One of the Aurora shooting victims said this, “I just closed my eyes and prayed.” That, unfortunately, is not how America is going to solve the problem of random, unstoppable mass murders by gun.
On Thursday night at 11:30PM I drove my 16 year-old son and his buddy to a movie theater in Pasadena. They were meeting up with five other friends who earlier in the day had decided to catch the midnight show of the latest Batman movie. They had seven seats reserved in the front row. What they didn’t know as they took their seats was that one hour earlier at a similar midnight-show in Colorado a gunman, armed to the teeth and protected head-to-toe by body-armor, had entered the theater and opened fire. He targeted the front row with his first bullets. Two days later my community’s Sunday music concert, played on cool grass under great oaks, had the marked presence of extra police. The Colorado shooting was cited as the reason for this show of force. In the aftermath of that shooting, how many parents in my town feel the same way about letting their children go to a “late-show” or take in a peaceful summer concert? This week in Oak Creek, Wisconsin how many families feel comfortable praying in church?
This, besides the tragedy and mayhem of the actual killings, is the price we, as a nation, pay for our love affair with guns - the pursuit of happiness impinged by a society that shows no inclination towards limiting the distribution and presence of guns. I have little respect for the array of opinions and policies that surround the issue of guns in America. They are alternately tortured or solicitous. Simply put, guns have virtually no place in our modern society, and it’s time we really, really absorbed that fact.
The Framers of the Constitution constructed a Bill of Rights and within that a Second Amendment with its statement about bearing arms - 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. I am not a legal scholar and will resist the temptation to re-analyze every clause and comma of every law that has arisen from interpretations of this Amendment, but neither will I acquiesce to the legal analysis of the mostly conservative minds on the Supreme Court who have crafted such “solutions” to national crises as Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. Such minds will take us all to the grave grasping our 223 year-old Constitution, intact, but with our common-sense, modern-day lives in a shambles. The Aurora, Colorado massacre is evidence of that. And based on the actions and thoughts of the Supreme Court vis a vis the Second Amendment we can expect more of the same, with no end in sight.
In 18th century America the concept of a national or federal government with the potential power to overwhelm and override the laws, direction and rights of individual states and their citizens was an untested idea, even though that national government was democratically elected and bore almost no resemblance to the Kings, Queens, Emperors and Royal figures who lorded over the bulk of humanity with unchallengeable authority. Nevertheless, it was considered prudent to ensure that states and their citizenry would have the means and guaranteed right to oppose or resist such domination from the national government in the form of “well regulated militias.” To that end (hence the presence of that very specific term) citizens would be allowed to bear arms. The clause does not preface the right to bear arms with any statement about individual rights of self defense, let’s say to settle a street fight, nor does it mention the right to bear arms in defense of one’s home or the right to bear arms to hunt squirrels or to recreate. No, directly, unambiguously and deliberately it references “a well regulated militia.” Words are words, and those specific words suggest the setting, framework, concerns, and most of all, the intentions of the Framers - they were worried about the larger and pressing issue of balancing state powers versus federal powers. If they had intended otherwise they would have stated otherwise.
In any event, today, in 2012, the formerly untested form of government known as a Democratic Republic has been in full swing for over two centuries, and judging from the conclusions of many minds, including many conservative ones, America “the greatest country in the world” seems to have mastered the challenge of balancing those powers as well as creating a relatively benign federal authority. And if that is not the case, I would like to ask, especially the jingoistic conservatives among us, to please cite the nation and form of government that has done a better job of this or from whom we can learn? If that can’t be done, then clearly many of the fears and reasons for ensuring armed and well-regulated state militias have largely disappeared over the centuries rendering the Second Amendment, in the words of Dick Cheney (my favorite conservative thinker), “quaint.”
Somehow, the Dick Cheney’s of the world who are ready to abandon provisions of the New Deal and NATO because of a changed world are unreceptive to the notion that much has changed since 1791. Somehow, they are able to ignore the observable truth that almost none of the conditions that prevailed and may have justified a right to bear arms in the 18th century exist today. Americans no longer live on a frontier with disputed borders. We no longer live in the wilderness surrounded by hostile aboriginal tribes. We have supermarkets down the street and no longer need to hunt to sustain ourselves. We have 911 and police in every town and locality who are answerable to us and who protect us. We have full and thorough laws that extend to every citizen protecting their lives, rights and property, and a court system that is available to settle our disputes. In a nutshell we have civilization. And that civilization does not require an armed citizenry with almost limitless access to weapons to function and preserve itself.
