The half-life of American horror over mass shootings begins—and largely ends—with profuse thoughts and prayers, neither ever shown to have any effect. Politicians’ superficial slogans of mourning, frightened Americans’ pleas of “something must be done,” and a quickly exhausted round of discussions about background checks enable a great nation to go back to sleep and political campaigns to continue accepting NRA bribes.
After each mass shooting, scores of opinion-writers, experts on television news, and faith leaders come forth to warn us that the loud outcry will soon be forgotten. At any rate, it’ll be forgotten until this plague of projectiles returns, announced by the staccato sounds of automatic weapons and plaintive cries of those who’ve sacrificed family and friends due to somebody’s “gun rights.”
I’ve published on this blog several posts (essays) dealing with gun rights (see below). There is no doubt about the 2nd Amendment wording, “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” In 2008 the Supreme Court interpreted (District of Columbia v. Heller) which individuals, which rights, and which arms. Pertinent to this post, the ruling stated that “it is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Unless there is a serious legal flaw in my commonsense reasoning (I am not a lawyer), there is no Constitutional right to have an AK47, oversize magazines, access to guns in the absence of background checks, or other expansion the Supreme Court has decreed.
It is as if this country has a death wish. We manufacture these weapons. We import them as well. We bestow on them more statutory protection than we give their victims. And we honor their owners’ entitlement to buy more and carry them about. We currently control guns, it is said by those who believe we’ve controlled quite enough already. They actually do have compelling arguments. First, guns don’t kill people, people do. Second, a gun doesn’t pull its own trigger. Besides, nothing can be done, gun rights are forever, after all, there’s the vaunted 2nd Amendment. To question it is to question Americanism.
These straightforward, simple assertions have two characteristics in common—first, each seems quite logical; second, each is entirely useless. So if you don’t want to face living in a country seemingly satisfied with recurring mass shootings, turn off the news and don’t read the paper. Let the shooters and the shot work it out.
It’s undemanding and amateurish to approach a problem with more energy than understanding, for oversimplification is ever with us. Yet we can also be petrified, convinced by complexity that the objective is undoable. The former can look uninformed or even stupid, but the latter is arguably the greater blunder inasmuch as going in circles may be worse than not going at all. In that spirit, I wonder why we seem unable even to consider that the dilemma of mass shootings facing America cannot be approached successfully by these actions:
- Congress and state legislatures make the buying, importing, and owning of all firearms above the minimal level already suggested in relevant Supreme Court rulings. The criteria for those “minimal levels” focus on characteristics of the weapon such as magazine size, ammunition features, firing rate, etc., but not owner characteristics.
- Congress and state legislatures establish whatever requirements must be met in properly researched background checks and personality traits to control ownership and use of the guns that remain legal (shotguns, small caliber handguns, etc.). Criteria for the remaining legal guns would be chosen by law to satisfy the 2nd Amendment as interpreted as judicially interpreted, though below the criteria established in action #1.
- Congress and state legislatures fund scientific research by CDC into all issues of gun ownership, gun characteristics, gun prevalence, and all aspects that might increase available relevant knowledge (as well as possibly alter some of the foregoing actions), allowing the sharing of findings by researchers, though not lobbying.
- Congress and state legislatures establish “buy back” programs to prevent owners of unacceptable firearms, as defined in action #1, from suffering financial loss due to their previously owned firearms having become illegal. Australia (though with a smaller population) overcame the complexity and opposition to mount a similar challenge. Our situation would be different in size though likely not in concept.
This approach to gun ownership and use focuses on the weapons rather than the users as is now the case. The latter (background checks, convictions, and problematic, often changing life circumstances) has been—and can be expected to stay—unsuccessful due to the inaccuracy of psychiatric predictions and the hesitancy of family and other persons to give testimony for anything less than frankly psychotic behavior. Moreover, if the focus remains on gun users rather than the guns themselves, what is the logic to prevent pressure to expand weapon availability to include RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] or, for that matter, tanks. After all, a person psychologically “clean” enough to have passed a stiff background check would also be unlikely to endanger public safety by discharging his RPG in a shopping mall.
The argument that gun manufacturers, importers, and sellers would lose a source of revenue would be true, though the needs of public safety have often caused income loss for dangerous substances and mechanisms. The argument would also be true that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would lose its powerful control over Congress and state legislatures, along with its deceptive disinformation about what the 2nd Amendment demands. The argument that “good guys,” through no fault of their own, would lose a source of pleasure and weaponry competence would, of course, be true as well.
Like many Americans, I have honestly tried to discover a motivation for advocating that military weapons be spread across the land. They are not needed for self-protection, target practice, or for hunting. They are needed only for military action, a use that most Americans consider to be without merit in this country, that is, unless one is willing to adopt the necessary conspiracy thinking with regard to white nationalists. Consequently, in the absence of that kind of civil deterioration, these are weapons for which there is no civilian utility. However, though I am not convinced that armed revolt is actually in the plans of such groups, it would be beyond foolish for American law to allow a growing cache of military weaponry in the hands of professed revolutionaries.
Allow me, then, to make the following assumption: Public safety from guns larger, faster, and more quickly rearmed than ones sufficient for minimally meeting the level of Constitutional assurance would be a public policy valued more than the profits of what are now legitimate trading in guns and the NRA’s anti-democratic power over legislators If those assumptions are warranted, they compel us to consider this question of our time:
Do American voters choose to continue subjecting persons in the United States to mass murder in order to protect the hobby of gun owners?
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I have published previous posts on gun issues in this blog: “Are we crazy? October 3, 2017; “America has too few dead kids,” February 16, 2018; “The lethal cost of playing with guns,” March 4, 2018; “America and its gun culture,” August 8, 2019.