Did a Comma Kill Americans? Grammar and the 2nd Amendment.

Let’s try a different approach to the 2nd Amendment.  Instead of historical analysis, let’s do something simple like a basic grammatical breakdown of the sentence.

Here is the language from the Constitution

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

A basic approach is to strip out both independent clauses separated by commas thus the sentence would read,

A well-regulated militia shall not be infringed.”

The meaning is unclear, thus the need for the modifying phrases which, one might argue, are subordinate clauses and thus elemental to the meaning. We need to clarify what they modify.

The subject of the sentence is “a well-regulated militia.” Everything else modifies or describes the subject.

The first phrase, “being necessary to the security of a free State,” defines the need for the subject. In different language one might say “To maintain security of a free state, a well-regulated militia is necessary.”

The meaning is the same.

Let’s look at the second phrase separated by a comma. “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” What does this phrase do? What does it change or describe? The next phrase, also separated by a comma, complicates the matter.

One method is to remove the intervening comma separated phrase and see what that reveals. Thus, we have,

A well-regulated militia the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Makes little sense without the missing language.  Let’s put it back and take out the last phrase.

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

Again makes no sense without the ending phrase. Suppose we add it back without the comma?

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Now it makes sense. The subject of the sentence, “a well-regulated militia,” modified by the phrase “being necessary to the security of a free state,” followed by the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

It’s that last comma that confuses things.

If we write it this way, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The meaning is clear and brings clarity to “a well-regulated militia.”

Richard Henry Lee, one of the leaders of the revolutionary period, is best known for his resolution in the Second Continental Congress where he said,

That these united Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance from the British crown, and that all political connection between America and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved….”

Lee also had said something very interesting about the right to bear arms.

“To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them…” (emphasis author’s)
Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer, 1788

Perhaps, even back then, the men who crafted the right the bear arms knew it came with responsibility and required training, thus the “well-regulated militia” now makes sense.

As with any sentence, breaking it down to its parts clarifies the meaning. The subject of this sentence is “a well-regulated militia” everything else is there to support and describe what makes up this “well-regulated” entity and the right of the people to equip themselves and participate.

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Could it be a misplaced comma contributed to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans?

Who said grammar doesn’t matter?

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The Blame Spreads both Ways: Right and Left

First, let me clarify something. Every law-abiding, competent American has the inviolable and constitutionally guaranteed right to own a firearm(s). There is no realistic scenario in which this country should ever deprive its citizens of this right.

I, and many other Americans, own weapons. I keep them in a responsible manner. As a retired police officer, with a simple qualification through my agency, I could carry a concealed weapon in most of the US (with some exceptions.)

ReaganI choose not to. I weighed the potential for interceding in a criminal act to defend myself or others against the possibility of worsening the problem for responding Police Officers and decided the weapon is best left at home for self-defense.

This is my personal decision. Others feel differently, and they can hold that position if they accept the consequences of their actions.

In this latest flare-up of the gun debate, there is ample blame to go around for each side. The Republicans and Democrats are equally complicit in the inertia of meaningful solutions.

Fringe organizations, with well-organized public relations campaigns, impose an inordinate amount of influence on the public discourse when measured against their membership. They funnel money to the most influential politicians to ensure inaction on effective gun legislation.

Reducing the effect of lobbyists in government would go a long way to restoring faith in the broken system.  Decisions like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission558 U.S. 310 (2010) have taken away the will of the people and placed it in the hands of those with large amounts of money to buy a government of their choosing.  Both Democrats and Republicans stand with their hands out and their souls for sale.

This influence leads to the demise of rational discourse and fosters moronic public position pronouncements.

The cry of “why punish law-abiding Americans when this is a mental health issue?” is a convenient mask to the reality. “If we take guns from law-abiding citizens, only criminals will have guns” is the other favorite.

Both are disingenuous.

One because any attempt to impose more restrictions on gun sales is blocked by the same groups and the other because the Parkland Florida shooter, like most of the others, had no criminal record.

Keep in mind that Dylan Roof, the church shooter in Charleston, SC, was judged competent to stand trial. While he clearly has mental health issues, he was still capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

Finding a balance between regulating access to firearms with adequate control over those with “mental health issues” and due process is no easy task. Which is not to say it is impossible.

We already have regulations that control handgun sales; age requirements, background checks and waiting periods. Each of these may need improvement in their effectiveness, but they have a demonstrable effect on keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

Laws prohibit most from owning fully-automatic weapons. These restrictions are in place because of the inherent deadly nature of such firepower. There is a measurable difference between a bolt action rifle designed to hunt and a weapon that fires with each pull of the trigger from a high capacity magazine.

Both are deadly, yet differ through the inherent nature of their purpose and capability.

The law can both recognize the need to restrict access to a specific type while protecting access to others.  Just like we do with automatic weapons or short-barreled shotguns.

Both sides block any meaningful progress in their extreme positions. Some would like to ban all weapons, and some would relax all regulations. One side sees disarming all citizens as the solution, and the other sees arming them as a protective measure.

Nonsense.

Millions of Americans, myself included, have been around guns our whole life and never once considered killing someone at random. With 300 million guns in civilian hands, outlawing guns would just create more criminals through no fault of their own and tear this country apart.

To say we can place no restrictions on the type or capability of firearms available or require licensing, registration, and demonstration of competence to have such weapons is equally foolish.

This is more than an issue of banning guns or restricting rights. It is a complex social issue. One element is the decline of personal responsibility for our actions. We’ve assigned a psychological cause to unruly behavior and medicated ourselves out of personal responsibility. That is a problem that will take decades to correct.

