US Declares War on itself.

Normann Nielsen from Denmark cannot understand the furore in the US over open carry in his comment about the current Doonesbury Comics regarding Starbuck’s Open Carry Policy at Slate:

In my country it is illegal to carry weapons in the open, except when hunting. I don’t understand why in the United States there is a need to carry weapons at all, even with permission. I cannot comprehend the need in a normal country. Certainly you are not in a state of civil war.

Norman raises a good point: Is the US in a State of Civil War?

The United States was founded by a Civil War, the War for American Independence. The War for Independence was not really against the British, but it was also against the colonial loyalists. The American creation myth tends to ignore the Loyalists, or consider them to be a minority. The problem is that we have no real head count as to how many people would have preferred to have kept the status quo, yet were swept up by events “beyond their control”. But, that’s not my point.

The United States was founded through violence and that precedent has shaped the American political consciousness. Only three years after the American Revolution ended, thousands of Massachusetts citizens took up arms against their new state government in Shays’ Rebellion. Likewise, Western Pennsylvanian Farmers rebelled against the tax on Whisky. Both the rebels and the forces of the government claimed to be working in the spirit of the “revolution” in these insurrections. Small scale rebellions have occurred since the founding, as well as the insurrection which is called the Civil War. The Civil War, or War Between the States, could actually be called the Second American Civil war.

The Insurrection Theory has some credibility due to the tendency of Americans to grab guns to solve their political differences. Fortunately, the violence remains at a low enough level so that the US has more stability than a banana republic. The problem is that threats and violence are once again gaining political currency in the United States. Politico discussed the politics of anger. While some of the writers said this was normal, others found it disturbing.

How can political violence be acceptable in a civil society? The problem with the insurrection theory is that the Constitution was written as a reaction to Shays’ Rebellion to “insure domestic Tranquility”. One of the concerns of the Framers was that the government prior to that under the Constitution was unable, by force or persuasion, to quell rebellion or quarrels amongst the states. The infant US watched Shay’s Rebellion in horror before the Constitutional Convention. Another factor was that some states had almost gone to war with each other over territory (such as between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over Wilkes-Barre). One of the main goals of the Constitutional Convention, was to ensure the federal government had powers to squash rebellion and to smooth tensions between states. There is only one crime mentioned in the US Constitution and that is treason (Article III, Section iii).

There are Constitutional methods for bringing about change which are lawful and peaceful, which means there is no excuse for change by violence, revolution, or terrorism. Whatever theoretical merit there may be to the argument that there is a “right” to rebellion against dictatorial governments is without force where the existing structure of the government provides for peaceful and orderly change. That Congress has the power to protect the Government of the United States from armed rebellion is a proposition which requires little discussion. No one can reasonably can conceive that Congress does not have the power to prohibit acts intended to overthrow the Government by force and violence.

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