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.
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.
- 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‘.