Another tendency is to use the “what about…” argument to derail the discussion.  Some argue a quantity issue; drugs and cars kill more people than guns.  Or they inflame the issue by tossing in other social issues i.e. abortion.

The argument that the relative number of deaths by guns is somehow less deserving of our attention is ridiculous. Or that we are ignoring other issues and focusing exclusively on guns. More nonsense.

And, since most supporters of gun rights wrap themselves in the Constitution, they forget that the law is well-settled on abortion rights. Why is one constitutional aspect inviolate and the other subject to review?

Those who would ban guns are no better. They trudge out gerrymandered statistics to support their cause. The number of shootings in schools is inflated to include incidents on school property when no students were present or those that occur near schools.  Why?  Isn’t one incident of a single death in a school shooting enough to spark action?

Our immediate problem is obvious. There is a fire raging in this country. We are nothing but paralyzed spectators to a blaze consuming our fellow Americans. We stand around looking for who started the fire, rather than putting it out.

Prevention, our long-term goal, is more elusive than most would admit. And more critical. Addressing this problem will take a combination of immediate, yet measured, actions and working toward long-term prevention.

We have a choice. Fight the fire and save lives, or wait until there is nothing left and we’re all firing Kalashnikovs in the air to celebrate.

Suffer the Children #Neveragain: Time for Rational Discussion

Time to hold rational discussions on solutions to gun violence, supporting the efforts of the #neveragain movement, and using the power of their youthful enthusiasm to keep the issue in the forefront and craft intelligent solutions.

Let me preface this by saying every law-abiding, competent citizen has the right to own a firearm. This piece is not intended to advocate for the confiscation of weapons. It is meant to stimulate rational discussion on how we can minimize the likelihood of another situation like Parkland, Florida or Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

One other point, I am a firm adherent of the Mark Twain adage there are “Lies, damnable lies, and statistics,” yet we need to put a perspective on things. Accurate numbers about guns are difficult to come by due to inconsistent or non-existent licensing or purchase tracking. But most agree there are 270-300 million guns in civilian hands.

However, only 37% of Americans own or report having a family member who owns guns. The shocker is, 3% of Americans own 50% of all guns.

guns

The NRA touts itself as the premier organization standing for American gun owners. I am not trying to demonize the NRA. They have every right to advocate for their position, some of which I agree with, but their membership is five million Americans out of three hundred million. They are not the voice of America on sound gun policies.

The NRA is a fringe group representing a small fraction of gun owners and a smaller fraction of American citizens. They are a squeaky, well-funded, well-organized, wheel.

The NRA also showed the fundamental callousness it bears toward deliberate and considered discussions. In a recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), NRA representative Dana Loesch said,

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. I’m not saying you guys love the tragedy but I am saying you love the ratings,” she added. “Crying white mothers are ratings gold”.

She may have a point, but not the one she’s going for. The implication is America isn’t concerned when it’s gun violence against minorities, there is some truth in that. The troubling part is that the NRA will play off that for its own agenda. If they can derail gun regulations by capitalizing on institutional racism, so be it. Not their best moment.

For now, we can leave the NRA out of this. Some things must be understood. Amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who value their “right to bear arms” over their obligation to take part in finding solutions, I think it is time to reevaluate the Second Amendment in a world of high-capacity semi-automatic weapons designed for one purpose, killing humans.

Every single weapon designed by humans had one primary function, killing other humans. While many served a dual purpose, such as hunting food, since man first bashed the skull of an adversary with a rock the primary use of weaponry is protection from, or attacking, enemies and killing them.

We’ve become very efficient at it.

The firearms available to the common man during the adoption of the Second Amendment were single shot, slow reloading, notoriously inaccurate, limited-range muskets.

That is no longer the case.

Every firearm is dangerous. There is no rational argument for allowing weapons in the hands of untrained, unlicensed, untested civilians. Particularly those that hold twenty or thirty round magazines. If the main argument is because I want it, it’s my Constitutional right, it underscores the selfishness that permeates our society.

It would be amusing, if this were not such a serious matter, how many Second Amendment aficionados embrace the Second Amendment and decry some of the others like the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent or the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment as they scream to impose the death penalty even before trial.

We have laws limiting the capacity of shotguns used in hunting, through a simple physical modification, to three rounds in the weapon. If we are so concerned over conservation of fowl, why not the same concern over humans?

Such limitations are starting points, not the end solution. Long-term solutions to the angry and violence-prone society, the lack of support for teachers in schools, the “hooray for me and damn everyone else” attitude of many, will take time to change. Fixing complex social issues is the long game. We need more immediate solutions to address the issue of firing rates, capacity, and availability.

The genesis of the Second Amendment arose from the fresh experiences of the colonies facing the tyranny of a king enforced by a standing army. The British Army was the point of the spear, suppressing dissent and rebellion.

The founding fathers, fearing a comparable situation, wanted to ensure there was a balance of power. One aspect is a “well-regulated” militia. A citizen force they envisioned as a buffer against government tyranny.

The authors of this Constitution held an intimate understanding of the King’s army as a weapon of suppression. Their emphasis on minimizing the powers of the Federal Government to times of great need; wars, rebellions, etc., shows their concern about all-powerful federal authority backed by a standing army.

The Bill of Rights, now well enshrined throughout the land by many Supreme Court decisions, initially applied solely to the Federal Government. Societal progress changed it to apply to all government entities. To adopt a “strict interpretation” of the original Constitution as inoculating it from change is disingenuous, and incorrect.

The very process of amending the Constitution, incorporated by the founding fathers, is considerable evidence of their envisioning a different future with different concerns. And, men such as James Madison believed the fear of suppression by the Federal Government to be overblown.

In The Federalist No. 46, he wrote,

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes.

