July 9, 2022

The 2nd Amendment, Highland Park, and 2-year-old Aiden McCarthy

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

By now, most Americans know or should know who Aiden McCarthy is.

He is the two-year-old toddler, orphaned one week ago in an instant burst of utterly senseless gunfire that cut down his parents, Irina and Kevin McCarthy, and scores of other Americans who were gathered in Highland Park, Illinois, on July 4th to celebrate America’s 246th birthday. Seven are dead, and dozens of all ages are wounded, some of whom may never walk again, including an eight-year-old boy whose spinal cord was severed by the shooter. Once more, a nation is traumatized.

Aiden was orphaned by a demented young man armed with an AR15 semi-automatic rifle powered with a 30-round magazine (all legally purchased). Others indirectly contributed to Aiden’s new status as an orphan, including a gaggle of vested interests; gun-pandering politicians, self-serving gun manufacturers and merchants, and the misguided who vouchsafe the right of everyone at least eighteen years old to acquire and tote these military-style killing machines. They sully the names and the memory of those who are cut down. And yes, they also sully the founders of America by insisting that the brisk sale and distribution of these weapons is somehow consistent with what the founders intended in order to keep America free.

Indeed, the 27 words the founders penned, which we know as the Second Amendment to the Constitution, have been consistently interpreted and adjudicated to guarantee the right of nearly unfettered gun ownership in America. The courts and virtually all constitutional scholars agree that the right to bear arms is pretty much absolute in America. I, like many others, have read and reread just about everything of record attributed to the founders regarding the Second Amendment. I agree. They believed strongly that an uninfringed right to bear arms would protect the American People against an American standing army that might someday repress them, as standing armies in monarchical Europe had repressed their forbears from time immemorial.

However, the era in which Americans might have been wary, if not distrustful, of the new nation’s standing military has long passed. Indeed, our armed forces are our federal establishment’s most admired, honored, respected, and trusted arm. But, of course, the Second Amendment, written 231 years ago to protect us, if necessary, from our brand-new standing army, remains. There is no arguing with that. There also is no arguing with the total abandon with which the founders’ intent has been corrupted by the politicization and glorification of the Second Amendment.

It would be folly to question what the founders intended. Their intention was abundantly clear in what they wrote and spoke. They intended widespread gun ownership to protect America from its own armed forces in the event that despotic leaders used America’s new standing army to repress the people. That is absolutely what they intended. What the founders did not intend, or anticipate, is the mockery made of their reasoning by ambitious politicians seeking votes, and eager gun manufacturers seeking sales.

The founders would be appalled that their 27 words have been corrupted into a mind-numbing elixir enabling many unthinking citizens to tolerate almost unrelenting carnage in American communities. They did not anticipate that children such as Aiden would be senselessly orphaned by armed miscreants, politicians, and industries making a mockery of the founders’ intent. And, for sure, they did not intend that an industry would, someday, profit handsomely by using the founders’ twenty-seven words to underpin and justify the mass marketing of weapons, the lethality of which the founders could not have imagined or condoned as recreational playthings or murderous instruments in the hands of murderous people. 

Those twenty-seven words comprising the Second Amendment speak for themselves. They do not have an expiration date, even though the original rationale for their inclusion has long since expired. The initial American 800-man standing army, 246 years ago, made many people nervous, including the founders. So, the Second Amendment to our Constitution was conceived to allay everyone’s concern. With as many as 800,000 armed households in the new nation, there would be no need to worry about a standing army that might be misused or go rogue. American families with arms outnumbered the nation’s new standing army by about 1,000 to 1.

The intent of those who drafted the Second Amendment was to assure the citizens of the new nation they could defend themselves against their own government if the government ever used America’s new standing army to oppress them. Twentieth-century court decisions have expanded that original intent to include the right to bear arms for protection against anyone who might criminally pose a threat of bodily harm. However, the Second Amendment was originally conceived to put the new nation’s collective mind at ease. One might question how many thinking minds are at ease today.

The original rationale for the Second Amendment has, by any reasonable reckoning, long since passed. There are few, if any, sane people in America today who own weapons in preparation for a potential standoff against the armed forces of the United States of America. Good people own weapons today for protection against bad people, and to hunt, and some, no doubt, simply to shoot at a gun range. The gun owners I know, both family and friends, are a threat to no one.

However, America has witnessed over three hundred mass shootings so far this year with a variety of side arms and long guns. Those weapons are widely available, legally and illegally. The Second Amendment doesn’t condone the illegal possession and certainly not the illegal use of firearms. But the sad truth is that it provides the easily manipulated means by which these weapons have been and are being trafficked for illegal and unintended use.

Often, those who champion and condone the widespread availability of these semi-automatic assault rifles wrap themselves in the stars and stripes and call themselves patriots. Nonsense! Chicago columnist Sidney J. Harris penned it best many years ago, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance….

