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Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Stand Your Ground" As Secessionist Treason

When the democratic left spinelessly abandoned the struggle for sensible gun control regulations in the aftermath of the 2000 election, when his support of some gun control measures was interpreted as a chief cause of Al Gore's defeat in his home state of Tennessee and, hence, of his defeat in the general election (an election Al Gore actually won, one should never tire of pointing out, and in which partisan Republican members of the Supreme Court outrageously irresponsibly selected the loser of that election, George W. Bush, as President in what amounted to a bloodless putsch that would eventuate in an orgy of bloodletting around the world and in a host of crises of institutional illegitimacy from which the nation has yet to recover), the space opened up by that abandonment of common sense and common decency was quickly filled with still deliriously proliferating "Stand Your Ground" and "Castle Laws" lobbied for and often literally crafted by right-wing anti-civilizational organizations like ALEC and the NRA. These are laws endorsing lawlessness, inevitably advocated by means of a rhetoric precisely as inverted as their result: peddled as defenses of a right to self-defense, a self-defense usually falsely and even paranoiacally portrayed as under attack, these laws function in fact as licenses to unaccountable individual vigilantism.

The way the intuition that every person has a right to defend themselves from bodily harm bleeds apparently so seamlessly into the intuition that every person's home is their castle to be likewise defended is in fact an expression of the fraught vulnerable permeable boundary of bodily selfhood. The defensive shell of self can expand into the space of the domestic zone or retreat into the theatrum philosophicum of the mind in the skull at will or under threat as circumstances demand or allow, a passive-aggressive permeability figuratively exploited by laws extending this selfhood as a kind of missile into the wider world through the en-castlement of cars on the road, from within which prosthetically enshelled selves can continue aggressively to defend themselves, or contracting inward into the individual genius of the romantic author the sweat of whose thinking brow presumably mixes with its original works to own them, however indispensably they arise from the living archive of culture in fact.

Of course, what is crucial in the state endorsement of self-defense is that it seems to provide for an exception to what is normally the state's jealously guarded monopoly on the legitimate recourse to violence. In tyrannical states this monopoly is functionally a sanction of state violence and crimes (eg, murder becomes execution, gangs becomes armies, exploitation becomes occupation and structural adjustment, and so on) suffered either because of the perceived hopelessness of rebellion or tolerated because it is accompanied by the maintenance of an order from which people consider themselves comparatively more likely to benefit than they are to be abused. This endorsement of self-defense is different but no less fraught in democratic states, for which the legitimacy of their monopoly recourse to violence depends precisely on a state's maintenance of nonviolent alternatives for the transfer of authority, for the adjudication of disputes, for the redress of grievances and violations, and support of a scene of informed, nonduressed consent (for which the provision of extensive welfare entitlements is indispensable) to the terms on which we relate to one another in our interpersonal affairs.

In cases of self-defense, whether what is defended is the bodily person or the prosthetically-extended person of their "castle," the self defending itself is usually at once marginalized and, crucially, immobilized from access to the state-sanctioned violence on which it normally depends for its security, and is hence defending itself in an exceptional state that can easily be accommodated as an exception or even as an expression (via a kind of momentary deputization) of the state's monopoly. But when the self-space of this defensive appropriation of violence is expanded via the en-castlement of cars in motion and so on into a near co-extensivity with the whole territory of the state as such this once exceptional state becomes curiously competitive with the universality of the state in ways that render the making of an exception for it increasingly coincident with calling itself into crisis. I suppose I should add right away that I do not happen to think it is wrong to treat cars as quasi-castles from which we have the same right to defend ourselves as we do from our homes, but I am simply saying that this and other extensions may have contributed to some unanticipated consequences or to have facilitated some dangerous developments.

Together with a host of laws insisting that people have the right to carry arms in visible and even conspicuous ways in ever more public place –- in churches, in bars (what could possibly go wrong?), nearer and nearer schools, and so on –- "Stand Your Ground" Laws treat the simple attachment of a gun to your bodily person as a kind of en-castlement of the citizen-self into a permanent exception to the rule of law, a permanently prostheticized anarch and agency of a kind of counter-law or alter-law. Under the regime of "Stand Your Ground" the gun functions as a prosthetic augmentation of a paranoid-defensive sovereignty that substitutes itself for and so subverts the sovereignty of the state (a sovereignty no less prone to paranoid defensiveness whenever it is not accountable to enfranchised and educated citizens). Wherever "Stand Your Ground" laws are on the books, the ground on which a gun-toting self stands is transformed for as long as the gun-holder stands on it from the land of the country its law-abiding citizens share to mere ground occupied by those who would be laws-unto-themselves. This is especially so in states where "Stand Your Ground" circumscribes the action or rationalizes the inaction of legitimate law enforcement that should arrest people or at least question them or at the very least divest them of their guns and other potential evidence in the aftermath of lethally violent exchanges simply because they invoke the right of self-defense in its newly capacious and aggressive sense.