One must read this document in its entirety to see Madison’s point. While recognizing the historical context in which fear of a powerful centralized government evolved, he also argued the structure of the new American government differed from Europe by prohibiting any “royal” entity and putting the power to select government representatives in the hands of the people.

As a side note that supports my point of the fluid nature of the Constitution, the original construct of those eligible to vote and hold office was white, male, landowners. The original language, with later amendments and court cases, amended and adapted to the realities and progress of society.

Times have changed. We have the largest (in prowess and power) standing military in the world. As I have often said, should a President ever convince the military to attack the civilian population to suppress dissent, the civilians wouldn’t stand a chance.

We have the Posse Comitatus Act (United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) which specifically prohibits the use of the military to enforce domestic policies, except in times of national emergency.

It is interesting that it applied only to the United States Army and, in 1958, amended to include the US Air Force. The US Navy, and by its inclusion in the Department of the Navy, the United States Marine Corps (apologies to my Marine friends and family), has specific regulations interpreted to make it applicable to this branch.

Which leaves us whether the intended purpose still applies in the realities of our country, i.e. a standing army and the level of firepower, today.

I contend the primary purpose has been made moot. The founding fathers never envisioned a time that the government should take weapons from otherwise law-abiding citizens. It doesn’t mean they never intended to limit the government’s authority to put in place regulations and conditions to ensure this right to possess weapons is as well-regulated as the once necessary militia.

The founding fathers also incorporated provisions for the Constitution to adapt to the future of a world they could not imagine. Slave owners Thomas Jefferson and James Madison recognized the ever-changing world in which they lived. They authored one of the most potent documents to ensure no other Americans ever face the tyranny of a King and devised a firm, but fluid, Constitution on which to base government. They recognized the country would need to adapt to the future.

Slavery was abolished because rational humans recognized the inhumanity of a practice once allowed under our Constitution. Time marched on, circumstances and conditions changed, and the Constitution changed with it.

The case most often cited as supporting the strict interpretation of the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v Heller, holds thoughtful dissenting opinions which offer guidance in crafting new laws imposing reasonable restrictions that could pass constitutional muster.

Justice John Paul Stevens (a Republican appointee of President Reagan if it matters) wrote,

“The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.

The view of the Amendment we took in Miller (Miller, 307 U. S., at 178. )—that it protects the right to keep and bear arms for certain military purposes, but that it does not curtail the Legislature’s power to regulate the nonmilitary use and ownership of weapons—is both the most natural reading of the Amendment’s text and the interpretation most faithful to the history of its adoption

Since our decision in Miller, hundreds of judges have relied on the view of the Amendment we endorsed there we ourselves affirmed it in 1980. See Lewis v. United States, 445 U. S. 55, 65–66, n. 8 (1980).3 No new evidence has surfaced since 1980 supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to curtail the power of Congress to regulate civilian use or misuse of weapons. Indeed, a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”

In US V Miller (1939), the court upheld a federal law prohibiting the interstate transportation of machine guns (automatic weapons) and shotguns with a barrel length under eighteen inches. This case and the limited number of related decisions does not establish a clear, unambiguous court precedent as some claim.

Instead, it offers a window of opportunity for a well-crafted law, given proper deliberation and consideration, to reduce mass shootings facilitated by the widespread uncontrolled access to semi-automatic weapons and protect the rights of the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens who own firearms.

There are simple measures we can take with little likelihood of a constitutional challenge.

Measures

  • We do not let 18-year-old “adults” buy alcohol. But on one’s 18th birthday, you can walk into a “Guns ‘R’ Us” and walk out with an AR-15, multiple magazines, and a case of ammunition. By imposing this “waiting period” until the 21st birthday, it gives us a three-year window into adult behavior. Any criminal behavior which would prohibit firearms ownership is no longer concealed behind sealed juvenile records.
  • Fund and fix the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Congress created the system with bi-partisan legislation to centralize records checking for firearms purchases. Since firearms and ammunition travel in interstate commerce, the legislation should be changed to force states to comply. Mandating state participation and funding the program is critical. President Trump’s proposed 2019 budget reduces funding for the system despite widespread support from anti-gun groups to the NRA.
    In most cases, these shooters had no criminal record. They were angry, bitter, emotionally immature loners. They had known behavioral issues. In Parkland, information was available to several law enforcement agencies including the FBI. We must adapt the NICS database to include such information and require law enforcement investigation.
  • Annual qualification and demonstration of the ability to handle the weapon. We require barbers, manicurists, and massage therapists to be licensed. Wouldn’t it make sense to do the same for owning a firearm? In some states, there are handgun safety courses which amount to little more than telling them which end to point at the target.
    That someone, simply by reaching a certain age and lack of a criminal record, can buy and walk out with a dangerous item like an AR-15, shotgun, rifle, or pistol without the least bit of training or licensing, is insanity.
  • Individuals with Concealed Weapons Permits must meet, at a minimum, the same standard as law enforcement officers. We should consider psychological testing modeled on military recruit testing. Since we are licensing individuals to be in the public arena with concealed weapons, isn’t it logical to test more than their ability to shoot at paper targets?
    The main argument against testing and licensing is the big bad government will know I have a gun, which is nonsense in our connected world of bots and tracking cookies. A government intent on finding gun owners could do so with a few keystrokes, or perhaps hire Russians to do it for us.
  • End the sale of high-capacity magazines. Limit single time ammunition purchases to a single box of rounds and report multiple purchases made within a 7 day period.
  • Mandatory liability insurance covering any unlawful or accidental injuries or death outside of their residence.
  • Mandatory safe storage requirements for firearms left in a private residence whenever a licensed firearm owner does not occupy it.
  • Remove the product liability protections of weapons manufacturers to come in line with all product liability law. This is a biggie. See Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act PLCAA is codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903.
    This prohibits gun manufacturers and dealers from liability. We can sue companies for making soap look like candy, or food service companies for serving scalding coffee, but not weapon manufacturers for producing an inherently dangerous and easily misused product. It strains credulity.

