Monday, July 23, 2012

Control Guns

I have a proposition for anyone who thinks that our state and national gun laws make sense and/or adhere to the legal intent of the Second Amendment. Wake up Thomas Jefferson, John (and Sam if you'd like) Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, George Washington and any other member of the founding class not named Aaron Burr. Give them a week or so to acclimate themselves to the modern day United States, and then ask them if this is what they had in mind when they debated and wrote the Constitution: 

Unhindered by federal background checks or government oversight, the 24-year-old man accused of killing a dozen people inside a Colorado movie theater was able to build what the police called a 6,000-round arsenal legally and easily over the Internet, exploiting what critics call a virtual absence of any laws regulating ammunition sales.

With a few keystrokes, the suspect, James E. Holmes, ordered 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for an assault rifle and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun — an amount of firepower that costs roughly $3,000 at the online sites — in the four months before the shooting, according to the police. It was pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon. 

He also bought bulletproof vests and other tactical gear, and a high-capacity “drum magazine” large enough to hold 100 rounds and capable of firing 50 or 60 rounds per minute — a purchase that would have been restricted under proposed legislation that has been stalled in Washington for more than a year. 

I didn't think so either.

With all due respect to the current Supreme Court, which ruled in the case, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al. v. HELLER, (No. 07-290) 478 F. 3d 370, affirmed,  that possessing a handgun is an individual right (and in the process overturned two centuries of precedent), the framers could not have seen this development. They were rational, reasonable men. They knew that freedom and liberty were just and correct goals, but that they had limits.

Tell that to the NRA. I support the NRA's existence and even most of its goals. We do have a right to a well-regulated (there's a dormant phrase) militia and people do have a right to hunt and protect themselves. But what James Holmes amassed was not meant for hunting, protection or self-defense. He planned and carried out a massacre of innocent people at a time when they were relaxed and vulnerable. There are clearly lots of things wrong with him that society can't anticipate or cure. He had a fairly clear record and was a brilliant student. Ominous music didn't play when he entered a room. But did he have the right to those guns? Is that what the Second Amendment protects? I think not.

After the shootings at Virginia Tech, there were many gun rights advocates who suggested that the answer to the problem was more guns. They said that if students and faculty members were armed, that they could shoot the shooter and limit the carnage. That debate has been reignited. Is this the kind of society we want to live in? Where anyone (after background check and safety course) can carry a concealed weapon anywhere? Do more guns equal less violence?

Anyone hunting for a political debate on this issue will go hungry until at least November 7 because gun rights advocates are already suspicious of President Obama and Mitt Romney doesn't want to say anything provocative or alienate his base. Meanwhile, gun control politicians such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York continue to press the issue. Honestly, I'd feel safer in a midtown Manhattan movie theater than in a multiplex in a state with fewer gun laws. Call me crazy.

But back to the framers. I understand that they feared a tyrannical national government that would encroach on people's liberties, so they included an amendment that left to the states the right to have its citizen's armed. I get that. What they didn't intend was that citizens would have free reign to arm themselves to the teeth with weapons that threatened the public order. They would have drawn a line at Holmes's arsenal because it's detached from the intent of the amendment. We have limits on speech, religion and state's rights. It's only logical that we look at the totality of our gun laws and ask ourselves if they adequately protect us from people who seek to do us harm. At this moment, the answer is no.

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