Laurie Toby Edison

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Guns and Politics

Debbie says:

Okay, it’s a stretch to bring gun laws into a body image blog, but hey. I bet Gabrielle Giffords’ body image issues are different than they were at the beginning of 2011. And while that’s certainly not the worst of her problems, it’s probably not the smallest issue either.

[Disclaimer: I have many friends who own and use guns. I believe they all use them safely and carefully. Some are advocates for reducing gun laws. For myself, I had one very scarring experience when a friend I thought was completely reliable with guns had a series of complex drug-related psychiatric issues and became unreliable, so it's very hard for me to trust anyone with a gun. I'm well aware of how many gun injuries are accidents caused by insufficient gun safety. At the same time, I also don't want the police and armed forces to have all the firepower. So the issue is confusing to me.]

I’m currently reading James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, a highly-regarded one-volume history of the American Civil War. In the period leading up to the war, the United States was even more polarized than it is now. In 1856, one Senator beat another Senator bloody with a cane on the Senate floor. In 1858, about fifty Congressmen engaged in a melee on the House floor, which started when one Congressman insulted another.

In both cases, the insulters and attackers got plenty of support for their actions. So it scares me silly when I see that at least one of our elected congresspeople is coming close to making threats about the safety of the senators he disagrees with.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) criticized his congressional colleagues Tuesday, calling them “cowards” and a “class of career elitists.”


“It’s just a good thing I can’t pack a gun on the Senate floor,” Coburn told a crowd in Langley, Okla.

I’d like to believe that no Senator or Representative would ever sneak a gun onto the Senate or House floor and open fire. I’d like to believe that no guard at the metal detectors (there must be metal detectors) would ever turn a blind eye, or simply not notice. I’d like to believe that everyone in Congress who owns guns has gun safes and good protections.

In fact, Coburn probably isn’t really dangerous, since he’s appreciative of the fact that he’s prevented from his impulses. Who’s out there scheming to get around the metal detectors, rather than being grateful for the rules?

And, on the other hand, is it any worse for our elected officials to be at risk than for innocent bystanders, or gunfighting teenagers in American cities, or victims of war? For me, the issue of elected officials, guns and threats is more about how people in power both reflect and influence the people who put them into power than it is about specifically protecting the members of Congress. I don’t have any conclusions, but writing this helped me think out some of the implications, which is a small help.

5 Responses to “Guns and Politics”

  1. Dan'l Says:

    Whilst I consider myself a bill-of-rights fanatic, I wouldn’t mind amending the 4th amendment…

  2. Adrian Says:

    I’m currently reading James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, a highly-regarded one-volume history of the American Civil War. In the period leading up to the war, the United States was even more polarized than it is now. In 1856, one Senator beat another Senator bloody with a cane on the Senate floor.

    That incident has been on my mind recently, for a variety of reasons, as I’ve been thinking about changes in how people think and talk about disabilities. (Along with changes in what language is taboo.)

    Charles Sumner didn’t just condemn the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In the course of his very long speech, he attacked the sponsors of the act for doing a specific evil thing (which they had), and for sexual immorality. In the specific case of Senator Andrew Butler, he also attacked him for talking funny–Butler had trouble speaking clearly because part of his face had been paralyzed by a stroke. Congressman Preston Brooks demanded an apology from Sumner, then hit him over the head with a heavy walking stick.

    The story is often told as Congressman Brooks objecting violently to the way Sumner exceeded the bounds of propriety in speaking against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It’s rarely told in terms of Preston Brooks objecting violently to the way Sumner insulted his elderly cousin. It feels like a different kind of outrage, to me. (Another way this is not told as a disability story–I have no idea why the word “caning” is always used for this incident. It usually implies flimsy little things that would be useless as mobility aids.)

    Sumner was attacked in 1856, and recovered from his head injury enough to return to work in the Senate in 1859. He was re-elected during that time, by people who thought his empty seat would make his opponents look bad. His friends advised him to speak more moderately, but had been radicalized. (Radicalized more.) Senator Giffords and friends, take note.

  3. Marlene Says:

    I am one of those friends Deb describes in her disclaimer. Rather than go on and on in comments, I’m formulating a freestanding post. The intersection of guns and politics is something I think about a good deal.

    Look for my post Wednesday.

  4. Debbie Says:

    Thanks for identifying yourself, Mar. I decided it wasn’t my job to identify you.

  5. Marlene Says:

    Dan’l,
    Do you mean the second??

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