You’ll notice that not one proposal suggests taking weapons from those who legally own them. Any such suggestion is foolish when one considers the number of firearms in the US (300 million) or that turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals will solve the problem. Adequate safeguards for private weapons ownership and storage, through civil and criminal enforcement, to minimize the risk of stolen firearms is common sense.

Some firearms owners will complain about the cost of such licensing, testing, and storage requirements. Hardly a valid argument. We require auto insurance, driver’s licenses, and a host of other controls on matters of public concern. These are similar and sensible measures.

I think it safe to say most gun owners are as disturbed by these incidents as those who oppose gun ownership. It’s the intransigence of a few wrapping themselves in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, without a fundamental understanding it is not inviolate, that creates us versus them toxic environment.

I am not naïve enough to think these will solve the entire problem, but it is a start.

These measures are prophylactic. They do not deal with the fundamental question of why these incidents are happening. Mental health issues may be a contributing factor compounded by these readily available weapons. Although many perpetrators who survive have been competent to stand trial they knew what they were doing was wrong. Their actions were deliberate and premeditated.

Advances in neuroscience may offer the best solution as we gain an understanding of the causes of such behavior and ways to identify and manage it.

For now, the why eludes us.

Please do not suggest that taking prayer and god out of schools is the reason. For those faithful in Emmanuel Church in Charleston, prayer didn’t stop Dylan Roof from killing nine innocent people. If it can’t stop it in church, where everyone believed, what is the likelihood it will work in the mixed environment of school? The prayers offered since Sandy Hook and other incidents have prevented nothing.

This incident in Parkland Florida has sparked a change. No longer will the usual “waiting period for the anger to fade” tactic of those who would prevent any regulation of firearms work. This generation of students now in school was born after Columbine. Their typical school day consists of concerns for the possibility they may never get to the end of the day.

Where our generation enjoyed recess, and sports, and walking the halls with our friends, this generation practices “active shooter” drills.

Where our generation’s biggest concern was who might win the Friday night football game, they must worry about finding a safe place to hide from bullets.

When a serious discussion of arming teachers, putting volunteers with guns in schools, and turning schools into an armed camp happens, something has gone wrong. While some of these; active-shooter drills, and better securing of buildings, are reasonable they are Band-Aids on a bleeding artery.

What’s next, ballistic resistant school uniforms?

The most ludicrous idea yet is arming teachers. If a man with a pistol can kill thirteen people at Fort Hood, a military base filled with highly trained soldiers with all sorts of weapons, do you think Miss Math Teacher will be better equipped? If you do, and you own guns, give them to someone sane.

If the weight of evidence about the original intent of the Second Amendment, granting citizen’s the right to protect themselves from a tyrannical government and a standing army, has been made moot.

If the nature of weaponry now available to the average citizen far exceeds any rational necessity but rests entirely on “because I want it” attitude wrapped in archaic rationale.

If we only discuss this issue for a brief moment, then let it fade into the past willing to wait until the next incident.

Then it is time to rebalance the “right to bear arms” against the obligation of society to protect itself, and its children.

If kids can’t go to school without worrying that a fire alarm may be the last sound they hear before they die, we are a long way from the America of my youth.

P.S. There’s been a flood of postings on social media attacking the kids leading the charge in the #neveragain movement. There is no better evidence of the lack of reason and disingenuousness of those who refuse to have an intelligent discussion on the problem of gun violence. Such tactics are abhorrent and despicable.

We may be on the cusp of seeing a repeat of the student-led protests Vietnam in the 1960’s, and good for them.

One of the saddest facts about America is that we’ve always been better at killing ourselves than any enemy we ever faced. Time for things to change.

In 1941, this country faced an external threat and met it with the determination of what’s been called “the greatest generation. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new generation’s greatness.

As Bob Dylan prophetically sang,

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin‘.

Deja Vu All over Again

Reposted from October 2015 and likely to be reposted again and again and again, usque ad mortem accipit nos (see, Mr. O’Toole and Mr. Needham, I did pay attention.)

Guns, Laws, and Common Sense: Not Mutually Exclusive. 

Once again we face the horror of a school shooting. The politics of these issues need be stripped away so we can devise a solution.  Time is of the essence since lives are at risk.

One idea which might demonstrate a clear intent to set aside partisan bickering and seek a solution would be for all elected officials, Democrat and Republican alike, to refuse to accept donations from the NRA, related PACs, or any lobbying group associated with the firearm industry. Much like the issue over automobile safety liability championed by Ralph Nader and the automakers buying support in Congress through campaign contributions to stop Nader’s efforts we need to isolate these vested interests in arriving at a practical solution.

“Those who do not learn history, are doomed to repeat it” George Santayana

In light of the recent spike in mass shootings, the usual hysteria from both sides of the issue ensued. We have those that propose to eliminate all firearms. They lack any realistic proposal or plan for accomplishing such purpose, We have those that choose an unsupported interpretation of the Second Amendment that prohibits ANY laws that restrict or control private, non-militia related possession of weapons regardless of the nature of those weapons.

What we don’t have is rational discourse or commitment to do more than chant slogans or repeat tired and meaningless historical failures. The pattern is familiar. Incident, outrage, prayers, virulent accusations back and forth, search for rational motivation to irrational behavior, relapse into forgetfulness.

The cycle of response to such incidents is the classic process of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Except we replace acceptance with resignation to the insolubility of the issue because it is not simple.

