In the wake of the two mass shootings last week, we are once again thrust back into the discussion about new gun control legislation with conservatives accusing liberals of overreacting and trying to take all the guns away from law abiding citizens and liberals taking up their eternal call that conservatives are fervently pro-life until the baby is actually born. It's one of the most divisive issues in the country and I often ask myself why. Let's unpack the Second Amendment, sensible gun control measures and how to combat mass shootings.
First, we need to unpack the exact words of The Second Amendment, since the concept that, whatever is in the Constitution goes is paramount to how supporters defend their position. "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." That's it. That's the entire Second Amendment. Seems simple. The pro-gun lobby will point to the words "necessary", "security of a free State", and "shall not be infringed" as indisputable proof that guns are not only a right but a necessity to keep the people secure against a tyrannical government. Liberals and those in favor of more gun control will point to the phrase "well regulated Militia" as argument in favor of stricter regulatory measures and as proof that the Second Amendment in its original form is a relic of the past. (We don't have state Militias anymore).
Here's the thing, if you really dissect how the words are written, and bearing in mind the interpretation of retired Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, the pro-control lobby has a point. The Constitution was written in 1787, and the language of it is not exactly congruent to today. The phrase "regulated Militia" doesn't mean "regulation" like we think of it today, i.e. controlled, etc. Recall that throughout the Revolutionary War, the standing Continental Army was actually very small and much of the fighting force was made up of state Militia units, dubbed "regulars". Additionally, the phrase "State" with the capital S did not mean to the Framers what it means to us today, "The State" being a euphemism for the country as a whole. The original Constitution did not have the 50 state, united nation in mind when it was written. The Founders, in spite of the fact that they were creating a Federal government, still saw the States as a loose confederation and The Second Amendment was specifically written to protect the States from having their Militias disbanded by Congress and left vulnerable to the possibility of a Federal Army taking advantage of them.
Now, there are some people out there who will look at that previous paragraph and say, "You proving my point that guns keep me and my family safe and the Founders are clearly saying so!" Well, random stranger who I just made up in my head, that's not the argument I'm making. The argument I'm making is, we don't live in a world where we have to worry about one state infringing on the rights of another. We are no long that loose confederacy that the Founders envisioned. We no longer say "The United States are...", we say "The United States is...". The world and the country has changed since its founding and the Constitution can, too. It was created with the idea in mind for it to be a living document. In much the same way that a private business kicking a user off its platform for not adhering to their protocols is not a violation of the First Amendment, I don't see certain gun control measures as a violation of the Second. Besides, the Supreme Court already ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment upholds all citizens right to bear arms, so relax.
That does bear out the question though: "How do you reconcile gun control measures and laws against infringing on people's rights?" It's a "gotcha" type question that the pro gun lobby always uses, and to this day I can't believe the counter argument isn't presented more often. Laws don't infringe on rights. As a person living in the United States over the age of 16, I have a right to drive a car, but I must first demonstrate my ability to safely handle it by passing a test and getting a license and I have to keep my automobile registered. As a part of my "pursuit of happiness" guaranteed by the Constitution, I am allowed to pursue having a business in Real Estate, but in order to practice, I must again, pass a test, secure my license and continue to maintain said license with continuing education and renewal. And perhaps most baffling, when you really think about it, as a hunter, I am required by law to have a license to pursue that which I want to do with my firearms, but am not required to have a license for the firearm itself. That's like saying I need a license to drive my car around the local racetrack but not on the city streets.
And the thing is, the majority of Americans agree that some form of competent gun reform needs to take place in our country in order to allow for law abiding citizens to continue to pursue their various fire arm hobbies while keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who only intend to do harm with them. To me it looks like this: (a) Licensing for all gun owners over the age of 18 to be completed before owning a firearm. (b) All firearms sold in the United States must be registered to a national database. We do it with car titles and registrations, why not guns? (c) Each gun registration is also like a car title in that you register it to its new owner when its sold and, potentially, pay a one time registration fee or tax of, say $75 (again, like a car title transfer). In my view, this will partially close that loophole that many gun control advocates point to; the gun show sellers. By at least documenting what guns are being sold to whom, at minimum we can hopefully at least curb the sale of firearms to those who we would wish to not own them. And think of all the revenue we could generate. Hunting licenses basically provide the budget for the Federal DNR, imagine adding gun licenses to that budget and what that could do at a minimum for the preservation of our natural resources. Or, even better, for funding more firearm education programs. (d) Tighten up criminal punishments for gun related crimes. Example: add harsher mandatory minimum penalties for using a gun in commission of a crime and have steadily increasing penalties if the gun is registered but not to you and even harsher if it is an unregistered/illegal firearm.
