Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reflection on events in Orlando: Dehumanization, no fly lists and gun free zones

"Guns for what ?, to fight against whom ?, to fight against the revolutionary government , which has the support of all the people ?" - Fidel Castro, January 8, 1959 Havana, Cuba

Terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida

Some are tempted to dehumanize Omar Saddiqui Mateen who carried out a terrorist attack on the Pulse Orlando nightclub that claimed 49 lives and wounded 53 more, but this practice only emulates the first step that he took to mass murder and an act of terrorism as an ISIS supporter: dehumanizing the other. These evil acts must be prevented where possible, stopped when underway and the guilty party brought to justice.  However the humanity of the perpetrator cannot be denied because it only diminishes the horror of what has been done.

Dehumanization, according to Genocide Watch, is the third of the eight stages of genocide. What is shocking about this dehumanization of the other, viewing fellow human beings as subhuman creatures and treating them accordingly is how easy it is for people to do it in large numbers. Worse yet according to David Livingston Smith in Psychology Today the dehumanization leads to look at the perpetrators and the victims as non-people not worthy of our interest.

There is also the rush to take action for the sake of taking action without first looking at what would actually help and what might actually make things worse.

In the midst of the horror today in Orlando the call immediately rises for additional gun control regulation, but in this moment it is also worth looking at existing gun laws and how they are or are not working.

In 1990 the United States passed the Gun-Free School Zones Act, but they are not just limited to schools and the bar attacked this morning in Orlando was one of these places where law abiding citizens are not allowed to carry guns. In addition to schools, in Orlando for example, jails, police stations, court houses, bars, and government meetings are gun free zones.

There is statistical evidence that in gun-free zones, the shooters on a murderous rampage, encounter less resistance and are able to kill more people. Since 1990 the numbers of mass shootings have grown exponentially, as have the number of victims in gun-free zones.

Some gun control advocates argue that all guns should be confiscated and hold what amounts to an abolitionist position.

France is a country with stringent gun regulations and that did not prevent mass casualty attacks involving fire arms in the past two years. Consider the gravity of this for a moment that in the November 2015 Paris attack according to Bob Adelmann in the New American:
Just seven — trained, armed with illegal fully-automatic Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles and explosives — managed, in less than 30 minutes, to kill or wound nearly 500 citizens on Friday night. That’s a ratio of nearly 70 victims for each shooter.
Off duty police officers, military veterans with arms training, off duty military, and others who can demonstrate an ability to handle themselves in this type of situation should be encouraged to carry, including in gun free zones. In Israel there is also evidence of private and licensed gun owners thwarting armed terrorist attacks.

Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." The United States Constitution, in its Bill of Rights recognizes in the Second Amendment "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms."

As a practitioner of nonviolence I do not favor the use of deadly force, except in instances of self defense and defense of others when inaction will lead to a greater loss of life. At the same time the need to rectify U.S. foreign policy and its immigration policies to lower the risks of such attacks are imperative.

Furthermore private citizens giving up their weapons to a leader, that they perceive in an emotional moment as a liberator, can end badly. In 1959 Cubans gave up their guns to Fidel Castro after he asked them why do you need guns now that I have freed you?  57 years later with thousands killed, over 1.8 million in exile, and the Castro family, now a dynasty owning Cuba and arresting nonviolent dissenters, the lesson is clear.

With regards to citizens and their government let the private ownership of guns be done away with, only when the government does away with them. Leaving the monopoly of deadly force in the hands of our military and police is to create a power imbalance over the long term. As outrageous as this proposition may sound, it is not impossible but would require a profound rethink on how power is perceived in our society so that no one either in or out of government believe that they need resort to firearms.

Respect for civil liberties and the rights of citizens under the rule of law is a means to build the groundwork for a gun free future, but power grabs by the Federal Government that ignore due process will only increase gun purchases and distrust by the citizenry in their governing institutions.

President Obama's repeated call to use the No Fly List to strip U.S. citizens of their constitutional rights is troubling for a number of reasons.  First the the list was declared unconstitutional in 2014 "because Americans on it have no meaningful opportunity to contest their inclusion." Secondly the list is full of errors for example Civil Rights icon and current U.S. Congressmen John Lewis ended up on the list as did other non-terrorists. This is why the American Civil Liberties Union has declared that "the use of error-prone and unfair watchlists is not the way to regulate guns in America." Thirdly, the list would not have stopped the attack in Orlando, because the individual had been taken off the list.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Leaving the monopoly of violence in the hands of the state is to tempt tyrants. Furthermore leaving citizens unarmed and depending only on the state to respond to terrorist threats is to leave them helpless or invite a police state to protect them.

Finally we must be on the watch with our own attitudes and resist the temptation to dehumanize the other and become what we rightly reject.

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."  - Benjamin Franklin

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