There is an ongoing slaughter in America that is a result of the easy access and availability of guns. Should we change something 220 years later?
In the last thirty years alone — 1982 through 2012 we had 62 mass shooting where most of the shooters got their guns legally1. The victims totaled 1007 people. That number and the deaths it represents, pale in comparison to the ongoing slaughter American society experiences every year as a result of the easy access and availability of guns.
- It is estimated that 85 Americans are shot daily
- 53 of those are suicides
- One of those killed every day is 14 or younger
- 85 a day x 365 days = 31,025 people a year
The projection is that by the year 2015, annual deaths by guns, at 32,929 people, will surpass deaths by automobile, at 32,036 people2.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre December 2012 (20 kids, ages 6 and 7, and six adults), there was opposition to public debate on gun control from the NRA claiming it is too soon for such a debate after such a tragedy. Since December 2012 was 8 months ago I am wondering if we can finally talk about guns now?
Every discussion on the issue of guns and gun control always gets diverted to the Constitution, and more specifically, the 2nd amendment. As this is always where the conversation goes, let’s start there, shall we?
Enacted on December 15, 1791 — 220 years ago — Amendment II to our constitution, the Right to Bear Arms, reads as follows:
“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.”
We can, should and do debate what exactly the 2nd amendment means? We can argue what a “well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State” means? I will argue that being a colony of an old overseas monarchy with no democratic rights is a far cry from the country we are living in today. Civil society, representational democracy, freedom of speech and association, due process, legal criminal justice system with rights to counsel and protections from government overreach in prosecution, appeals, free media to hold government accountable, voting to hold representatives accountable etc. etc. in addition to local state and federal police and military forces, are that “militia” of today. (A minority view some of you might say? I call it realistic, reasonable and appropriate to the times. Either way, this is exactly why we need a national debate and plan of action on guns.)
I will also argue that 220 years is a long time, and that we have come a long way from the time the 2nd amendment was written. Things are very different now, and conspiracy theories and paranoia aside, we have evolved as a society and have a system of checks and balances to keep us on the straight and narrow, as much as humanly possible.
Is the system perfect? No it is not. Are we living in a time of eroding civil rights and incompetent, if not down right moronic, representation in Washington? A resounding and somewhat depressing yes! (Please note that we do have along side this confederacy of dunces, a meaningful number of good eggs doing their best. We need to support them and replace the rotten apples with more good ones who want to conduct the people’s business, solve problems and move the country forward).
But the danger here is not from “Tyrannical Government”, like some delight in arguing. The danger here is from very wealthy powerful individuals and corporations (with a paid for army of lobbyist’s) who have gotten practically carte blanche to do as they please, courtesy of the US Supreme Court. The answer and the solution are one and the same. Voting — participating and fighting the good democratic political fight — to change representation in Washington and hold those we vote for accountable for their actions, or lack there of.
We can, should and do also debate what “the right of people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” means and how these two parts of the 2nd amendment relate to each other and influence its interpretation, all those years later in the radically different landscape of 21st century America. In 2007, the US Supreme Court agreed to review the Parker v. District of Columbia decision. The court found that the first portion of the 2nd amendment “a well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state” does not limit that recognized individual right “to keep and bear arms” stated in the second part of the 2nd amendment.
However, the court went on to say that regulations may be placed on that right, including but not limited to, concealed weapons prohibitions, limits on the rights of felons and the mentally ill, laws forbidding carrying of weapons in certain locations, laws imposing conditions on commercial sales, and prohibitions on the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons (one cannot legally buy a machine gun and the Billionaire next door cannot legally buy a nuclear weapon and missile launcher to place in the backyard of his mansion, just in case of an attack by an alien race or the federal government).
I think that we can all agree that the world and America were very different 220 years ago. Times have changed, society has evolved (yes Darwin was right, evolution is a fact), and with it came huge technological advances in all areas, including in the specific area of firearms of all shapes and sizes.
We now have handguns with 33 bullet clips that allow a shooter the ability to kill 33 people before he/she has to reload (Congresswoman Gifford’s attacker, Jared Loughner, who killed six people and injured 14 others, was tackled and disarmed after shooting 31 bullets, when he tried to reload. No one can argue that if he only had a 8-10 bullet clip, he would have killed and wounded substantially less people before being tackled and disarmed while trying to reload).
Since deaths by guns are competing with deaths by automobile for the number one spot in this twisted and tragic hit parade, let’s see how they compare by purpose and benefits:
|1. Transportation for work and play||1. Kill people and animals|
|2. Movement of goods around the country||2. Kill people and animals|
|3. Racing/recreation for fun, sport and money||3. Target shooting for fun, sport and money|
|4. Collecting||4. Collecting|
And yet, to drive a car we have to study and pass a written test, practice and pass and driving test, have our health and eyesight checked and approved, get a license that has to be renewed every few years and have our car registered and pass inspections every few years (and cars are regulated for fitness and safety by federal and state laws).
When however it is guns? Not so much. There is no universal registry, no universal background checks and no universal waiting period. No limits on magazine size and no renewal of the federal assault weapons ban (Congress did not manage to pass any gun legislation, not even universal background checks and limited capacity magazines, since the public outcry and outrage after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre). In short no real way to keep track and regulate weapons whose only purpose is mayhem and death, and apparently, no age limit for use of guns as five-year olds can kill their two-year old sisters with a legal rifle specifically designed for and marketed to kids.3
It is accepted wisdom and a necessary inconvenience to all of us, for the police to put up roadblocks during holidays and randomly stop cars to check driver sobriety. Baring that in mind (or not as the case probably is), the “intellectual” knuckle dragging state legislatures of North Carolina, just passed laws to allow for concealed weapons in bars and playgrounds, among other public venues.4
How bars and playgrounds are connected to each other and as appropriate places for concealed guns still boggles the mind, but clearly mixing hidden guns and alcohol in bars is an “innovative” and meaningful contribution to our society and the world.
We need a public debate on guns. Even the Wild, Wild West reached an evolutionary stage where people were required to turn their guns in for safekeeping in order to gain entrance to the town or to certain establishments. Going back to the comparison above between guns and automobiles, there is a simple solution to this growing problem of gun violence and deaths.
We start with universal background checks, waiting periods, limited magazines and types of weapons a sane, healthy, non-felon can buy and carry (the insane, the felon and too young to vote should not be allowed guns period). We then create; yes dare I say it, a universal registry (just like cars and voting) with the ability to account for every weapon and the ability to track them in case of theft and/or crime.
And speaking of voting, that is what we should be concentrating on. Getting every US citizen registered to vote and making it as easy as possible with early voting, absentee ballots and long voting days and hours for all to participate in our “government for the people by the people”. Time to let go of the voter fraud myth and get people to vote instead of trying to suppress their vote. Let the best ideas and the best people win the seats of power with our votes. It is after all the American way!
That will give us our representative government, with large participation of voters keeping it accountable and honest. That will also give us rational gun and magazine control laws, providing for limited civilian guns for reasonably regulated self-protection, sport and collection, which is where they belong. That will also keep to the spirit of the 2nd amendment and the intent of our founding fathers, while bringing it into the present evolved world we live in.
Photo credit: Flickr / TastyKen