Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Clash -- "The Guns of Brixton" (1979)

When they kick at your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?

I mentioned the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in passing in the previous 2 or 3 lines, and that got me to thinking about the above lines from "The Guns of Brixton."

You might think I would have no interest whatsoever in the Second Amendment.  No one in my family owns a gun, and none of us have ever been the victim of crime involving a gun -- or a crime that might have been prevented if the victim had a gun.  I've never even held a handgun or assault rifle, much less fired one.  My experience with firearms is limited to a couple of rounds of skeet shooting during long-ago family vacations.  

But when it comes to the right to bear arms, I do have some opinions.  For example, it's my belief that while it should remain legal to own guns for recreation or hunting or self-defense, the right of American citizens to bear arms really has little to do with target shooting or putting meat on the table or protecting oneself or one's home against criminals.  

The right to bear arms is really about we, the people, having the wherewithal to resist government tyranny.

Ice-T digs the Second Amendment
Historians and legal scholars have different opinions about what the Second Amendment was intended to mean.  But a couple of things seem clear.  

First, the Second Amendment did not create a new right -- it codified a right to bear arms that was widely acknowledged to exist prior to the ratification of the Constitution and, therefore, is not dependent upon the Constitution for its existence.

Second, the founding fathers believed that the citizenry had a natural right to engage in an armed insurrection against an oppressive government.  Initially, the colonists were concerned about the increasingly tyrannical British government.  Later, the fear was that the federal government would create a large standing army that would be used to oppress the states and individual citizens.

Some scholars argue that the Second Amendment's right to bear arms is limited to participation in a government-sponsored militia.  But think about the early days of the American Revolution.  

Minuteman statue in Lexington, MA
The Minutemen who fought at Lexington and Concord had been called out to prevent pro-British forces -- including not only regular British Army troops but also colonists who supported the Crown and joined Loyalist militia units -- from seizing their weapons and ammunition.  

Those Minutemen weren't a well-regulated militia.  They were not created as an arm of the government; rather, they organized themselves to resist the oppression committed by that government.  

Recruiting poster for Loyalist militia regiment
It may be naive to think that a 21st-century version of the Minutemen would be able to defend American citizens from foreign invaders or a tyrannical American government.  

After all, the original Minuteman were able to fight the British Army on relatively even terms.  It's hard to imagine that individual citizens armed with handguns, shotguns, hunting rifles, or even large-magazine, semi-automatic assault rifles could resist a foe equipped with armored vehicles, modern aircraft, spy satellites, and all the other high-tech weaponry that the United States and other world powers could bring to bear on their opponents.

But I still think it's important to remember these words from the Declaration of Independence:

[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of [Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness] . . . it is their Right of the People . . . it is their duty, to throw off such Government . . .

That's what the right to bear arms is all about, boys and girls.  In today's world, it might be suicidal to respond to the tyrant's knock on your front door by coming out not "with your hands on your head," but "on the trigger of your gun."  But there comes a point where that just might the better alternative.  

One final point before we get to "The Guns of Brixton."  Have you ever tried to distinguish the successful attempt of the American colonists to dissolve their relationship with the powers-that-be (the British government) from the unsuccessful attempt of the Confederacy to dissolve its relationship with the federal government?  

Ignore for the time being the issue of slavery -- let's assume that it was not a bone of contention between the two sides.  How do you distinguish secession from the British Empire in 1776 from secession from the Union in 1861?  How can one be justified and the other unjustified?  

Until today, the Clash has been almost overlooked by 2 or 3 lines.  Sure, I featured the band's cover of "I Fought the Law" in February 2011, but I haven't featured any of their fabulous original songs.

"The Guns of Brixton" was released on the clash's third album, London Calling, which most agree is the greatest punk album of all time and one of the greatest rock albums.  (In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it #8 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, behind only albums by the Stones, Marvin Gaye, Dylan, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles -- who placed four albums in the top ten.)

Most of the Clash's songs were written by Mick Jones and the late Joe Strummer.  But "The Guns of Brixton" was written by the group's bass player, Paul Simonon.  Simonon grew up in Brixton, a multiethnic south London neighborhood.  

A scene from the 1981 Brixton riots

A couple of years after London Calling was released, rioting broke out in Brixton, which had become a high-crime, high-unemployment area.  The riots were a response to the police's attempts to reduce street crime by stopping and searching thousands of Brixton residents -- mostly young black men.  About 280 policemen were injured in the rioting, and 56 police vehicles were destroyed.

Since 2009, Brixton has had its own currency, the Brixton Pound.  That currency features pictures of celebrities with ties to Brixton, including David Bowie (who was born in Brixton in 1947) and NBA star Luol Deng, whose family migrated from the Sudan to Brixton to escape civil war.

Brixton ten-pound note
Here's "Guns of Brixton":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. That "Assault Vehicle" poster looks like something from a Streetsblog posting. Some Streetsbloggers lump motor vehicles in the same category as weapons. I think that's an overstatement, cars are a means of transportation; they're not INTENDED to kill people, while guns are (or if not kill, intimidate). I've sent comments on why Americans are willing to tolerate highway and street casualties which are the equivalent of a jet airliner "buying the farm" every day or two. I think it's mostly because cars are so convenient in getting around most parts of the US, where land development patterns assume that most people own and drive motor vehicles. (there are some further thoughts that I can send in an e-mail)