought this violence into our home.
Detroit scared me; it scares me still. I left that city as fast as I could, vowing never to return. Now it appears Detroit is everywhere.
The killing fields have come to New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, New London, Stamford. I’ve represented young men in each of the cities accused of using guns in acts of sometimes lethal violence. These are high school kids, or kids just out of high school. They get angry, enraged, and they reach for a weapon, letting bullets do what my fists used to accomplish when I was a man-child. We then lock these kids up for a lifetime, treating them as outcasts unfit to walk the streets with the rest of us. What a waste.
Where do all these guns come from? Who is dumping them into inner cities? What does arming high school kids have to do with the Second Amendment? Why do we even need to have handguns at all? Finally, why not harsh penalties for the purveyors of this cheap and easy violence?
It’s not persuasive to tell me the founders intended us to have hand guns. I doubt my ancestors ever heard of the United States when the Second Amendment became the law of the land. I frankly don’t much care what the founders had to say. I do care about safe streets, and wasted lives. Perhaps it’s time to repeal the Second Amendment; let’s send handguns the way of slavery. Or maybe we just want to fill the prisons with new slaves.
So we’re to have four more years of Barack Obama in the White House. Good, I say. Better him than a throwback to a 1960s sitcom. Once the election results were tallied and the loser had conceded the race, it suddenly came to me: I distrusted Mitt Romney because he reminded me of one of the black and white characters on weekly television shows I watched as a kid. The man had the look, feel, sound, and, apparently, the two-dimensional ethos, of a prime-time stock character. Call him Ward Cleaver, the great white father of the perfect family.
That was the point, wasn’t it? Decoded, this "golly gee" wizard from Bain Capital was really just a cultural cipher. Vote for Mitt and, why, we’d be safe again. There’d be a world in which good was clearly good, and evil was clearly evil. Drive off the ambiguity. Father knows best, doesn’t he? Mitt was nostalgia, pure and simple. Could the world just be white a little while longer?
In the days following the election, it became evident that Mitt was the white man’s last best hope. He did well among white male voters who bothered to cast a ballot. It was women, blacks, Hispanics who broke away from him. As the nation approaches a demographic tipping point in which Caucasians will soon be a minority – mark your calendars, 2041 is the date – the defeat of Mitt Romney was heralded by some as the death knell of the white male.
I should mourn more than I do, being, as I am, a member of that privileged cast. But white men can’t mourn such things, that would be racism, a reflection of misogyny, an atavistic refusal to embrace a world of new possibilities for people of all sorts. Working-class white voter turn out was low this year. If there’s no white in the rainbow, why vote?
Is this why there is such a great fascination with television and movie dramas about the apocalypse? The world we knew is over. Let’s tear it all down, and start from scratch. We can build with a few other folks just like us, sharing our values, our skin. What we can’t face is a world remade, different in hue, in culture, in language, yet orderly nonetheless. We can face neither the end of the American Century nor the end of white world. And if we are not to see the world re-made, then let’s ourselves become zombies, members of the walking dead.
A world is passing. White world is in mourning.
Let’s decode some of the nonsense peddled by the right.
Obama is not a citizen, and hence ineligible to be president? No proof will ever suffice to prove to a certain kind of white man that Obama should be president. Yes, blacks can vote. But can they govern themselves, much less the nation? Why look at Detroit, a third-world ghetto governed by African-Americans and reverting now to weeds. Oh, my, how sweet the world was when others were the white man’s burden; what now that we have become a burden to the world?
Let’s be sure to be bound by the intentions of Framers, shall we? All white. All men. All bound to a vision of government and the good life that benefits a few at the expense of many enslaved, or treated as something less than citizens. Originalism has become a high-brow defense of white, middle-class values. Harry Truman’s world was one Jefferson would have approved of.
Let’s keep the borders secure against the Hispanic horde flooding in from the South! Never mind that the forebears of most citizens arrived in this country when borders were open. Today, I suspect we’d strip search the Statue of Liberty before permitting her to stand in New York harbor. Immigrants threaten our way of life, right? Tell it to Native Americans.
Gays can’t marry. What would Ozzie and Harriet think? One-man, one-woman, for life wed, that’s the way, right? And out-of-wedlock children, how declasse. The nuclear family is under assault. Prepare for the collapse of civilization.
No, prepare for change. Civilizations are merely settled ways of life. They change as circumstances change and call for adaptation.
The re-election of Barack Obama is the turning of a new chapter. It will become increasingly impossible for white world to recapture the White House. Demography is destiny. Our complexion as a people is changing, and so, perhaps inevitably, will our institutions.
We white guys still enjoy enormous privilege. By accident of birth, I get a leg up in the race for life’s goodies. I get that. But I see the center slipping away. I see a new world in which my place if far from certain, and, yes, I am threatened by the prospect of all this change. I feel a sense of loss over a world that will soon be gone forever. I cannot share the enthusiasm of the newly arrived, those who suffered, labored and strove for the recognition they only now receive, the power they only now yield. I can only accept the change and strive to embrace a broader vision. But in a world of limited resources, that which I can no longer take for granted is lost to me. I would be a liar to refuse to acknowledge the loss.
I am forbidden the moral energy of identity politics. Others can assert their accidents of birth as foundations on which a new world is to be built. I am expected simply to let go of a world I inherited but did not earn. Ambivalence marks my journey; I behold the excitement of the newly arrived with envy.
I voted for Barack Obama because I thought he’d better serve in a changing world. But on reflection all this talk of changing demographics scares me. If the world is no longer mine, then whose is it?