Guns, Democracy, and the American Way
We discuss the relationship between guns, democracy, hard power, and America. We also discuss the consequences: intended, unintended, and feared.
America is different from Russia and China in many ways, including the role that guns play in American society. Some people may like guns and some may hate them, but do guns play a role in making America what it is today, the flagbearer of democracies? Let’s find out.
Democracy of yore
The origins of democracy are rooted in ancient Greece. The word itself is derived from two Greek words, “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power). In ancient Greece, democracy was a system of direct rule by the people. It wasn’t a system where people voted for their representatives. Rather, the people were the representatives. The people were the ones who made and passed laws and decided on the policies of the state. The ancient Greek city-states were the first to experiment with democracy. The Macedonians, led by Alexander the Great, conquered Greece in the 4th century B.C.
The Roman Republic, which lasted from around 509 BC to around 27 BC, was another early experiment with democracy. The Republic was a federal state with a complex system of government, including the Roman Senate (a group of wealthy landowners who voted on laws) and the Roman Assembly (a group of all-male citizens who voted on laws). The Republic also had a series of courts that heard cases and decided on punishments. Eventually, the Republic was replaced by the Roman Empire, a monarchy in which the emperor was the absolute ruler.
Despite its short-lived nature, the idea of democracy took root and would eventually resurface in other forms. In the late 18th century, the French and American revolutions ushered in a new era of democracy. The French Revolution (1789-1799) overthrew the monarchy and established a republic. The American Revolution (1775-1783) led to the formation of the US, a republic based on the principles of democracy. These two revolutions inspired people all over the world to demand democratic governments. During the 19th century, democracy continued to spread. In 1848, a series of revolutions known as the “Spring of Nations” swept across Europe.
Hello from the other side
The authoritarian forms of governance (including monarchy and dictatorship) have several benefits over the democratic ones. Autocratic governments do not have to deal with the time-consuming process of deliberation. They can simply make decisions and implement them quickly. The leader is not subject to the whims of the public or the changing tides of public opinion. They can also censor information and restrict freedom of expression. They have the power to use force to maintain order. This can be beneficial in times of social unrest or when a country is facing internal or external threats. The risks are also obvious. Autocrats are not bound by the same laws and protections as democratically elected leaders, and can thus abuse their power with impunity. Undeserving successors have less legitimacy and are more likely to be overthrown by popular uprisings due to misrule.
In simpler words, democratic governments are less likely to do exceptionally good or extremely bad than autocrats due to checks and balances. This provides autocracy an edge in trying times that require tough and unpopular decisions. History is full of examples where democracy has been overthrown by authoritarian regimes. The most notable examples in recent history include the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, the rise of the Soviet Union (single-party rule), and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Several factors can contribute to the downfall of democracy. These include economic crises, social unrest, and foreign interference. Monarchy may well be history but newer forms of autocratic rule like military dictatorships and single-party rule have been successful. Recent examples include the military dictatorship in Myanmar (2021) and Taliban rule in Afghanistan (2021).
America leading the democratic order
The US has long been considered a beacon of democracy around the world. The principles of liberty and equality that America was founded upon have inspired people across the globe to fight for their rights and freedoms. The country has played a leading role in promoting democracy and supporting democratic movements. It has also provided economic and military assistance to countries transitioning to democracy. Some examples of American assistance include the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II, and the support provided to the Solidarity movement in Poland. In recent years, America has continued to support democracy through programs like the National Endowment for Democracy and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Sanctions are also a tool that the US has used to pressure regimes that are undemocratic or violate human rights. For example, America has placed sanctions on countries like Iran and North Korea. It has also used its position in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on countries like Libya and Syria. It has also intervened militarily to support democracy in some cases. The most notable example is the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which toppled the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The country has also intervened militarily to restore democracy in Haiti and Somalia.
America is a superpower with no immediate rival. The US economy is the largest in the world, with a nominal GDP of over $25 trillion in 2022. It has the world’s largest military budget, spending over $600 billion per year on defense in 2019 – more than the next seven countries combined. America spends more on research and development than any other country. It is the only superpower and when it wants democracy, no other country can stand in its way. But what if democracy is at risk at home?
The risk at home
Democracy has been a boon for America. Freedom and liberty are the cornerstones of the nation. It is a nation of immigrants. It is a nation of diverse people who are united by a common set of values that believe in freedom and opportunity. The enterprising spirit of the American people has led to a thriving economy and a standard of living that is the envy of the world.
There is no perfect democracy, and America is no exception. Democracy can become more difficult when the population is diverse rather than homogenized. The US, for example, has become increasingly diverse in recent years. Different groups may have trouble finding common ground on issues, leading to greater political polarization. Such polarization can make it difficult to govern effectively, as it can be difficult to pass laws or make decisions when there is such a wide range of opinions.