One of the things I find most frustrating about opinions in this country is the lack of foundation upon which most people base their argument. I am willing to bet many of the staunchest supporters of the right to own firearms have never read the Second Amendment. I bet the same holds true for those that hold the opposite opinion.

They chant slogans and rhetoric without any fundamental understanding of the complexities involved.

For those of you so inclined to explore issues with a sense of logic and fullness of examination, I invite you to read a dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens (a Republican appointee by President Ford) in the case DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (No. 07-290) 478 F. 3d 370, affirmed.

Take the time to read the case, but here are some selected quotes

“The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.”

“The view of the Amendment we took in Miller (Miller, 307 U. S., at 178. )—that it protects the right to keep and bear arms for certain military purposes, but that it does not curtail the Legislature’s power to regulate the nonmilitary use and ownership of weapons—is both the most natural reading of the Amendment’s text and the interpretation most faithful to the history of its adoption”

“Since our decision in Miller, hundreds of judges have relied on the view of the Amendment we endorsed there we ourselves affirmed it in 1980. See Lewis v. United States, 445 U. S. 55, 65–66, n. 8 (1980).3 No new evidence has surfaced since 1980 supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to curtail the power of Congress to regulate civilian use or misuse of weapons. Indeed, a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”

“With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view. “The Militia which the States were expected to maintain and train is set in contrast with Troops which they were forbidden to keep without the consent of Congress. The sentiment of the time strongly disfavored standing armies; the common view was that adequate defense of country and laws could be secured through the Militia—civilians primarily, soldiers on occasion. “The signification attributed to the term Militia appears from the debates in the Convention, the history and legislation of Colonies and States, and the writings of approved commentators.” Miller, 307 U. S., at 178–179.

What is clear is that the Second Amendment does not prohibit the states from enacting legislation to impose controls on the private, i.e. non-militia related, possession and use of firearms.

Now let me be clear, I do not oppose private ownership of firearms. I am not opposed to hunting, not opposed to recreational shooting but I think we all must acknowledge the risk that firearms pose to society.

Which leads us to access to firearms. If the NRA is so strongly supportive of the so-called “right” to bear arms, why would they be opposed to stringent regulations regarding purchasing and carrying these same weapons?

If the claim that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is true, then let’s ensure those “people” that obtain firearms do so honestly, are qualified to do so, and maintain that qualification. The goal being equal protection for everyone.

Here are my modest suggestions for dealing with the issues.

  1. Background checks for all firearms purchases
  2. Automatic relinquishment of all firearms upon conviction for any felony or possessing a firearm while intoxicated with a lifetime ban on ownership.
  3. Mandatory licensing of all persons owning firearms with annual renewals (we require hairdressers to renew their license more often than a gun permit)
  4. Seven-day waiting periods for any purchase (pistol, long gun, or shotgun)
  5. Minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years for any criminal act committed while in possession of a firearm, 20 years for the use of a firearm during the commission of a crime. (Perfect opportunity to empty the prisons of non-violent drug offenders and replace them with gun violators)
  6. Mandatory drug screening for all firearms licenses
  7. Mandatory liability insurance for all gun owners.
  8. Remove the product liability protections of weapons manufacturers to come in line with all product liability law. This is a biggie.  See  Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act PLCAA is codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903.
    This prohibits gun manufacturers and dealers from liability. We can sue companies for making soap look like candy, or food service companies for serving scalding coffee, but not weapon manufacturers for producing an inherently dangerous and easily misused product.  It strains credulity.

The other argument is that those that commit these acts suffer from mental disabilities. While this is certainly an aspect of the case, most of those charged with these crimes ultimately stand trial. They may have exhibited irrational behavior but it does not rise to the level of diminished capacity or being unfit to stand trial. A character flaw is not a defense to criminal behavior.

Take all of the tax revenue from the sale of firearms, ammunition, licenses, or any firearm related items and direct it toward access to mental health treatment. Sounds like the proverbial win-win to me.

Here is another rather interesting read, http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

The article dispels certain misconceptions about weapons and the dangers posed and underscore others. Remember knowledge is power, some would prefer to keep us in the dark. Don’t let that happen.

This is a dangerous world. It would seem to me that the American people, if they truly believe this to be the greatest country on the Earth, are wise enough to recognize we have a problem in this country and an obligation to deal with it. Isn’t it enough that a parent worries about things that can happen to a child without adding sending them off to school involving a calculated risk?

There are many smart people in this country, unfortunately very few run for office. We need to encourage intelligent dialog to deal with the problem of gun violence, not useless pandering to a select few.

Some would suggest that arming everyone is the solution. I think about that whenever I see images from other countries with everyone firing AK-47’s in the air and driving Toyota pickup trucks with anti-aircraft weapons.

I do not want to live in an America that is nothing more than an armed camp. The idea that we can eliminate all risk is silly, life is full of uncertainty; the idea that we cannot find a realistic solution to such a serious problem is nonsense. All it takes is for all of us to pay attention, understand the truth, and demand that those in position to find solutions do so or face finding a new place to live and a new job away from Washington DC.

The Folly of Prayer vs. Guns

Here we are, just a few days out from the latest mass shooting, and what have we learned? A systemic failure allowed the shooter to buy firearms. He escaped from a mental health facility. He was court-martialed, imprisoned, and then dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for a conviction relating to domestic violence.

There’s a possibility of a rape case. Murky and unclear on what happened.

We also learned that bump stocks, the accessory which acted as a force multiplier in Las Vegas converting a legal semi-automatic weapon into what was essentially a full-auto, are once again for sale. This contributed to the high casualty count in Las Vegas; just a short time ago and we’ve already forgotten.  (http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/01/smallbusiness/slide-fire-bump-stocks/index.html.)

