"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."
The nation today mourned for the victims of the theatre shootings in Aurora, CO.
But it doesn't matter does it? We aren't shocked anymore. We watch it unfold; hear witnesses retell the story of a man shooting and killing innocent people and often killing himself. And the years pass and the deaths caused by guns becomes an ever-increasing stain on America. We will grow ever-numb to the latest headline and the death-toll associated with it. From Columbine to Aurora and nothing has changed. We watched as Trayvon Martin was gunned down, we watched as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot in Arizona, we watched as the students of Virginia Tech died, and those are just the shootings which gained national media attention. Thousands of men and women are killed across the country each year. In the last week 12 people were killed by guns in Chicago. In 2008 there were 513 gun related homicides. But we don't care. These are just numbers to add to the statistics. We watch them scroll across the bottom of the news screen, and then fade into the background....we have grown used to this; expect it even.
There were three types of guns used by the shooter last night: a Glock handgun, a 12 gauge shotgun, and an AR-15 assault rifle. And each of these weapons was purchased legally. Indeed the shooter was also able to purchase a 100 round drum. This ammunition clip allowed him to just keep shooting, as was the case in Arizona when Rep. Giffords was shot with rounds from an extended clip. Even if the AR-15 was a semi-automatic weapon, the Aurora chief of police estimated that he could have shot 50-60 rounds per minute. Because in America, if we want to possess an item which could take the lives of dozens of people in a matter of minutes....well we can, because we live in a land where there is nothing which prevents it, and an association which has corrupted the Constitution so that nothing ever will. The irony of course is that when the second amendment was written, the right to keep and bear arms was a necessary safeguard in the defense of liberty, when now it has been made to take away the very liberty we were trying to protect.
To be up front - It is my personal belief that the only firearms anyone in this country should be allowed to own and use in their private lives are hunting rifles. Beyond that, I hate guns. I don't believe there is any good in them beyond the capacity to pull a trigger and take a life. And I happen to believe that life is precious. And so this is what I think: For those who hunt, you don't need a handgun. The only purpose of a handgun is to take human life (and I will get to "for my own safety" rationale in due course.) For those who hunt, you don't need an AK-47 to take down a deer. Nor do you need one to protect your house. In fact, I submit to you that guns serve no useful purpose in our society. We do not need guns.
We all know the statistics. A gun in the house is more likely to be used against someone in the house than it is to be used against someone who would do you harm. But of course there is always the exception, a case here or there when a gun may have prevented a break-in or a murder or a rape...or some otherwise illegal act. I cannot deny that. Nor do I think that is where the conversation should stop. If we take the basic "self-defense" argument that people use as justification for owning firearms, a majority of gun proponents would say the firearm in question is a handgun for self-protection. Fair enough. But what about assault rifles? Do you need one of those to protect your home or your family or your possessions or your liberty?
Someone please tell me why it should be legal for any private citizen to own an assault rifle? Please someone defend this. Because I have racked my brian and come to no rational basis beyond the fact that some people just like guns. But simply liking something is not reason enough for its legality. Instead the only defense I could come up with is that we should be allowed to own them because there is nothing which prevents us from owning them. This is a logical fallacy. It defeats the purpose of reasoning. Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean that you should do that thing.
Look the world is not overrun with zombies. We are not at war with communist Chinese or Russian soldiers looking to capture our family farms. Do you really need to be able to shoot 50-60 rounds a minute to protect yourself?
But there is more; beyond the need for more assault weapons bans, we need to re-examine the issue of gun control from its heart.
The truth is we live in a nation that loves guns. From what I can gather, the National Rifle Association is America's 4th largest lobbying group. And they have warped the Constitution into a lie. And for those who love their guns, boy do they love that lie.
At the top of this blog post, I wrote out the 2nd amendment in full. That is because that is not what the NRA would have you believe the 2nd amendment is. Instead, we have come to know the second amendment as the right to own guns. But there is so much more to it than that. Two sentences in fact, and the first is the most important. The second and third words are 'well' and 'regulated' respectively. But we don't regulate guns. Not really. Where we do, there are loopholes. In fact, the NRA has worked tirelessly to make sure we can all go to a gun show and walk away with something that can take a life without real background checks or waiting periods.