Many Americans are contributing to special funds to provide for the well-being of the surviving victims and their families. We help them because the people who make these weapons available have lobbied successfully to avoid any financial responsibility for the costs they impose on the families of the Aidens of America.

 America, of course, owes Aiden and so many like him much more than it can ever provide. There are countless Aidens and others whose families have been torn apart by gun violence in America. What can be done? That’s a question every American voter needs to ponder.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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19 responses to “The 2nd Amendment, Highland Park, and 2-year-old Aiden McCarthy”

  1. Susan Duman says:

    The sadness and outrage were felt throughout the country. In my desire to be productive I communicated with the dean of University of Chicago Social Work School which has now partnered with The Crown School of Public Policy. I hope to be part of a task force which needs to improve communications between law enforcement, schools, and social workers.
    It’s the only way to effectively prepare for the future.

  2. Ted Goldman says:

    All good people mourn the senseless carnage in Highland Park.

    Hal’s discussion of a “standing army” in todays America does not include the very large number of State, County, City, and Federal Government law enforcement personnel who are armed like the military.

    Citizens fear the criminally armed thugs found in cities like Chicago, and elsewhere, where Soros funded Communist like District Attorneys refuse to prosecute criminals, while arresting innocent people who try to defend themselves

    Citizens fear the Stassi like actions of law enforcement violently arresting and removing a parent from a PTA meeting who protested the coverup of the rape of his child.

    Citizens fear the repeated actions of the FBI using unnecessary force to arrest political opponents of the current administration, while illegally allowing sympathetic press to video these authoritarian actions.

    Citizens fear the current US Attorney General who repeatedly refuses to enforce the law to protect Supreme Court Justices.

    The founders knew what they were doing. Trust the government, but keep your powder dry.

    • Barry Cole says:

      Right you are. The militarization of agencies of govt and standing armies consistently arresting people for victimless crimes, and the ever increasing attempts to criminalize exercising our rights. In 1770s, nobody could act out with a weapon and get anything except DRT ( dead right there). Graveyard dead.

      No one attempted to make weak sick kids an excuse for some background trauma they had, and write off their aberrant behaviors. Almost to a person these sickos have had interactions with law enforcement who do nothing to get them help.

      And, no one is doing anything to act like large public gathering are bait for these nut cases. We should be vigilant, and take away the noteriety with responses that make the DRT. No glory. Just shame and a memory of being a disgusting animal.

      Nobody glorified hate, mysogeny, cruelty, death , lawlessness. No we have a subculture that does. No wonder people act out.

      Troubling as it is, what if Molotovs and fire be ones the chic cool shocking thing. How you going to stop that kind of access 100x as easy as any age.

    • Robert Hodges says:

      Let me guess. White? Straight? Male? Fox viewer? (4 out of 4?)

  3. Nancy Cantor says:

    Thank you for this calm reasonable discussion of guns/firearms and the persons and types of firearms that were existent at the writing of the amendment versus the types and capacities of today. Everyone should read it.
    My heat goes out to little Aiden and his family, as do my apologies.

  4. sheila says:

    Susan Duman – I think you have a wonderful idea and it is potentially a very positive step forward. You are more optimistic that our gun problem can be resolved than I am. I would hope the implementation of your idea would not be left to the government with its countless layers of bureaucracy -but by the universities whose primary goal is to enhance personal freedoms. A program like this could be a slippery slope that could lead to fewer freedoms if it fell into the wrong hands. Needs to be administered with oversight and very carefully.

  5. Andy Lask says:

    I was raised in Highland Park, and until a year ago my wife Amy (Hal’s daughter) and I lived in Highland Park where we raised our two daughters. For our family, watching national news outlets and seeing the streets we know like the back of our hand, friends and neighbors giving interviews, and sadly, knowing some of the victims who were shot is as surreal as it gets.

    All of the conversations about red flag laws and mental health are in my mind distractions from what our politicians need to do, make it illegal to sell, possess or own assault weapons or high capacity magazines. I realize on a federal level this is not realistic. On a state level, it is a possibility. If 20-40 percent of the states outlawed assault weapons, these tragedies would decrease. The democrats in Illinois have a super majority in the legislature, hopefully from this tragedy they will lead the nation in this issue.

    A year ago I was looking forward to moving from a blue state to a mostly red state, Arizona. As we get closer to the August primaries and the general election in November I know I can no longer except the status quo, not when Highland Park is on the same list with Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Buffalo, Uvalde, many more.

    I hope where you live doesn’t join us one day.

    Amy wrote a post this week I thought was poignant and with her consent have reposted herein:

    “As I have been processing the events of the last 24 plus hours, I realized I have not taken time to cry. I have consoled my children and talked with countless friends yet I had not shed a tear. Perhaps I have been too numb, or angry or maybe it was my own defense mechanism that didn’t allow the tears to flow.