What about the weapons? Did the writers of the Second Amendment in an era of “muzzle-loaded muskets and pistols, swords, knives, bows with arrows, and spears” envision 100 clip assault rifles, cop-killer bullets, and full-body armor? Within the confines of a “well regulated militia,” as arcane as that notion has truly become, I can at least listen to an argument for modern-day weaponry as a way to counter the forces of modern-day government and its military, but that argument cannot and should not extend to private citizens and their private, self-defined security needs. The latter interpretation leads to Aurora, and Columbine, and Virginia Tech, and Gabby Giffords and given their paramount allegiance to common sense, I cannot imagine the Framers being anything but repulsed by a society that blithely enables access to the killing power of modern weapons to tens of millions of its citizens, including the imbalanced among us, outside of the formal and organized framework of a well regulated militia. And frankly, anybody who truly believes that citizens enraged at their national government will seek to alter or subdue that government by means of military action and weaponry has not been paying attention. India removed the yoke of British Colonialism via organized non- violence, the Soviet Union collapsed without a shot, and more recently Egyptians and Tunisians overturned their governments by largely non-violent means. A million people marching on Washington or a hundred people marching on their town square and just sitting down will do more to thwart government power run amok than all the militias and armed citizens one can conjure.
So who exactly are the great patriots, the great Constitutionalists who insist, in the face of a vastly changed world with vastly enhanced citizen security, in allowing the near-unlimited accumulation in private hands of unimaginably lethal weaponry? The NRA is certainly at the core of that point of view. In its selfishness, and lack of commonality toward fellow citizens it pushes a gun agenda that guarantees, in the name of freedom and manufactured second amendment rights, further mass killings. Many of its supporters are equally selfish. For the sake of recreation or tradition or even symbolism they willfully almost playfully (the good-old-boy with a shotgun pasted to his truck comes to mind) support the continued flooding of our society with guns. This, despite Aurora and statistics that conclude that violence, suicides, and homicides occur at higher levels in those states that have the highest levels of gun ownership and the fewest gun regulations.*
There is no doubt a cultural, political, and in my opinion, a racial component to the gun debate. Sitting in mostly under-populated, white, non-urban red-states a gun supporter will tolerate intolerable levels of gun violence in the more populated, urban environments where people of color tend to live in higher proportion. For the sake of walking in isolated fields of cut-corn and shooting at game birds or deer they will insist on NRA sanctioned levels of gun accessibility while gun-induced blood flows across that other America that they distrust, disdain and distance themselves from. That, in my mind, is the height of selfishness and unpatriotic behavior. For their fun others will die, again and again. They claim that responsible gun ownership is the key, but that argument rings as hollow as “just say no.” Is it not yet apparent that the level of vigilance and gun-safety that they espouse is entirely unattainable in the United States? And given that reality, wouldn’t it be bigger of them to limit, delay, test, train, screen the potential owner of every gun in America rather than live in denial about the blood-letting that their conservative, NRA, red-state America gun policies have caused? Their blind support of the NRA and its narrow and destructive political (not to mention commercial) agenda has been ruinous of a peaceable America. Aurora is on them.
Not that it matters. As always, our attention will turn away from the tragedy. Discussions will ensue. Legislation will be considered and quietly, behind NRA lobbied doors, squashed. And the stupidity, a marked trait of 21st century America, will continue. As with tobacco, the key to reigning in guns will not be specific edicts and regulations, but rather an alteration in the perception and culture of guns. Like tobacco, the veil must be lifted. Guns need to be portrayed for what they are – destroyers of lives rather than symbols of a romanticized and violent past. One of the Aurora shooting victims said this, “I just closed my eyes and prayed.” That, unfortunately, is not how America is going to solve the problem of random, unstoppable mass murders by gun. Though listening to conservative America, I get the feeling that that is exactly how far they are willing to go in addressing this sad and very American issue.