Yesterday, Saturday 19 January, saw the state of South Dakota play host to two very different demonstrations. The first occurred in Pierre as 80 gun enthusiasts gathered inside the State Capitol to demonstrate against gun control on Gun Appreciation Day, January 19:
The Second Amendment, Gary Harpster said, is different from the others in the Bill of Rights.
“It’s not designed to give you a right to do one thing or another,” Harpster said Saturday at a pro-gun rally in the rotunda of South Dakota’s Capitol. “It’s designed to protect the other nine rights.”
A succession of speakers told a crowd of almost 100 at the event that an armed populace is the only sure defense against tyranny, invasion and criminals…
A well-armed populace is a better defense against crime and violence [than gun control], speakers said.
Again, the Argus Leader displays its typical reporting aplomb: the rally is reported with a positive headline, “Advocates stand up for gun rights,” and doesn’t quote
a single voice of opposition. Such coverage fails to get at the fundamental disconnect from reality that underlies this popular defense of the right to bear arms: that without it, we wouldn’t be able to fight back against the depredations of a tyrannical government.
Let’s set aside the fact that, over the past century, nonviolent resistance has proven itself to be literally twice as effective as violence as a tool of social change. Indeed, it can be argued that the American Revolution occurred before the first shots were ever fired at Lexington and Concord, as colonists almost totally usurped the British government’s authority in North America through a sophisticated campaign of nonviolent resistance. The idea that a handful of South Dakota ranchers with semi-automatic rifles could even threaten, let alone take on, the world’s mightiest military power is downright laughable.
“So do you think just because we’re outmatched we should give up?” No. You’re outmatched when you turn to violence, hopelessly outmatched. I don’t believe you should just give up in the face of injustice (real or perceived). I do believe you should think carefully about what course of action is most likely to redress that injustice. Coordinated nonviolent resistance is more effective than a ragtag band of Wild West guerrillas. Period.
Indeed, a big part of why the Second Amendment made it into the Constitution has nothing to do with protecting anybody from the government: rather, it had to do with protecting Southern landowners from slave uprisings. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Southern states used well-regulated slave patrol militias to keep watch over millions of restless slaves. (Another reason why anybody who swoons over the U.S. Constitution, a document written by propertied White males to secure the interests of propertied White males (see: 3/5 Compromise, no women’s suffrage, property qualifications for voting rights, etc.), as if it were some sort of semi-divine document, has no clue what they’re talking about.)
Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the state, the southeastern South Dakota chapter of Pax Christi (which shares many members with SDPJC) was holding a vigil in Sioux Falls for Crescencio Conde-Vargas, a Sioux Falls resident who was found beaten to death in his home on January 8:
The vigil… takes place whenever a violent act or homicide is committed in Sioux Falls. It serves as a way for communities to stand against violence, according to organizers.
“God still loves us,” said Erin Rath of Sioux Falls. “Even through this horrible kind of choice people make to take another life.”
The nondenominational prayer service is carried out in the hope of bringing peace back to the neighborhood. Jean Bhatti of the southeastern chapter of Pax Christi has been part of these events for the past three years. She said the vigils are draining, but they provide comfort to the community and the family…
Rath, who was attending her third vigil in the area, said, “It’s a way to support the family and the community.” However, she was not surprised no member of Conde-Vargas’ family attended.
“I would think it would be difficult for them to even drive by this place,” she said.
A demonstration for the right to bear arms on the one hand and a demonstration for healing for a community torn apart by violence on the other. Nonviolent witness can be a powerful political tool as well as an important spiritual practice. However, there is no guarantee that it will always be used for nonviolent ends, as Saturday shows us.