I have been wanting to blog about last week’s mass shootings in Tucson, Arizona, where a 22-year old “mentally unstable” young man had legally purchased magazines that held 30 rounds of ammunition for his (I assume legally purchased) semi-automatic Glock pistol, and very soon afterwards used it to open fire on an Arizona Congresswoman and then spray the people around her. Although the Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, has survived (so far – she’s still in critical condition, but currently the prognosis is good), 6 other people were killed, including 2 grandmothers in their 70s, a Federal judge, and a 9-year old girl. The girl, poignantly, was born on Sept. 11, 2001 and was there in her eagerness to see our “democracy” in action.
But last weekend I was incredibly busy and never got a chance to do it. Actually, it is perhaps better that I have waited a week. On the day of the shootings, my emotions were strong and I spent hours watching the coverage over and over on CNN.
I heard the sheriff of Pima County (where Tucson is located) give a moving press interview, in which he placed at least some blame on the political pundit talking heads on TV who irresponsibly whip up hatred for our government because they get paid a lot of money to do it, while mentally unstable people are watching them and believing everything they say. Others referred to Sara Palin’s web site during the 2010 campaign, in which she placed gun sight crosshair symbols on various Congressional districts her fellow “Tea Partiers” wanted to “target” for defeat, including Giffords’. Giffords herself had spoken out only a few months before the shooting to protest this, saying she felt threatened by it (she had received death threats also). Prophetically, she said that someone could take this too literally. Although apparently there is “no evidence” to point to uncivil discourse by political pundits as a motive for Jared Loughner to target the Congresswoman, his Internet rants do seem to suggest that he had been influenced by anti-government sentiment even though much of what he wrote was basically rambling psychobabble with little coherence at all. But influenced by it, yes, I believe he was.
But after listening to the reports by mainstream news sources, MSNBC and NPR, I have begun to focus my feelings about this tragedy on the need, once again, to question the right of just anyone to legally buy and carry a weapon that is clearly not meant to be used in “self-defense” or for hunting wild game. The only use for the Glock that Loughner had was to kill large numbers of people quickly. I can think of no other use for such a weapon, and the fact that it and the ammunition was purchased by a young man with a history of mental illness and petty crime is absolutely unconscionable.
Lately there have been a slew of “strict Constitutionalists” elected to positions of power. These people supposedly believe in following the “original intent” of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution, disregarding the fact that our society has changed in ways that the FF’s could never have even imagined or that these same wise men recognized that the Constitution should be fluid enough to undergo other interpretations and a means to change it through the process of amendment. And of course, it has been amended, 27 times. Recently Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that the 14th amendment, which gave civil rights to all citizens did NOT extend to women, because at the time of the amendment’s ratification, women did not have the right to vote, own property, etc. – they were not seen as equal and therefore were not “meant” to be included in the 14th amendment. The absurdity of this comment could be the topic of another blog.
But I also see that these so-called strict Constitutionalists are in fact, hypocrites. They never seriously examine the “original intent” of our famous 2nd amendment, which states:
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.
This one-sentence amendment, admittedly rather convoluted in its structure, should be examined more carefully in our gun-obsessed society. Rachel Maddow read a list of multiple murders that have occurred in the last two decades, and there have been many – some I never had even heard of, (perhaps because they didn’t kill “enough” people to warrant being plastered on the media for more than a week). This madness has to stop, especially in the climate of hatred, intolerance and incivility that is so pervasive in our society today.
The amendment begins with four words that are largely ignored today: A well regulated Militia. I believe these four words were placed at the beginning of the sentence for a reason. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers were attempting to unify a disparate group of newly-independent states, which often operated quite independently of each other. Not only that, but the threat of further war with Britain was still very much on their minds. There was no unifying standing national army, nor organized police forces. People pretty much had to fend for themselves. During the revolution, militias formed by groups of citizens to fight the British troops were organized informally and brought together through communication by messengers on horseback (e.g. the famous Paul Revere and the famous line “The British are coming! The British are coming!”). If it were not for these militias, who had hidden caches of weapons to be used for the purpose, who fought bravely for our country’s freedom, perhaps the war would not have turned as quickly in our favor, or at least there would have been a greater loss of life if the British had been able to subdue the rural citizenry.
It was in the aftermath of the Revolution that the Constitution was written, and this amendment was important so that those who might be called upon to defend the country would be able to “bear arms”. Many of these militiamen lived in the countryside and it was the norm to own rifles for hunting or for defense against possibly hostile native tribes, as well as invading British forces.
This clearly is NOT the case today. We already have a “well regulated Militia” – our armed forces, including the National Guard, which are charged with the defense of our country, and our police forces, who are responsible for defending defend the local population. These “militias” are well regulated by laws passed by Congress – they are well organized institutions of our society, have gone through extensive training on the use of weapons and when and how to use them, and are paid for with our tax dollars.