This restarting of sales, despite now long forgotten long-winded speeches on the floor of the House and Senate to ban such items, boils down to one thing; profits matter more the people.

The company that sells them, after what they must have considered a respectful pause (perhaps it was 58 days, one for each of the dead) ramped up sales again understanding the short-term memory of Americans and the inertia that is our government.

Plz godAnd just like Las Vegas and the incidents before it, scenes of prayers and candlelight vigils with imprecations to “Almighty God” for his compassion and intervention inundate the media.

Let’s get one thing straight. Not one prayer, in the history of the world, has ever prevented anything from happening. No matter how sincere the individuals gathered in prayer may be, not one prayer ever worked.

Now I know there be wailing and gnashing of teeth by the religious who’ll say I cannot know for certain what prayers worked. Nonsense. I saw hundreds of thousands of people, sincere people, pray after each mass shooting incident. While I wasn’t privy to their words, I can make an educated guess that many prayed for God to prevent such incidents.

God didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

It underscores the wasted energy and placebo effect that is prayer.  Even my friend and co-blogger on the Heretic and the Holy Man, Kent Harrop, concedes that prayer is not enough. (https://greenpreacherblog.com/2017/11/07/when-prayer-isnt-enough/)

Although he still sees the value in the effort, I disagree.  People prayed to end each and every war. Followed by more wars. People pray and the world continues to turn.

What we require is action. And in our capitalist society, economic action produces results. To change things, to motivate Congress and your fellow Americans to come to grips with the problem of gun violence, you must hit them in the pocketbook.

If profits matter more than people, there lies opportunity.

But what about the Second Amendment and the sacred right of bearing arms? It is a difficult aspect of America to reconcile. But, this article in the NY Times does a good job of putting the heart of the problem in perspective. Our willingness to allow easy access to high-capacity weapons is what differentiates us from the rest of the word.  You cannot stop someone intent on causing harm, but you can limit the means available for him to do so. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html)

The Second Amendment provides the right of self-defense to all citizens.  To interpret that to mean carrying concealed weapons to and fro in society is a stretch. To interpret the Second Amendment to mean there can be no limitation on weapons possessed by a citizen, or the amount of ammunition, magazine capacity, or other factors is a fallacy. We already do it to a certain extent, albeit minimal.

The latest shooting underscores the issue.  Aside from the fact he shouldn’t have been able to buy the weapons in the first place, he went to that church with fifteen magazines and fired over Four Hundred and Fifty rounds.

There is not one logical, rational, or legal argument to support an individual owning such level of firepower.

That is the risk of adhering to a strict, inviolable Second Amendment. Safeguarding innocent lives should trump any such interpretation.

To argue that the Second Amendment prevents ANY restriction on possession of firearms is nonsense. It is an argument supported by the NRA and those members of Congress on their payroll, and it must end.

Now, there will be a chorus of voices shouting, “but an Armed American Stopped the carnage.” “If not for him, more would have died.”

If we end gun violence with gun violence, we enter a never-ending cycle. An infinite loop. A zero-sum game. If we accept this, we must resign ourselves to future incidents.

There is one common denominator in most incidents we see from our home-grown shooters, domestic violence. And the history of our dealing with this issue is one fraught with inconsistency and failure.

We have prisons full of non-violent drug offenders, yet treat those who commit domestic violence in a much less serious way. Will jailing all those convicted of domestic violence solve the entire problem? No, but I think it a better use of prison space than someone caught possessing marijuana.

Until we recognize domestic violence as a warning sign and deal with it, i.e., lifetime ban on firearm ownership, forfeiture of all firearms, these incidents will continue.

Until we impose reasonable limitations on magazine capacity and quantity and type of ammunition, these incidents will continue. To kowtow to the argument that AR-15 type firearms are necessary for hunting and limiting weapons capacity infringes on Second Amendment rights is idiocy.

I have no issue with anyone of sound mind owning firearms. I have no issue with anyone owning an AR-15 if they choose that as a weapon for hunting or self-defense. I have an issue with the availability of bump stocks and no restrictions on owning high-capacity magazines and enough ammunition to fire 450 rounds in a church.

On the argument that an armed citizen was the answer to ending the problem, such a philosophy frightens me. The qualifications for getting a concealed carry permit are a joke. There are minimal requirements to show not only the ability to fire a weapon but the wherewithal to judge the circumstances under which identifying and firing on a target is necessary and prudent.

Here’s an interesting point, most Police Department, particularly in large cities, tell their officers not to resort to using their weapons off-duty unless necessary.  The reason? Responding officers face not only dealing with an armed suspect but sorting out the good guys from the bad guys. Just look at the number of “Friendly fire” incidents where cops killed other cops. Add minimally trained civilians into the mix, and it is only a matter of time before a cop kills or is killed by a well-intentioned civilian. Thus, compounding the tragedy.

There are no easy solutions to these problems, but motivating Americans to do something about it may lie in my earlier point. Money talks. If the NRA isn’t willing to compromise, stop supporting them. If Congress doesn’t listen, stop contributing. If companies sell unlimited quantities of ammunition, stop patronizing them.

If we can sue automobile makers for defective products, if  we can hold tobacco companies responsible for a “legal” products bad side effects, if we can sue McDonald’s for selling hot coffee, all of which has made things safer, then why not gun and ammunition makers?

If we do not work toward a solution to the problem, resign yourself to future similar headlines. If you want to waste time praying, have at it. But know this, it will fail, and more innocent people will die because we are unwilling to face our responsibilities.

One definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. That’s the history of prayer in ending these incidents. Hold your faith in any manner you chose, but human intelligence and effort are necessary to solve this problem.