Democracy also has its flaws. One of the biggest problems with democracy is that it can be easily manipulated. Just a few allegations on opponents and a few false promises, and votes can swing either way. Another problem with democracy is that it can be easily hijacked by special interests. The problem with special interests is that they often don’t have the best interests of the country at heart. They just want to influence the political process in their favor. For example, the gun lobby is a special interest group that has a lot of money and influence.
Guns enter the chat
When democracy is in danger around the world, the US comes to the rescue. It does so by using its hard power (military and economic prowess). The ideas of freedom and human rights can provide a nice cover but guns (and tanks and ships and planes) do the real job. A 2022 Indian movie, RRR, has been making waves in the US recently. The movie tells a story of the freedom struggle in India during British colonial rule. A key theme in the movie is that if Indians had access to guns and firearms, they would have been able to resist the oppression more effectively.
Several governments have been toppled by armed resistance. Major powers like the US, Russia, or China often enable such resistance by providing support in the form of arms, funds, and political backing. When faced with resistance, the government has few choices: fall, compromise, or go into a perpetual civil conflict.
The state gets stronger as it gets bigger, which gives it more power to crush resistance. For example, in Russia and China, the state is strong enough to quash any uprising. This has been seen in Chechnya, Tiananmen Square, and the Hong Kong protests of 2019-2020. The American government can certainly accomplish such feats with its vast resources. Any bright-eyed leader can come forward to free the people from the burden of choosing a government. What prevents it?
The stability of the US democracy is primarily due to the size and scope of its institutions. The Federal Government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive, and judicial, whose powers are vested by the US Constitution in the Congress, the President, and the Federal courts, respectively. The Constitution also establishes the system of federalism in the US. Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a central government and states. Hypothetically, even if a President or Military Joint Chiefs of Staff plans to overthrow the government, the other power centers would stop them. No office is stronger than the system. But if we observe January 6 Capitol attack, extensive Lockdown restrictions, social media censorship, and other such developments, we realize that the leaders have always been trying to increase control. The government benefits from more control: they would face less scrutiny and can take unpopular decisions. This is especially helpful in times of crisis (just as an autocrat would say).
The ruling class in America has increasingly come to resemble an oligarchy, with a small group of elites (judges, politicians, and billionaires) holding the majority of power. This has led to a feeling among many Americans that they have no real say in the decisions made by their government. The current political situation, with two major parties, feels like Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola: two similar parties, irrelevant differences, and huge marketing budgets to make you believe that those differences are the real deal.
Do people have a choice? Can they resist policies that they don’t want? or are Americans the same as the Chinese and Russians (alas with some more body fat)? This brings us to the real power the Americans poses: ammo.
Guns and America
The gun culture is unique in America and so is the democracy, when compared to other superpowers (or contenders) in the world like Russia and China. Guns have had a long history in America. In the 17th century, guns were introduced to the Native Americans by European settlers. The Native Americans were fascinated by them. The guns were a quick and effective way to kill animals for food and clothing. They were also effective in warfare. The Native Americans soon began to use guns in warfare against the European settlers.
In the 18th century, guns became more common in America. American colonists used guns to fight the British during the American Revolution. After the Revolution, guns were used to help settle the American West. American pioneers used them to hunt animals for food and to protect themselves from hostile Native Americans. In the 19th century, guns were used in the American Civil War. After the Civil War, guns became more common in American cities. They were used by police to help keep the peace. They were also used by criminals to commit crimes.
It’s empowering to know that I can protect myself and my family if we are ever in danger. It’s empowering to know that I can stand up for myself and others if someone tries to harm us. It’s empowering to know that I am in control of my safety and security.
Guns are an important part of American culture. They are seen as a symbol of freedom. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right of Americans to keep and bear arms. Some people argue that the amendment protects the right of Americans to own firearms for hunting or other recreational activities. Others argue that guns enable common American citizens to defend themselves from government tyranny, which is why the founding fathers ensured that the right to bear arms was written into the Second Amendment of the Constitution. It was a commitment to citizen participation in public life and a way to keep military power under civil control.
It’s not all rosy
Guns have been at the center of many controversies in recent years. There have been several mass shootings, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. These shootings have led to calls for stricter gun control laws. In 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384), according to the CDC. The remaining gun deaths that year were unintentional (535), involved law enforcement (611), or had undetermined circumstances (400).
Many Americans believe that the right to own guns is more important than the risk of gun violence while others believe otherwise. As of right now, there are more guns than people in America and the cost of this is real. One may try to push the blame on mental illness, but the accessibility of guns is an important aspect. Gun violence will continue as long as guns exist, but some steps can be taken to minimize the costs.
Words to end on
The debate over gun control is complex and often emotional. However, at its core, the question is whether the costs of gun violence are worth the benefits of gun ownership. There are arguments for and against gun control, and it is important to reflect on this one:
America is there to defend the democracies around the world, but when it comes to defending democracy at home, Amreicans are on their own.