National gun control legislation is dead again. A month after a shooter massacred 17 students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, it looks as if Congress will not be taking up any gun control bill, nor will the White House, currently preoccupied with blaming video games for the violence, be sending any measures, other than the insane idea of arming teachers, to Capitol Hill. For a time, there, it looked like this latest tragedy would be the one that finally led to action, but the GOP is nothing if not resilient when it comes to ignoring calls for action that go against the will of their paymasters.
It really is incredible. The last few years, more Americans, including children, have been killed in mass shootings in this country than lives lost by our military in Afghanistan. You know, the place where we’re fighting a war. The collective response from our leaders in Congress has been to do nothing, or they have chosen to weaken gun laws, which is worse than doing nothing.
Gun owners’ associations, most notably the National Rifle Association, lobby ceaselessly to further arm American society. They do so under the guise of protecting the rights of their members, when in actuality the NRA has received tens of millions of dollars of funding from firearms manufacturers. Whenever NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre issues another unhinged attack on the “growing socialist state” and continues to profer the myth of the good guy with a gun as a means of preventing gun violence, he knows, and the gunmakers know, that every tragedy is followed by an increase in gun sales.
The American love affair with guns has to end. Guns have transformed from being a tool, to being a fetishized object and ersatz symbol of freedom. Guns have become something that some people have chosen to make part of their sense of self. Any effort to regulate these dangerous objects is met as an attack on identity. To declare guns bad is to declare those that own them bad. Of course, this is ridiculous, but if this debate was just about guns, then something would have been done by now.
The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as guaranteeing an individual right to own a gun, is obsolete. The last 20 years or so, but especially since the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire, the 2nd Amendment has shown itself to be dangerously obsolete. At the time it was written, the most rapid firing weapons could fire about three rounds a minute. Most firearms of the day were also smoothbore, and suffered from poor accuracy as a result. The shooter in Parkland, by contrast, used one of the best rifles currently available — perfected by 230 intervening years of development since the Bill of Rights was approved. The AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle he used can fire up to 45 rounds a minute with an accuracy that could only be dreamed of in the 18th century. The rate of fire goes up further with easy to use modifications that mimic automatic fire.
Technology has changed, which not only couldn’t be predicted by the writers of the 2nd Amendment, it probably wasn’t expected, either. Remember that they wrote these founding documents at the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when it still took as long to travel long distances as it did in the days of the Pharaohs. The pace of technological innovation of the last century would have been unimaginable to the framers. But they knew that conditions would change, and left in place processes to alter these founding documents. Indeed, the 2nd Amendment is, itself, an amendment to the Constitution. It’s right there in its name, for crying out loud. These were not meant to be immutable commandments from on high, but laws to meet the challenges of democratic governance.
The amendment is pretty brief, for all the fighting in court over it. It reads, “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.”
As I noted above, the Supreme Court has said the amendment guarantees the right of the individual to own a gun. That’s the law of the land, now, regardless of any other beliefs. I, for one, see it as authorizing the government to regulate arms for the purposes of maintaining national defense. There’s nothing in there about personal defense, sport shooting, backyard shooting, or even hunting. The only exception the Amendment carves out is for a well-regulated militia.
This was written at a time when we barely had a military, and armies were raised quickly as needed from the populace. Our country and economy has grown to the point where that well-regulated militia has become the mightiest war machine the world has ever known. The conditions of the 2nd Amendment have been fulfilled, and I believe it is just fine for the government to regulate weapons of war out of the wider populace.
I’ve written about this before, but any solution to mass shootings requires actions that are on the fringe of American politics, including forced buybacks. Right now, such a confiscatory regime is untenable. But, I’m not a politician. I don’t have to be realistic and offer ideas that would actually do nothing. For instance, outlawing the manufacture of military-style rifles would still leave millions of them floating about the country. Any serious gun control measures include removing the illegal guns from ownership, not just from the market.
Any quibbling over what the term ‘assault rifle’ means is a waste of time, as well. A policy with teeth would make rifles slow to load, slow to fire, low capacity, and hard to modify. The technology for these guns already exists. They can be found in the US Patent and Trademark Office, in dusty old file cabinets from the 1800s. A forced return to inefficient firearms won’t do a damn thing to prevent mass shootings, but reducing the rate of fire will save lives.
Making guns less lethal by slowing down the rate of fire, combined with a new regulatory regime that puts a cap on the number of weapons a person can own, makes them harder to buy, and more expensive to supply with ammunition, is how this problem of mass shootings can be addressed. It’s not an insurmountable problem, as proven by this being a particularly American problem. The reason nothing has been done is because our political system has been hijacked by people who find it expedient to use the issue as a wedge, further deepening the political polarization of the United States. As it was so horribly, and accurately, put by columnist Dan Hodges, “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”