The second part of the sentence, being necessary to the security of a free State, clearly states the intent of the writers of the Constitution. The security of a free State is contradictory to what happened in Tucson last weekend, or happened at Virginia Tech, or at Northern Illinois University, or at Columbine high school, to name only a few. It is contradictory to the security of a free State to allow common citizens to carry semi-automatic weapons openly, wherever they go, including to rallies at which the President himself is speaking!
I believe the confusion begins with the next part of the sentence (at least it did for me, and it probably is the justification for those who take this part out of context): the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. What is meant here by “the people”? It referred to the “well regulated Militia” as indicated in Article 1 Section 8, which addresses the powers of Congress:
To raise and support Armies…to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; (what Law of the Union, pray tell, was being executed by Jared Loughner?)
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress[.]
So it is CONGRESS that is charged with organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia. It is not the job of “average citizens” who get it into their head that the government is “out to get them” and are incited and encouraged in their beliefs by the trash talk of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sara Palin and others of their ilk. It is NOT appropriate for anyone to carry weapons to political rallies or to be able to purchase them on the open market. The laws which govern who may obtain weapons are ineffectual in many instances – the states of Arizona and Virginia, at least, were slow in obtaining background information on two mentally unstable young men who were able to obtain semi-automatic weapons and tragically use them to kill innocent civilians. How does this fall into the category of defending “the security of a free State”??
And, of course, whether people like him or not, it is the PRESIDENT who is commander in chief of the armed forces – not the ad hoc militias in rural Wyoming or Montana, not the head of the gangs who terrorize poor neighborhoods in cities across this country, and not the talking heads on Fox. It is not a “right” for gun sellers to run an “honest business” selling semi-automatic weapons to practically anyone who wants to purchase one or for gun shows to sell them openly.
What is a gun for anyway? Some people say they need them for “self-defense”. How often is a gun really used for self-defense? From what I can tell, whoever points a gun first has the advantage, at least until TRAINED militias (the police) arrive on the scene with the knowledge and equipment to disarm the offender. One of the people who helped disarm Jared Loughner in fact had a gun, but he did not use it to subdue the shooter. Loughner was downed when he had stopped shooting to reload another round of ammunition. In other words, he no longer had the advantage of pointing a lethal weapon at someone. Even if other people at the scene had guns on them, when Loughner started spraying bullets, they were forced to get down onto the ground to defend themselves from his bullets just like everyone else.
No, saying that guns are used for self-defense is just an excuse. It’s bravado. Is an armed civilian at a political rally “defending” himself from the politician’s speech? Is a mentally ill person with a deranged sense of reality defending anyone?
The only time a gun can really be used for self-defense is when the offender does not have a gun or is not prepared to use it. If a burglar invades your home and is busy searching through your drawers or disconnecting your TV, you could sneak up on him with your gun and have the advantage over him; if someone threatens you with a knife, as long as they aren’t too close you could possibly have time to get out your gun and defend yourself. However, these situations are not as common as people delude themselves into thinking they are. They feel more “secure” having a gun in the house, “just in case”. If they have children, then a responsible gun owner would not leave it loaded, and probably wouldn’t have time to load it if an intruder arrived.
But the real danger is not from responsible gun owners who may have a handgun hidden away in the house or a hunter with a rifle used to cull the exploding deer population. The real danger is from irresponsible gun SELLERS who want to make a sale and don’t do a background check on time, and those who sell semi-automatic weapons to those who could not possibly have any real defensive purpose for owning one. The real danger is from these guns circulating throughout society that fall into the hands of criminals or gangbangers, or that are sold at gun shows to wannabe killers.
So getting back to these “strict Constitutionalists” who read the Constitution the way fundamentalist Christians read the Bible. Why haven’t they re-examined the “original” meaning of the 2nd amendment? There have been several Supreme Court cases on 2nd amendment-related issues. Nearly all were decided in support of the individual’s right to own a gun (not specifying which type of gun or for what purpose). I suspect it has something to do with powerful and rich lobbyists such as the NRA. There is also a web site I came across called “GunCite” in which a thorough and intelligent synthesis of sources and cases argue in favor of gun ownership by any citizen.
Even so, nowhere in the Constitution does it give the right to own guns for offensive or terrorist purposes, which is what our gun-obsessed society has effectively done. In fact, the First Amendment gives the people the right to “peaceably assemble”. But what should have been a peaceable assembly of citizens to talk to their Congresswoman about their concerns, instead turned into a massacre. Therefore, our basic freedom to go where we wish to go without fear has been infringed. The life of a nine-year-old girl who was enthusiastic about how the government works, who was born on a day of violence, has ended in violence.
As usual, the events of last weekend have already started to die down in the news. Soon it will just be another incident in Rachel Maddow’s list of multiple shootings. Nothing will change.
This is wrong. We need to address this issue in a reasonable way. Sincere politicians should reconsider strong gun control laws, but they are in fear of the gun lobby, which has enough power to determine the outcome of future elections. Where is our security? Even more important, where is our democracy?