It’s been a while since I sat in a church, but I read all the books. I recall these words, God helps those who help themselves.

Time for us to do something, save praying for the World Series where no one dies.

 

Gun Control: From a Different Point of View

So it would seem the latest nut case with a gun and no conscience is, wait for it, an atheist. As if this explains his actions. He shot up a church and killed innocent church-goers out of his disdain for religion.

Or so the many have said on our newest dimension, social media. As tempting as that is, I’ll leave it alone for now.

Within hours of the attack, we have former classmates, anonymous military sources, unnamed law enforcement providing tantalizing, and unverified, details of a deranged individual of weak and cowardly character.

He’s not a Muslim, he didn’t scream Allahu Akbar.

So far, neither ISIS nor any other terrorist group adopted him, so he doesn’t fit our preferred mold of terrorist.

He didn’t get in on a visa lottery, that’s inconvenient.

We are left with the reality of a “mental health issue.”  Even Mr. Trump got this one right.

The rush to find a rational explanation for this irrational behavior, i.e., blaming his atheism or other external factors, masks the real issue; lack of health care, including mental health resources.

And here’s another inconvenient truth, initial reports say armed American citizens took action ending the entire episode. They acted before law enforcement could because that is the reality in such a small town. If that turns out to be true, the argument for gun control as a solution to these episodes fails.

But, the necessity of access to mental health resources, and better screening of individuals who present with mental health issues, and own firearms, is underscored.

On what we will do about it, I have little hope. Cutting access to a basic human need, health care, seems to be a favorite of this administration and his Congressional lap dogs.

Gun control advocates and the NRA have a common enemy, crazy people with guns. If these groups fail to achieve a compromise in addressing the problem, you can rest assured another nutcase is sitting in front of his TV, cleaning his AR-15, loading his magazines, and planning his entry into the record book of mass killings.

P.S. If you need further proof of this man’s mental instability, he decided to shoot people in Texas! EVERYBODY has a gun in Texas. No further evidence is necessary.

Rationality is Overrated: Time for America to Face Her Problems

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

Perhaps it is time for the vitriol of hate and fear to win.

Perhaps it is time we obliterate an entire group of people based on their common religion.

Perhaps it is time us to consider a policy of irrationality. Focus our anger not on finding a solution, but eliminating the need for one.

After all,

It is Muslims that are killing Americans.

It is Muslims that are trying to destroy our culture.

It is Muslims who wish to enslave us in the violence and intolerance of Sharia.

Perhaps it is time we stopped worrying about the innocence of most Muslims.

Perhaps we should use our overwhelming military power and take them all out as a way to insure we get the guilty.

I fear there are those reading this who mistook my satire as something worth serious consideration. A frightening prospect but we see evidence of such irrationality every day in this country.

Just look at the Presidential campaign.

Now comes the part they will ignore because it is hard and might force them to think.

Is it possible we bear some of the blame for the terror visited upon Orlando? Is it possible the blood of those victims are on our hands as well?

It is clear that we are unwilling to do the right thing. Unwilling to confront the scourge of violence that plagues this country.

What happened in Orlando is a tragedy. In far too many cities in this country, it’s called Saturday night.

Those that see one side of the issue see guns as the problem. We need to control the guns, they scream. But they offer no real solution. No answer to how to deal with the 300 million firearms in private hands. Do they blame the car when a drunk driver runs over a group of children?

Those that cherish their guns wrap themselves in the Second Amendment. They scream, I have a right to protect myself. I have a right to own as many guns as I like. The problem is not guns, it is criminals. Lots of I, I, I’s there.

Do they offer even a nod to OUR interest in preventing these incidents? Do they show a willingness to be part of the solution instead of being a roadblock to even considering one? They look at Sandy Hook and Orlando, hold up their copy of the Second Amendment, and say this is more important than those lives.

They argue that if every law abiding American that wanted to carry a gun did, we’d all be safer. Now there’s a comforting thought. Think of some of the idiots you meet on a daily basis and imagine them in a firefight in a school, or theater, mall, or the desk next to yours.

Imagine good old Harry, waiting to pick up his grandkids, whipping out his trusty .45 and taking on a crazed gunman in an elementary school. Within just a few short years, we’d need fewer schools.

It would raise the effect of friendly fire to a whole new level.

If that is their idea of a rational solution to preventing these incidents they’re more delusional than even I imagine. It would make as much sense to make everyone wear ballistic vests.

In the aftermath of these things, we follow a familiar pattern.

It was only a matter of time before the right-wing lunacy put the blame for this on Obama. Somehow his policies created an environment where this would happen. After all, he is a secret Muslim. I mean, come on, Barrack Hussein?

And it was only a matter of time before the left began their worn and useless chant for gun control.

They yell and scream. Hold hands. Pray. Make speeches about the tragedy of guns.

Which accomplishes nothing.

There’s a brain tumor eating away the mind of this country. We are one candidate away from palliative care.

The nut who purchased this weapon is, according to the media, on an FBI Watchlist. One which would prevent him from flying.

We have a system in place to stop someone we suspect of terroristic leanings from flying. We recognize our overwhelming interest in airline security.

Sounds logical. I fly quite often and I support such policies.

We can stop them from doing something that requires a certain amount of skill and planning. We can stop them from doing something that is hard to do.

Why not expand that list to the purchase of firearms, which is easy to do? I’ll tell you why. Because the NRA opposes it.

They think the government cannot be trusted to do such things fairly. They contend it might prevent an innocent person from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

How do they do this? They control the cowards in Congress addicted to the gun lobby money. They manipulate them into killing such legislation and killing Americans in the process.

They stop the government from having an effective tool against these incidents.

The same incompetent government they blame for these incidents. Which government is it they fear most?

