by Jeff Swanson
It’s easy to declare the massacre in Newton Connecticut as an act of pure evil. It’s easy to lay blame on the weapon. It’s easy to react in emotional absolutes to such an awful tragedy.
The brass tacks answer, if there is one, is found in the complexities and the frailties of the human condition. It’s easy to make simple and absolute declarations but I’m not sure this is being honest.
No doubt the moment the this tragedy started, Adam Lanza was in an evil state. For the religious among us, the grip of Satan had firmly taken hold. I’m no biblical scholar so the meaning of such, I will leave to those who know better.
What has become evident; the nation is trying to come to terms with this horrific ordeal. Trying to find a reason why. We all want the reason why. Perhaps far too quickly.
The day this happened, places like Twitter were a locus for conversation. Understandably, many prominent citizens expressed sorrow and outrage. This is ok.
The same prominent citizens were already in the mode of diagnosing the cause. Mia Farrow tweeted, “gun control is no longer debatable — it’s not a ‘conversation’ — It’s a moral mandate.”
Michael Moore jumped in to the fray stating, “The way to honor these dead children is to demand strict gun control, free mental health care, and an end to violence as public policy…”
It would be easy to demonize these figures for quickly going political but I truly believe that they wish for the best and in their heart of hearts, gun control is the answer. Unspeakable tragedies don’t come with easy answers and certainly not resolvable in a tweet.
Gun control is probably not the answer.
For the sake of full disclosure, I am not a gun owner. I am not a member of the NRA. I’ve never been hunting (my dad was more of a fisherman). The extent of my gun handling was confined to some target shooting with a bolt action .22. This is to say that I can hardly be considered a constitutional scholar on the issue of gun control.
Still, the crux of the issue is what right is guaranteed by the second amendment. In the ruling of Columbia v. Heller, regarding the right of a DC citizen to own a personal fire arm, Justice Antonin Scalia stated the following with regard to the gun owners rights and the implied contingency of a well regulated militia, “The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, “Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed…””.
He stated further, “Although this structure of the Second Amendment is unique in our Constitution, other legal documents of the founding era, particularly individual-rights provisions of state constitutions, commonly included a prefatory statement of purpose.”
The prefatory ‘militia’ statement is generally at the crux of the argument. This is sited often as the single limiting factor of gun ownership. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens states, “The preamble thus both sets forth the object of the Amendment and informs the meaning of the remainder of its text. Such text should not be treated as mere surplusage…”
Stevens argument is a compelling one and not all that intellectually dishonest. It should not be immediately dismissed.
If you take the language mechanism in the second amendment and apply the prefatory statement, as suggested by Scalia, and apply to simple, current language you might have the following: ‘Because he was hungry, Tim went to the store for food.’. That is to say; the fact is, Tim went to the store. While the point that Tim was hungry explains why, it is not factually relevant to the action Tim took.
Given that simplification, it seems to me that Scalia has a point. An arguable point. Nonetheless, it leaves the opportunity for an interpretation that a militia is not the sole reason but is a key reason for gun ownership. At least in the context of the drafting of the Bill of Rights.
The amendment does not state that no law can be made regarding the path to ownership. It does allow for the citizenry to lawfully obtain and possess a weapon.
Since qualifying criteria can be placed on the path to ownership, the question is whether or not limits are effective. If you were to ask Ms. Farrow or Mr. Moore, definitely so.
In a USA Today article, Glenn Harlan Reynolds stated the following, “Gun-free zones are premised on a lie: that murderers will follow rules, and that people…are a greater danger to those around them than crazed killers.”
This is not a new argument but it is an important one. John Lott, who has academically studied this phenomenon observed, “With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”
It’s a stunning observation. What this clearly states is the absence of guns is not the answer.
Gun control advocates will tell us that if there were no guns, there would be no shootings. This is true. If there were literally no guns, no one could be shot. That’s not a practical position. Guns have existed for a long time and will remain so.
It’s a matter of existing in a world where guns are available. Removing the ability for sane and responsible persons to obtain a weapon, even with some strings attached, only emboldens a would be mass murderer to take action unfettered by obstacles.
This also assumes a rational mind.
As much as we collectively hope to make sense of the horror, the frightening reality of humanity is that we must accept danger exists. No matter the protections, evil will seep in to our lives. Part of the human experience is the possibility of devastation and grief.
There is no law that can legislate the imperfections and evils that exist within our world.