Fighting Fear

Confronting phobias and other fears

The Case Against Atom Bombs in the Home

A modest proposal

A controversy has grown up recently about the personal possession of atomic weapons: some people have proposed the ban of these weapons on the grounds that they are dangerous. “Nobody needs their own atom bomb,” says Daryll Jones, who is a New York State congressman. “They are not good for hunting because of the radiation, and they are not good for self-protection because they are too big to carry around in a concealed manner. The only purpose of these weapons is to kill other people, especially police.”  Mr. Jones is a liberal and a Champion of the Left, but his proposal has received some grass-roots support.

The N. R.A. has demurred. “It is not a matter of the wanton use of a potentially dangerous weapon. It is a matter of preserving the second amendment. Atom bombs don’t kill people, people do. Someone has to press that red button.  That is the problem. The solution is better education. Less violent T.V.  This attack on the fundamental right to possess weapons represents the first slide down a slippery slope. If the banning of atomic weapons is allowed, the next step will see the government trying to take away our long range cannons.”

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I feel this argument is based on a misreading of the second amendment. In order to understand the original intent of the Founding Fathers, it is important to know that the roads were bad in those days, and there had not yet appeared standard spelling of certain words. This is what happened:  Mister I. Gerald Pinckney was writing to Thomas Jefferson about the obvious deficiencies of the United States constitution in the form it had when it was passed originally, lacking, as it did, certain civil protections. Some Northern liberals had suggested guarantees of free speech, freedom of religion, etc.; but had not included certain rights important to the South. I quote:

“Dear Tom,” it began, unsteadily, since he was in a carriage at the time, riding over one of the muddy ruts that passed for roads in that day, “...most important of all, we've got to insure the right to bare arms, in the summer, particular because of the hot weather.”

Mr. Jefferson chose not to reply to this letter, which was only one of many Mr. Pinckney sent him extolling the Southern Way of Life. Besides. Mr. Jefferson was in France at the time, and stamps were not just three cents in those days, let me tell you. Because of the difficulty writing a good hand in a moving vehicle, it was thought that Mr. Pinckney was referring to “the right to bear arms” as opposed to the right to walk around under the burning hot Southern summertime sky, dressed, or undressed, properly for the weather as a free, American citizen has every right to do.

Still another pointless controversy grew up as some people claimed the right to “bear arms” meant the right to give birth to arms—also, presumably, legs, heads, and other appurtenances of the human body. As evidence for this, historians point out that In the same letter, Mr. Pinckney, famous for his recipes for mint juleps and cornpone, had made reference to his trees “having done bear fruit,” which is the sort of ungrammatical remark he was known to make. In any case, there was wide agreement at the time that the second amendment as it was finally published did not envision personal atomic weapons.

The N. R. A. again: “Of course, the Founding Fathers did not envision atomic weapons since technology was not advanced at that time, but the genius of our way of government is that it encompasses all possible weapons that might be developed for personal protection, such as the  ‘International Death Ray.’” In order to reach compromise in this unfortunate dispute, it is important, first of all, to understand the Southern mind.

Because of the presence of delightful beaches along the coast of South Carolina, it is not uncommon for a young man to be lying on the beach when a bully comes along and kicks sand in his face. This sort of humiliation often produces a sense of bitterness that can last for years, along with the echoes of his girl- friend taunting him and the sounds of her making love with the bully behind the dunes. The young man knows that that bully would sure as hell have hesitated to throw his weight around if he knew that the young man had an atomic bomb back in the car. “It’s a great equalizer,” he says to himself over and over; and, indeed, atomic weapons have been known to equalize all kinds of threats for miles around. Since those halcyon times on the beach, atomic weapons have taken a special place in the Southern Psyche.

Nevertheless, some skeptics have pointed out the disadvantages of having atomic weapons in the home, especially if they are not locked up properly:

  1. One of the children may inadvertently sit on the bomb, setting it off.
  2. In order to lock up the bomb safely, a special steel mesh is required which is beyond the reach of certain poor folk.
  3. Because of the shock wave, it is impossible to practice shooting off the bomb at a shooting range unless it is way out of town.
  4. Given the Southern Psyche, inevitably one bomb will not be enough. Soon there will be a bomb race between the neighbors, which is not desirable since in the end no one really wins this kind of race.
  5. One must always consider the possibility that the bomb may be used for suicide and/ or to settle family disputes. The undesirability of such an outcome speaks for itself.

A modest proposal:  I think certain precautions are reasonable, despite the objections of the N.R.A.

  1. Background checks.  No person shall be permitted to buy a bomb if he has a history of committing crimes with such a weapon. Once bitten, twice shy. Similarly, anyone with a history of violence over the previous five years shall not be permitted to buy a bomb, unless he is vouched for by an adult in good standing with the courts.
  2. No one who knows a psychiatrist shall be permitted to buy a bomb unless the psychiatrist is a member of the family or a close friend. Someone with a history of frank psychosis shall not be permitted to buy a bomb unless he has undergone a period of rehabilitation.
  3. No one should be permitted to buy a bomb for personal use greater than ten kilotons in strength (for safety reasons.)
  4. Everyone should be educated to the dangers of these weapons and the importance of placing the red button out of the reach of small children and pets.
  5. All atomic weapons should be registered, even when they are given away as gifts.

I know the N.R.A. has objected to these precautions as a matter of principle, but I think the suggestions I make above are a reasonable compromise. I do not, however, think that someone, however mature, should be allowed to buy a hydrogen bomb. They are truly dangerous. They are so heavy and unwieldy, it is easy to imagine someone dropping one inadvertently on his foot, causing a serious injury. (c) Fredric Neuman   Foillow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog

Fredric Neuman, M.D. is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital.

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