There is no question at all that United States citizens have a second amendment right to bear arms (a right that was qualified and regulated before, during, and long after the birth of the republic and certainly should be far more circumscribed and regulated today in a time of readily and cheaply available massively-murderous assault weapons). And there is no question that plenty of perfectly good and sensible people like to hunt and to shoot guns for sport (and I say this as a life-long vegetarian and a person trained in nonviolence by the King Center who would never want a gun in my home) and that all United States citizens have a right to do so. The aggressive advocacy of ALEC and the NRA these days has nothing at all to do with the support of such practices and citizens' rights to them, but is conjuring up phony crises as pretexts to implement a profound dismantlement of lawful civilization (in this, these organizations are functioning precisely in the way that right-wing efforts to combat non-existing "voter fraud" are the pretext for widespread voter disenfranchisement and the dismantlement of voting rights), indeed, far from supporting everyday law-abiding gun ownership and uses, "Stand Your Ground" laws are transforming gun-owners, whatever their own feelings on the matter, into nodes in a network of anti-civilizational lawlessness, into avatars of anarchy wherever they happen to stand with a gun at hand, into secessionists from the country of laws many of them profess so loudly to love and which at least some of them actually do. All decent law abiding citizens, whether they own guns or not, should abhor "Stand Your Ground" lawlessness and should forcefully and permanently renounce organizations like ALEC and the NRA which are using law abiding gun owners as pawns in an effort to dismantle the rule of law.


jollyspaniard said...

Canadians have even more guns than Americans do. However there isn't that whole mythos of fantasising about using them on other people which is where the trouble starts.

I lived in the Seattle for three years and I was stupefied at cavalier attitude towards firearms. I found a loaded 9mm semi automatic pistol on my receptionists desk once. I found out that someone had been taking it off when entering the office and was making a habit of leaving it there. I flipped out at him, he didn't seem to understand why I would object to having a loaded pistol sitting unattended on a desk in my unlocked office's reception area. You can leave that in your car thank you very much.

I think the producers of The Walking Dead should air a disclaimer at the start of their show "This is a work of fiction, don't try this at home."

Dale Carrico said...

Guns per se are not the problem here -- but "stand your ground laws" which are mobilizing dreams and anxieties of American gun-culture in yet another of many ramifying octopus arms in the Movement Republican anti-civilizational democracy-dismantlement project -- eg, campaigns addressing phony "voter fraud" to dismantle Voting Rights and disenfranchise college students, old people, people of color; anti-tax crusades explicitly driving "starve the beast" fantasies of shrinking government to a size that can be drowned in the bathtub; and now augmentations of "self-defense" into incitements for gun-toting public intimidation and aggressive vigilantism without legal check functioning as a competitor to legitimate law enforcement.

Although the topic of the post was only incidentally about gun control, I will say that I personally suppose the US could have an even higher proportion of handgun ownership than Canada does without anything like our current catastrophic gun violence so long as we are talking handguns and hunting rifles and not assault weapons and military arms and we are talking about licensing gun ownership and use only upon a periodic inspection and training at least comparable in its rigor to what we require of those who drive cars in this country and we seriously track the circulation of these dangerous items to ensure they do not fall into the hands of criminals or arms traffickers.

This is all standard boilerplate liberalism, of course, and nobody with the least good sense or good will would react to these suggestions with suspicion or even concern, let alone dot-eyed raving hostility one can count on from Republican wingnut anti-civilizationists, and yet these obvious regulatory principles have been more or less off the table since 2000 to the needless ruin of countless lives due to an indefensible abdication on the part of Democratic party muckety mucks in defiance of their responsibility and the concerns of their base.

jollyspaniard said...

Canadian gun owners keep the weapons locked away and don't talk about them. You'll often be suprised to find out that someone you've known for years has a large gun collection. Whereas in the US I would often meet people only to have them immediately describe their entire gun collection along with their self defense fantasies where they get to use them on bad people. I found that deeply odd and troubling.

Anonymous said...

Dale Carrico said...

My readers will be very pleased to be informed by your link that "civil rights leaders" ... "say" ... Martin "committed no crime." Oh, and what crime are others "saying" he committed? Holding payed for Skittles while black?

How terrible for Zimmerman, if the unarmed black kid he was stalking with a gun actually dared to fight back -- not that I believe any of this retroactive justificatory bullshit one bit.

Anyway, the point of the post that "Stand Your Ground Laws" are functioning as an arm in a right wing anti-democracy anti-civilization project in step with voter disenfranchisement and anti-tax zealotry remains my own focus here.