In the wake of Dayton and El Paso, we flirt again with the idea of doing something to lessen or prevent mass gun violence in America.
All the polls show the same thing. The overwhelming majority of the American people want reasonable gun regulation: serious universal background checks, the banning of certain types of advanced weapons of war, the right of communities and families to “Red Flag” people who should not be automatically entrusted with firearms. Some polls show more than 90 percent approval of some package of these modest measures to bring down gun violence. One recent poll indicates that 94 percent of the American people want thoughtful reform.
And yet all the wisest pundits and the professors say it’s unlikely that anything will happen in Congress. The NRA, that loud contingent of Americans for whom there is really only one issue and that issue is don’t touch the Second Amendment, and our spineless politicians will do whatever it takes to deny the will of 90 percent-plus of the American people.
Ah, democracy. Jefferson said that in a republic even a narrow majority (51 percent say) should be regarded as unanimous, the will of the community. And yet here in 2019 we see that near unanimous not does not even qualifying in the U.S. Senate as a majority. All you can say to that is WTF?
It’s time to stop treating the Second Amendment like the only pronouncement Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. No other constitutional amendment is treated like an Unambiguous Absolute: not the First Amendment, not the fourth, not even the Fifth.
In spite of the strength and clarity of the First Amendment, there are reasonable regulations on free speech in America, reasonable regulations on freedom of conscience, reasonable regulations on freedom of assembly, etc. etc. We regulate the truck industry, we regulate hunting and fishing, we require you to have car insurance, we make you pass tests before you do all sorts of dangerous things in our society. And yet we’ve made an irrational — even insane — fetish of the Second Amendment.
Millions of people who wouldn’t know a Founding Father from a freedom fighter from a Fascist from a Freemason think they have an interpretive lock on the Second Amendment, and yet they could not pass a simple civics test about the U.S. Constitution. Most of them could not name half of the other provisions of the Bill of Rights. Just try it.
Any historical understanding of the Second Amendment begins with its actual purpose: not to turn the American people into a nation of mass shootings but to ensure a people’s defense system rather than a permanent military establishment — the hated standing army of the early American republic. It wasn’t about a home arsenal and a bump stock. It was about the militia training on the public green of a New England village to repel British redcoats if necessary.
If you asked James Madison what we should do about guns now that there is no people’s militia defense system, one thing is certain: He wouldn’t say oh just arm yourselves to the teeth and kills tens of thousands of each other every year with those firearms. The whole Second Amendment mythology is based on a fundamental misreading of a 27-word sentence. Ask your nearest Second Amendment absolutist what Madison meant by a well-regulated militia and what difference that make now, and just watch them turn deer in the headlights.
Can we please contemplate Canada? Canada is our sister nation just to the north across an imaginary line. Canadians have fast food. They have malls. They have television. They have cars. They have national parks. They even have guns, and lots of them, but they regulate gun ownership carefully to make sure those guns are used for home defense and for hunting. And guess what? Our closest ally, our closest neighbor, our sister (or maybe it is only first cousin) has almost no gun violence. How can it be that on this side of an imaginary line it’s Lord of the Flies or Fallujah, and on the other side of an imaginary line it is a safer world of people more or less just like us.
Nobody can say the Canadians are less free than we are. From almost any point of view, they are more free than we are, for surely one important freedom is the right to go into a movie or a public school or a synagogue or a country music concert and not be blown away by some heavily armed thug with a grievance. Human nature is human nature everywhere. We get our egos hurt, some unworthy person gets the job, someone looked at me cross-eyed in a Starbucks line, my girlfriend told me to go jump in a lake — but only in America do we then put a semiautomatic rifle (or for that matter an arsenal) in the hands of that disturbed person — always disturbed or temporarily disturbed — and let him go mow down scores of people.
We all like to talk about the great laboratory of democracy: how Colorado can legalize marijuana but Wyoming not, and hey, we’ll see where things work out better. And Nevada can have legalized prostitution, but Iowa not, and we’ll find out where prostitution is safer and healthier, since you will not legislate prostitution out of existence. So, let’s look up towards Canada, our lovely gentle civil neighbor to the north and ask how much our lives would really be diminished if we adopted their rational, sensible, humane, and civilized system of gun regulation.
Two more things. First, when you try to have a rational conversation with your nearest Second Amendment absolutist, start a stopwatch and calculate how long it takes them to utter one of the following moronic clichés: A: You know the first thing Hitler did when he came to power was confiscate all the guns in Germany; B: Yeah, first it’s gunna be bump stocks, then extended magazines, but before long they’re just gunna confiscate all our guns. It’s a fricking slippery slope. The whole thing is just a liberal plan to take our guns away. And when they say those things, just actually laugh out loud and say wow, so is that the level of your argument or the level of your understanding?
We instituted speed limits and yet that did not lead to the confiscation of the automobile. We regulate the stock market and yet it did not lead to the confiscation of America’s money supply. We outlaw child marriages and institute child consent and child rape laws and yet we have not outlawed marriage in the United States. Civilized nations enact reasonable laws to prevent create a more perfect union, encourage domestic tranquility, secure the lives and fortune of their citizens and prevent mayhem. Whoever said guns are off limits to the fundamental duty of a civilization to make reasonable laws for the benefit of the largest number of people possible?
And finally, it’s time to end the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. We’re a nation of 340 million people, and yet the only things that reach the Senate floor in our national legislature are those that the Senate majority leader, in this case Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is willing to get to the floor. Kentucky has a population of 4.45 million, or 1.3 percent of the national population. We need a system where any senator can bring a bill to the floor and it doesn’t take 60 votes to pass it but 51. That’s what a democracy would look like.
It is arguable that it is not Donald Trump who is the most powerful man in America but Mitch McConnell. The great business of the most important nation in the world is being held up by grim little men who are in bed with Dark Money and whose commonwealth interests are a mere whiff of what 30 or 40 or f50 years ago might have been some brand of civic idealism.
A person visiting from Jupiter and seeing the gun violence of the United States, including the now-monthly mass shootings, followed by the cynical, obscene, pornographic and farcical ritual known as the gun debate would say, this is a people who have a fatal kink in their souls.
John Burke September 6, 2019 at 12:37 pm
I am in total agreement with the points you make. Chief Justice Warren Burger said it well:
“The gun lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies–the militia–would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guaranty every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”Reply