From Trump’s White House there now seeps a kind of ignorance mixed with vulgarity and topped with meanness that I find impossible to wash from my skin. I wake up to its oleaginous texture.
Roger Cohen, The New York Times, January 27, 2017
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January 2, 2017
As we welcome the New Year, bidding 2016 a sorry adieu, we reflect on the much-discussed Second Amendment of the US 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.” What does it mean? What does it not mean? For better insight it is useful to examine the actual wording.
The language clearly situated the citizenly right to bear arms in the context of a “well regulated” militia. Regulated how and by whom? Or more to the point, in a representative democracy who possesses the authority to regulate? The answers depend on the level of government, but regulation certainly falls within the public realm and not the private sector acting individually or as as a corporate whole.
While higher levels of government may, under certain conditions, pre-empt lower-level regulations, the Constitution makes very clear that neither law, nor regulation, nor enforcement can be imposed by individual citizens or private entities. In a sense, all discussion locating the power to regulate would be considered absurd in any collective human enterprise except firearms.
Consider commerce, foreign policy, the military, public education, women’s health, and so forth. We can debate endlessly on a case-by-case basis about the centering of regulatory authority among our levels of governance but there is no rational suggestion that these are not public issues. Moreover, when it comes to firearms regulation, the Second Amendment contains no language preventing government from setting parameters for the right to bear arms or issuing regulations.
A contrary line of argument posits that “well regulated” in the sense expressed in the Second Amendment refers not to government regulation but rather to the sense of “disciplined functioning” which would presumably accord private militias, if properly functional, the right to form under arms and hence its members the right to arm themselves.
How this extends to all private individuals, disciplined or not, regardless of criminal or mental health history, whether or not members of well regulated militias, remains unexplained. Indeed the 1939 Supreme Court case, US versus Miller, essentially ruled that the Second Amendment functions as a vehicle permitting states to form militias rather than a blank check for individual citizens to arm themselves free of any regulation.
Recent Supreme Court decisions have reinforced the right to private gun ownership. The 2008 case, Heller vs. Columbia, for example, affirmed “individual right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes” such as self-defense. What the enthusiasts for unfettered gun rights ignore about this case is its clear language permitting public regulation of gun ownership, use and distribution for such reasons as “forbidding the carrying of weapons in certain locations (e.g., schools), laws imposing conditions on commercial sales (e.g., without background checks), and prohibitions on the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons (e.g., automantc weapons)” or restricting ownership by felons or the mentally ill.
McDonald versus the City of Chicago (2010) was adjudicated by the Supreme Court on grounds similar to Heller, which had earlier addressed the Second Amendment in the context of federal law and regulation. McDonald extended the restrictions and the rights of public regulation enumerated under Heller to state and local jurisdictions. Both cases upheld the rights of public authorities to issue firearms regulations under certain conditions but prohibited such authorities from banning gun ownership outright for such purposes as self protection.
As they commented on guns and the Second Amendment, our founding fathers seemed quite unequivocal in their support for the right and even the duty of citizens to own firearms. Their commentary was made at a time when the federal government had no standing army and defense of the Republic relied almost entirely on state militia. An armed citizenry was needed so that armed militia could be mustered at short notice under threat of internal insurrection or external invasion. At the time, no standing national armories existed.
Some commentary focused on the danger posed to decent law-abiding citizens needing to protect themselves from armed criminals who would do them harm. There was no talk, however, about any universal right to “stand your ground,” anywhere a citizen had the right to be on the basis of an undefined “reasonable” fear of personal harm. Nor were areas of the country being ravaged by gunfire such as in several American cities today. Nor were weapons available capable of instantaneous mass murder such as occurred at Sandy Hook, San Bernardino or too many other American locations even to begin counting.
George Washington declared “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite.” This is not a call for every citizen, representing all levels of “discipline” from strict to none at all, to carry all and any type or number of firearm for use anywhere in public wherever desired. Today, we suffer a massive case of collective indigestion and Americans are dying of it.
This year, American gun deaths are outstripping vehicle accident deaths. We lead the world’s advanced economies in child mortality by firearms, child-on-child mortality by shooting, mass shootings per unit of time or population, private possession of firearms, gun violence against women, homicidal shooting and suicide by firearm.
Our single-city rate of gun deaths compares with other, very violent whole countries. Our gun homicide rate is worse than Pakistan’s, far worse than Sudan’s and not much better than the Congo and Iraq. We are way ahead of the rest of the world in so many categories of gun violence measurement. We are world-beaters. We should be very proud.
The best we can do is to try to understand the roots of our mayhem, to indicate that we’re trying to understand and to strive for solution with an open mind and forgiving spirit. That said, we ask others to join us in identifying candidates for elective office who are trying to understand because too many presently in office show no such intention when partisan point-scoring occupies their attention 24/7.
In international and state-by-state comparisons, the data show convincingly that gun deaths correlate distinctly with high rates of gun ownership. That’s the fact. More guns mean more gun deaths. Arming vulnerable grandmothers with firearms puts them at greater risk for injury or death, not less.
More guns mean greater safety from gunfire, so says the gun lobby. If this isn’t willfully ignorant madness, then we cannot in our wildest dreams imagine what is.
Please consult the ETM Now News Archive for previous weekly updates.
On various websites, including Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, the following very helpful research information is posted:
- White House page on preventing Gun Violence (until 1/20/17)
- Gun Violence Facts
- Evidence That Background Checks Work
- Background Checks FAQ
- Interactive Map of Interstate Gun Trafficking
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Demand that our elected leaders lead! Sustain pressure to honor the sacrifices in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, FL, Hesston KS. Kalamazoo MI, San Bernardino CA, Colorado Springs CO; Roseburg OR; Lafayette LA; Chattanooga TN; Charleston SC; Moscow ID; Queens and Chelsea NY, Isla Vista CA; Marysville and Seattle WA; Las Vegas NV; Manchester IL; Troutdale and Portland OR; Fort Hood and Houston TX; Tucson AZ; Aurora, Columbine and Monument CO; the Washington DC Navy Yard; Overland Park KS; Santa Barbara CA; Virginia Tech; Cobb County GA; Newtown CT and anyplace across America.
… And in the meantime …
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