But I think the question we have to deal with as a society even more is simply: "Why do you want to own a gun?" And this is coming from a gun owner. My answer is simply, because I like to hunt. I have a 12 gauge shotgun for bird hunting and I have a .308 rifle for deer hunting. They live in the basement, not under my bed and I don't plan on teaching my son about them until he's 12 and can take hunter's safety (if he even shows any interest at all). I know my way around a handgun and am a pretty good shot in a relay, but I don't shoot silhouette targets of people to sharpen my "deadly aim." For me, and I would hope for most, a gun is simply another tool that I use for a specific task. The danger, I believe, comes when a firearm stops being a tool and starts becoming, in its basest form, a means to assert control. I strongly believe that the most ardent pro-gun voices who say any regulation is unacceptable and everyone would be safer if we had universal concealed carry and could execute vigilante style justice when confronted with one of these mass shooter situations are not coming from the purest place. I have argued in the past that inside the genetic make up of all humans lies a primal savageness and innate wish to harm. I know personally there is a reason I in particular do not maintain a concealed carry permit and my home defense weapon of choice against a burglar is a Louisville Slugger. (A) As much as I pride myself on being a safe and responsible gun owner, I know my temper and I recognize the potential of a gun on my hip being the first resort in any top of conflict instead of the last and (B) my primal savageness lends itself more toward personal hand to hand combat anyway. But joking aside, the question that every gun owner has to ask is "Do I want to own this thing for the right reasons?" or is there that innate little voice that tells you "This hunk of metal is the real equalizer. With this, you never have to be afraid. With this, you can be God"?
Because that's the last thing about guns. They have the ability to cause great harm, pain, and loss of life, but they do it at a distance. And it's in this that we have to examine the psychology of a mass shooter versus any other form of mass murderer. One of the Sheriffs in Georgia was criticized last week for saying that the guy who went in and shot up 3 separate Asian massage parlors was "having a bad day." A callus sounding thing to be sure, but when you think about it, not entirely inaccurate. From my research into various serial killers for my novels, I have come to the conclusion that these individuals kill to satisfy something inside themselves. And it's not something that can be helped by any amount of therapy or medication. Mass shooting, on the other hand, I would argue is usually the result of a build-up things that explodes in one horrific act, with no real plan and no real desire to survive the encounter. It's the difference between Ted Bundy craftily stalking and strangling women for years and a guy taking an AR-15 into a Denver theater and opening fire. The intimacy of seeing life leave the body versus shooting "paper targets". Mass shooters don't, in my opinion, kill out of need. They kill because there is something else inside of them that might have been otherwise treated if we were only paying attention.
And that's the final point. Pro-gun advocates want to sit in committee in the Senate and scream about doing things that make sense rather than a "liberal wish list", then how about we stop stigmatizing mental illness and reach out and help the next person before he goes out and mows down a group of people? I strongly believe that funding more community outreach programs and making counselors and therapists more readily available to those in need of such things would do monumental good, not just in the prevention of more of these events, but for the health of our society in general. We should never underestimate the value of listening and feeling listened to.
But that's just the take of one hippie-dippy liberal gun-owner. What do you think? Is this all just a lost cause? Is the occasional mass shooting just the price we have to pay to maintain the status quo as it relates to our Second Amendment rights? Or do you agree that we can maintain the spirit of the Constitution while still installing some common sense safe guards in our laws?
I don't just write novels. I just like to write. This blog will not be polished, it won't be edited closely. There will be spelling and grammar errors and it might drag on in places. But it will be fun, off the cuff, genuine, and hopefully interesting to read!