But wait there is more. 'Militia.' The forth word of the second amendment distinguished a group, a militia. But that's funny, I haven't seen the militia out and about Seattle lately. They must be in New England, home of those patriots I hear so much about. Wait. Okay, shoot, we don't have or need militias anymore.
There are some things which will be universal throughout time, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but there are others we need to examine in context. When our founding fathers in all their wisdom drafted the Constitution, and included a bill of rights, there was no guarantee that the experiment that is America would survive. It was still a forming dream, and as such, was vulnerable. We had to fight for our independence, and those brave men who defeated the red coats didn't risk their lives to form these United States for nothing. We needed ordinary citizens to stand up and fight for what was theirs. We needed militias for the security of [our] free state. And if we are ever so unlucky as to be attacked by those aforementioned zombies, perhaps we will need them once again, but not today.
And there it is - black and white. But its not enough, because the NRA doesn't want regulation and we don't have enough good men and women willing to fight for what is right. When confronted with the reality that the only way to fight escalating gun crime is to impose regulations on guns, the Supreme Court has overturned honorable efforts to reign in the gun violence. In the case of McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Supreme Court incorrectly decided that owning a gun was a fundamental right. The city of Chicago, plagued with gun violence (see above) decided to impose a handgun ban in the city. Justice Alito, writing for the conservatives on the bench concluded that the right to 'bear arms" (see below) was so important to the framers, that Chicago had no right to restrict even a limited type of firearm; a handgun. In the dissent, my all-time favorite Supreme Court justice and personal hero, John Paul Stevens detailed the majority's many incorrect holdings. Among them he wrote, that the "framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self defense." Further, Stevens wrote, “by its terms, the Second Amendment does not apply to the States; read properly, it does not even apply to individuals outside of the militia context.”
And so the Supreme Court helped the NRA twist the Second Amendment into something its not. Our founding fathers never wrote the Second Amendment thinking that they would be protecting a 24 year-old's desire to own a gun that could fire bullets 50-60 times a minute. They never wrote the amendment so that snipers could take out unsuspecting commuters on the D.C. beltway. The framers lived in a time when a firearm had to be carefully loaded with gun powder, bullets packed down, with lengthy periods required to reload for a single shot. And that is what the NRA doesn't want to talk about. Because the Second Amendment isn't protecting "arms" as they have advanced to become today. We should not allow them to continue going unregulated by ignoring the purpose for which they were originally granted. Unless you are in a militia, I agree with John Paul Stevens, the Second Amendment does not apply to you.
But does the Supreme Court's decision mean it is impossible for us to do anything?
No. we can chip away at gun violence. We CAN, and we should, and we must.
But the question remains...Will we?
And so I revert back to my opening musings. We are not longer shocked when these things happen. We come together for a brief moment, and we ask why? Why would someone do this? Why did this happen? Why?
But that is not the right question. There are no answers. Nothing can ever undo what has been done. The lives that were lost are lost and there is no answer that will ever make it right. There is no reason.
And we know that its not a question of if, but when the next gun tragedy will happen. So perhaps we will ask ourselves 'when?' When will the next act of violence steal from us our neighbors, our family and friends and countrymen? I ask you when? Because the day is coming. And that day is today. 97,820 people are shot in America each year, which means that on average 268 people are shot each day. The question is not when.
And so the question is not 'who will be next?'
the question is not 'where will the next gun death occur?'
the question is not "what is going to happen with gun violence?" we already know how this plays out.
the question is "how are we going to prevent it?."
I have resigned myself to the fact that my dream of the day when we no longer possess guns will never happen. But what about the extended clips of ammunition? What about closing gun show loopholes? What about limiting assault rifle sales? What about serious gun licensing - proving one's capacity to own, handle, and otherwise take care of something that has the capacity to end life?
I am lucky to know many people who live in and around Denver, CO. And I am thankful that none of them were in the movie theatre last night. I am thankful for having avoided the coffee shop in the U-District a few weeks ago when a man killed 4 innocent people before killing himself. I am thankful for those whom I love, and pray for their continued safety. And I am also thankful to live in a free land, where we have the power and the capacity to change things for the better. I believe in America, even in her darkest days. But I also feel duty bound to ask - for those we have lost, do we not owe it to them to do better?
And so I leave you with words far fairer than my own.
"This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by his assassin's bullet.
No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.
Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded."
- Robert F. Kennedy
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