As the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama has had more threats to his life than any other president. Now, with his proposals to tighten up, by executive order, controls on sales of guns, he has ramped up the threat to his security
to an unprecedented level.
Why are guns such an emotional issue in the United States?
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “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.”
To any rational and sensible person, the right conferred by this amendment refers to the collective right of a state’s militia or army rather than to the right of an individual citizen to have a gun.
In any event the Supreme Court has ruled that the right refers to an individual.
But to non-Americans all the fuss about the right to own guns, including assault weapons designed for military warfare, seems strange. In so many other jurisdictions around the world citizens have a right to own a weapon for a variety of purposes, but in practically all cases the possession of such weapons are subject to all kinds of regulations and to permission being granted by the state in the form of a licence or some such document.
Indeed, as Obama has stated more than once, the government regulates both how vehicles are manufactured and how they are used (seat belts, speed limits, and so forth) in order to protect people. Similarly, medications that might be harmful to children are required to have safeguards on their containers (child-proof covers, and so on).
And one can find many other examples of the government regulating the production of goods and services so as to safeguard its citizens. Yet the mere suggestion of some restriction on the right to purchase an AR-15 or AK-47 assault weapon, such as a background check, is greeted with howls of outrage by a significant section of the American public and the majority of members of the Republican Party.
Why is that?
Well, we have to understand the unspoken politics of gun rights in the United States.
It has little to do with rights, and all to do with power.
It is an outcome of centuries of white supremacy that characterized that country. Guns were required by slaveholders to keep slaves under control and to protect themselves from any slave revolt. And that is what it is all about. The hard core of support for the gun lobby in the United States comes from those white males who hate, fear and resent Blacks.
These have found their political refuge in the Republican Party. They reject the right of Obama to be president, even though democratically elected by a majority of Americans, and look for all kinds of pretexts to question his authenticity (born in Kenya, and so forth).
The fact is that they cannot accept that a black person could possibly be the leader of America. They also reject Latinos, Muslims, Asians and other citizens of colour as being genuine Americans.
So Americans should not pretend that gun ownership is a matter of rights; it is a powerful symbol of white supremacy. The supremacists, egged on by Republican politicians, believe that Obama is “coming to get their guns” and must be stopped. Because, for them, that is the first step. The second step is to kill all white men and rape allwhite women.
There is thus for them only one way to stop Obama. Bang!
God protect him.
(Peter Laurie, a former Barbados diplomat, is a noted social commentator.)