They spin the story and blame the President. They whip those who would have a difficult time finding a foreign country on a map into a frenzy.

They then focus them on anything other than the actual problem.

Their solution is simple. It is more important that I have my gun. They would prefer we eliminate an entire group of people rather than risk a few extra steps in buying a gun.

The nut who pulled that trigger was an American citizen. He exercised his Second Amendment rights so precious to so many.

Think of it this way, if the Orlando gunman had been denied his Second Amendment right to purchase a firearm, the NRA would support him in his case to right that wrong. Let that bounce around your brain for a bit.

On the other hand, he is the wrong flavor American. His parents are from Afghanistan. What do you expect, they would argue?

So, perhaps it is time for their Final Solution. If we are unwilling to balance responsible gun ownership against preventing tragedy, it leaves us little choice.

Perhaps it is time we embrace the words of Arnaud Amalric, Papal Legate and Cistercian abbot.

A man of the Christian God. That might offer comfort to those who do not understand Islam.

His words brought solace to those seeking vengeance against that which they feared. He spoke these words before the massacre at Beziers. Where one faith confronted a difference they perceived as a threat.

“Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius”

“Kill them all, God will recognize his own”

This is a country that once decided to put a man on the moon, built the technology to do it, and did it. How is it we cannot find the courage and conviction to protect our people?

The real tragedy here is that as a nation we have forgotten the great things we are capable of accomplishing.

Encouraged by a zealot on a crusade of intolerance, we chant slogans illustrating our ignorance. We ignore the foundation of fairness and justice upon which this country was built.

The blood of the victims of gun violence is on all our hands. Until we regain our rationality and work toward a real solution, more will come.

Gun Control: A Time to Rethink the Realities

I struggle with the idea of gun control.  Over time, my ideas have gone from embracing the idea that anyone should be able to own a firearm, as long as they comply with the law, to questioning the need for anyone to possess a weapon with the exception of the Police and Military.

I argued that there are practical problems with imposing serious gun control in this country.  Best estimates show there are 114 million handguns in private hands.  To create a program to remove them lawfully from private ownership has nightmarish legal and practical implications.

There are issues with overcoming the constitutional arguments.  I have revisited the arguments of the second amendment. I see a clear distinction in the common interpretation between its original intent and today’s modern era.

As with all aspects of the Constitution, adapting to a changing world is both necessary and reasonable

In light of the clear and undeniable problem of gun violence in this country, a new approach to gun control is long overdue.  The numbers for 2010 were 18,000 deaths and 33000 injuries from firearms.  Homicide rates in urban areas are 12.1 per 100000.

Some other interesting information; (various on-line sources)

The U.S.A. is ranked third out of 45 developed nations in regards to the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm. Mexico and Estonia are ranked first and second.

In 2009 United Nations statistics record 3.0 intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants; for comparison, the figure for Mexico, where handguns are prohibited was 10 per 100,000, the figure for the United Kingdom, where handguns are prohibited was 0.07 per 100,000, about 40 times lower, and for Germany 0.2.

Gun homicides in Switzerland however are similarly low, at 0.52 in 2010 even though they rank third in the world for highest number of guns per citizen.

Perhaps we can learn something from the Swiss.

So, what are the arguments for allowing private ownership of guns?  Here are the two most commonly cited, the second amendment and protection against a tyrannical government.

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Written at a time when the United States did not keep a standing army, citizens were called to duty when needed.  The benefit of having citizens maintaining and possessing firearms was clear.  The use of a firearm in daily survival, hunting for example, was common.  It was a different time.

Hunting is a hobby now, not a necessity. However, keep in mind, I am talking about handguns and, perhaps, high-capacity military type weapons.

Protection from tyranny.

Proponents of gun ownership often cite Hitler’s Germany outlawing private ownership of weapons as an example.  There is no evidence that the lack of private ownership of firearms by the German people contributed to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany.  The reasons behind that rise to power were infinitely more complex; handguns in every German home would not have altered anything.

This tyranny argument fails on two counts, one philosophical and one practical.  On the philosophical side, the idea that any American government could direct the military to attack the general population is ludicrous.

The men and women who serve do so because of the American people, not despite them.  I know no one who ever served in the military that would follow an order to attack American civilians.

Isolated incidents notwithstanding, the idea of a wholesale attack by the US military on Americans is insane. It makes for an entertaining movie theme, not reality.

Now the practical side of this argument.  Assuming for the sake of discussion that the President somehow convinced the military to attack civilians in a coordinated way, using the full power of the military, the “second amendment” advocates would not stand a chance.

A fully orchestrated attack by the 1st Marine Division, supported by aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery would utterly overwhelm a bunch of yahoos clinging to their precious weapons whose idea of training is drinking beer and shooting targets bearing the image of a politician they despise.

The idea that a citizen army could withstand such an attack is nonsense.

There is a long history of well-established civilian control over the military because the military is comprised of citizens. While one always needs to pay attention, I think a bigger threat to our freedom comes from Congress and not the Pentagon.

It really boils down to this, does the tradition of private ownership of firearms outweigh the real risk to our society.  We have a failing war on drugs because we thought we could arrest our way out of a health issue.  One that, while tragic, takes far fewer lives than handguns. Yet we seem to ignore the bigger threat of these weapons.

It is time for serious reconsideration of eliminating handguns, and perhaps non-hunting weapons, from private ownership and imposing strict control over their use by Law Enforcement.

Maybe it requires a discussion on the reasons behind our violent tendencies that are exacerbated by the easy availability of weapons.

I don’t know the answer, but ignoring the problem is not it.

A country that once said they would put a man on the moon, and did it, is most assuredly capable of finding a way to eliminate the very real threat these weapons pose to people.