Saturday, March 10, 2007

In Defense of the 28th Amendment

SayNoToGunsFrom the NYTimes, we find that D.C’s attempt to protect itself from out-of-control gun violence gets the high hat from the conservative District of Columbia Circuit court:
“Interpreting the Second Amendment broadly, a federal appeals court in Washington yesterday struck down a gun control law in the District of Columbia that bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes.

The decision was the first from a federal appeals court to hold a gun control law unconstitutional on the ground that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, as opposed to the collective rights of state militias. Nine other federal appeals courts around the nation have rejected that interpretation.”
While legal scholars, NRA creeps, and gun control advocates go round and round over the subject of whether the 2nd Amendment has ANY limits whatsoever, people continue to die at incredible and accelerating rates in the US from gun violence. Massacres at high schools hardly raise an eyebrow anymore, and neither do people going postal at fast food restaurants, worksites, or on the roads.

We find ourselves slowly falling into a reactive posture over these things, shrugging our shoulders and sighing that if this is the way it’s going to be, then we need more cops, more jails, more guns to defend ourselves. Of course, the first 2 “solutions” don’t STOP the killing; they only mop up after the fact, and despite a growing gulag of monstrous proportions that has devoured 1 of every 32 citizens, violent crime during the punitive Bush era has recovered and exceeded previous rates with kudzu-like speed, and has thunderously failed to rehabilitate those who have fallen into it. (Of course, when you convert the goal of the penal system from rehabilitation to pure punishment, you inevitably end up with a revolving door of damaged and more dangerous criminals. And unless you plan on simply warehousing human beings for life for everything from smoking a joint to having sex with a teenager 2 years younger than themselves, you’re going to end up with worse problems then you had when you first sentenced them, while money that could have been spent on rehabilitation and restitution is thrown down the ever-widening rathole of a corrupt, inhuman and ramshackle prison system.)

As for the last—arming oneself to the teeth in anticipation of a home invasion or a shoot-out on the freeway--we know that instead of preventing violence, this is more likely to cause it. For a gun to be useful, it needs an owner who can use it. Most owners of handguns do not spend their weekends shooting, becoming intimate with what their guns can do, and taking gun safety courses. Most times an emergency arises at a time when they will be unable to get to their guns. If they can, they may end up unable to get off a shot, or shooting the wrong person, or shooting when there was no real emergency at all. As for those who own rifles and shotguns (which includes my own immediate family), in addition to the drawbacks listed above, these large and unwieldy weapons are hard to use in an emergency situation where one may be trying to maneuver in the dark and maintain a low profile. Gun extremists (and they ARE extremists, in the sense that they will not engage in any reasonable dialogue, will brook no limits on their abilities to keep arms, and reject all attempts at compromise or empathy) keep droning the old NRA mantra that only criminals commit crimes, so we only need to round up and eliminate the criminals, and completely overlook the fact that guns often make the criminal, and not the other way around. Men with no previous record who shoot their wives, grampas who kill their grandkids, commuters who take exception to the manners of other motorists, all of these people murder and maim with guns, and none of them are “criminals” in the sense of having been acting-out felons and scofflaws. It is the guns, so readily available, so socially acceptable, that MAKE them criminals. The fact is that, as with sexual abuse and predation, most people are harmed by those who know them, especially those in their
own families. When these combustive relationships are combined with gun ownership, it’s inevitable that tragedies will occur. In addition, ridiculous and dangerous “open carry” and “castle doctrine” laws have been popping up like poison mushrooms in benighted areas around the country, and have already resulted in tragedies that require no restitution from those who caused them. “If you kill my child by accident because you thought someone else might harm you, wouldn’t these newly-rediscovered wild west ethics allow me to kill you or your child as well?” Thus, two families who previously had no grievance with each other have now become enemies; can vengeance and blood feuding be far behind?

Gun owners make up about 25% of the population. Not all of them are extremist in their views of gun control (for instance, my family is in favor of legitimate, considered controls), but enough are to guess that about 20% of the U.S. population is holding the remaining 80% hostage to their demands that absolutely no restrictions on gun ownership are acceptable, thanks to the bribes paid by the NRA to our eminently corruptible representatives in Washington and various state capitols across the land. As a result, pleas to merely control their own environments from communities riddled with gun violence are dismissed and trampled under by a machine that never gives an inch.

So what is the solution? If this case goes to the Supreme Court I think the decision will be upheld, given the conservative bent of the court now, and given that Alito himself has indicated while serving in Philadelphia that he had no problems with machine guns in private hands. And even I believe that the wording of the 2nd Amendment gives rights of firearms ownership to individuals, not just “militias” or those who belong to them. A simple reading of history reveals that it was common for families to have guns when they could afford them, and guns were a necessity for those who moved west to settle the interior, even before the Revolution. This understanding would have informed the writing of the 2nd Amendment.

The question is: does the phrase “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” mean that laws affecting or altering gun ownership in any way are absolutely unconstitutional? What does “infringed” mean? Who includes “the people”? What is a “Militia” and how does it relate to any present-day organization? And what may constitute “Arms” today, in this age of hyper-technological weaponry?

These are questions on which every argument about the 2nd Amendment has turned, and if the Supreme Court decides against gun control, it’s time to realize that this amendment is as hopelessly out of date as the Constitutional clause in Article IV ensuring that an escaped slave be extradited back to his master. With a 27th Amendment we could re-visit this debate without the constriction of trying to make a colonial statute fit around a modern situation that has changed so drastically those who drafted the 2nd would not even recognize it. Let’s start from the premise that, yes, individuals do have the right to keep guns, and that right is also a tremendous responsibility that entails the potential infringement on the rights of others. In a nation where even the use of an automobile requires intense training, certification, insurance and registration, it is not unreasonable to suggest the same for those who own weapons of deadly force so simple to use that a toddler can wreak havoc with them. It’s time to look at the mess we have made and determine to fix it, and to start from scratch without the irrelevant arguments we have heretofore derived from an equally irrelevant ancient law.

Update:  Title was changed.

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