Editorial: A tale of two revolutions

Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2012 in Opinion

Editorial: A tale of two revolutions

"Liberty Leading the People," Eugene Delacroix (1830)

Two new nations were brought forth in the waning years of the 18th century. The United States of America dissolved the bonds that bound it to Mother England and, because it didn't deal with some of the large issues facing it, set itself up for a date with civil war less than 90 years later. France dissolved itself, descended into a reign of terror, dealt with a small monomaniac for a few years, and eventually emerged with a real republic.

America was greatly concerned that its people would be run over roughshod by a strong central government, and it tried, for a while, a weaker form of government, but that didn't work. So once a strong central government was enacted, the first order of business was to create a bill of rights that would protect the people from the government.

France, on the other hand, had just slaughtered its monarchy, and the ruling leaders of its emerging republic, as well as a lot of other people, and isolated its small monomaniac on an island where he was likely to do little further harm. France wasn't terribly worried about government tyranny because it had first-hand knowledge of what to do with tyrants. They got a date with Mme. Guillotine or a one-way trip to Elba (OK, admittedly not the worst fate that could befall a tyrant). 

So while America was busily insisting that everyone in the country could own a gun in order to protect the people from the government, France didn't do that. 

To this day, the government of France is just a wee bit afraid of its population. Wouldn't you be? The government of the United States, on the other hand, routinely does things like suspending habeas corpus, arresting people without cause and sending them abroad to "black site" prisons, even killing American citizens abroad. France wouldn't dare. It's not because its citizens have a lot of guns ... they don't, really, and the government knows exactly who does have them (in France you have to have a license for a gun and it has to be kept exactly where it is registered and so on). 

The American government is singularly unafraid of its population, though it is a little bit afraid of its corporations. The U.S. has the highest percentage of gun ownership in the world. For every 100 U.S. citizens, there are 88 guns. And yet, none of the guns that people keep in their homes and businesses and cars and strapped to their bodies kept Congress from enacting the PATRIOT Act, for instance, an obvious tyrannical step. Not one of those guns was used to prevent people — U.S. citizens, mostly — from being rounded up and herded into concentration camps in World War II. And none of these weapons were used to prevent the extraordinary rendition of people in the days following 9/11, sent to deportation camps and even black sites in other countries.

Comparatively few of them were used for what gun enthusiasts claim they are generally used for: self protection. Compared to the number of guns, very few of these are ever used for self-defense. The total number of guns in the U.S. is 270 million, but most studies suggest that fewer than a million guns are ever used for self-defense during ownership. That's about a third of a percent. 

About 31,000 people die from gun violence in the U.S. annually, from homicide (including justifiable homicide), suicide, and accident. Of those, about 5,000 are children under the age of 15. Another 65,000 people survive a gunshot wound. 

In France, meanwhile, 3,300 people died from gun violence, a 50 percent lower rate, per capita.

What is it about the French republic that is different from the American republic? Are Americans taken for granted by their government in a way that the French government would never dare to take its citizens for granted?

That's the question we need to address. Guns aren't the answer, or even, really, the problem. The problem is that our government doesn't think it has to take any notice of what we say, or what we want, while being overwhelmingly concerned about what corporations think, want, and demand. 

The reason for that is because we aren't good at demanding what we want. We don't vote the bastards out when they vote repeatedly to support corporations at the expense of the people. In France, those politicians wouldn't get a second term. In America, they're on their 14th term, some of them.

The Occupy movement and the 99 percent movements were the first step in what is likely to be a new American revolution. Government must be accountable to the people, not to the highest bidder. And until that is the case, all the guns in the world won't secure our rights as a free people.

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