    Minutes ago, as I drove through my new home in Scottsdale I drove past a hotel with 8 flags flying, all at half staff. It took me a moment to realize these flags, like all the others around our country, are for my beautiful home town of Highland Park.

    This realization took my breath away and I pulled my car over at the nearest opportunity and began to weep. This silent gesture of condolence that is visible across the country is both haunting and beautiful.”

    • Stephen Prover says:

      Yes, Andy…and Amy
      If only more Americans voiced such calm rational nonhysterical thinking we might be able to make a significant change on a state-by-state basis…
      I could not be in greater sympathy with your collective thought sentiments

  6. Chuck Anderson says:

    Hal,
    I’m afraid the horses have left the barn.
    According to a 2018 survey (and way more guns have sold since) gun owners possess 393.3 million weapons for a then US population of 330 million. That only accounts for the tracked guns, it’s anyone’s guess as to number of illegal guns in folks hands.
    We are not really serious about lessening gun violence until we have the wherewithal to do as the Australians did. They created a mandatory gun buyback & paid a hefty bounty for all weapons turned into the government. & created high fees to purchase & own a gun
    We would also need to hold gun manufacturers & sellers liable for paying a substantial portion of the man hours spent by first responders & law enforcement investigating these tragic events. Those costs are currently born by the tax payers.
    Sadly, I do not see any hope for any meaningful gun reduction anytime in the foreseeable future, we just don’t have the gumption to see it through.

  7. Peggy says:

    While I concur with all points made in your essay, I agree with Chuck Anderson.
    While each mass shooting has different facts, I am amazed by the denials of the shooter’s family. We have seen many incidents where parents knew and sometime aided in the purchase of the gun as in Highland Park. The parent has lived with the shooter, very aware of his mental instability and permitted the ownership and use for their disturbed child. I think we need to hold parents responsible. A few cases where the parents are held accountable, might wake up others to watch and prevent their child from being the next mass murderer.

  8. Stuart Goldfine says:

    The parents should be held responsible for the killings. The father gave the permission to buy the rifles. Having police visits twice before is a sign for any parent that their child is mentally ill and needs assistance. Put the parents on trial and maybe more parents would wise up. Take away all those video games, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik-Tok, etc. They contribute to these unstable and mentally ill youth of this generation.

    What you forget that Chicago is the murder capital of the US, yet nothing is ever done to protect their citizens. They need the National Guard and/or more police protection. Would any reader of this column wish to live in the inner city of Chicago?

  9. sheila says:

    Andy Lask- agree 100% about legislating these weapons into oblivion for civilians. That would help a lot – but unless someone – a politician, an organization – anyone — can stand guard and regulate all the illegitimate points of entry for these weapons, these tragedies are unlikely to cease. We need politicians who are willing to wrangle with the NRA and with the black market suppliers and in this political environment, that is unlikely to happen.

    And thank you for posting Amy’s thoughts about your/our Highland Park tragedy. Her anger and pain resonates so strongly and is shared by all of us. The loss is deep and traumatizing on so many levels. All I can say, though it is little consolation, is that we all need to vote our hearts out in November for representatives and senators who will do the right thing. It is the only way out of this.

  10. Mike says:

    Having a dear friend attending the parade and hearing him talk about seeing somebody 30 feet from him shot was sobering beyond words. He grabbed his grandkids and went into a building.

    I don’t purport to speak for other gun owners But I think the elephant in the room is the fact that lax law enforcement creates the belief that since bad guys will always have guns, you need to have a Gun to protect you and your family.

    I would suggest that all of your readers go to the website hey jackass.com and view the daily, weekly, monthly and year-to-date carnage that is occurring in Chicago despite the fact that CHICAGO has some of the toughest gun control laws in the country. And when you see the number of 911 calls in Chicago that could not be responded to because of the police workforce issues, you have to ask: “how do I protect my family when time is precious and the police are unlikely to show up in time?”

    Ideally, you would like to think that anyone walking around the streets with a semi-automatic weapon for which they do not have a permit, would be arrested, locked up, and removed as a threat. But as we learned here in Chicago last year when our states attorney Kimberly Fox refused to prosecute five individuals who were involved in a shooting that injured others because they were “mutual combatants,“ our law enforcement capabilities have been severely compromised.

  11. Jim Malley says:

    When Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT occurred and basically the response was nothing on a Federal level that convinced me this issue is indeed hopeless unless and until some of these self serving politicans and greedy manufacturers finally endure personal losses due to this senseless approach to guns in America. One can only imagine how fast some of this BS would end if Mitch McConnell lost children he loved. As harsh as that sounds (no need to send the FBI this is not a threat or a wish for bad things to happen to anyone it is just stating what I believe to be a human based fact). I am convinced nothing short of these Republican leaders, the NRA leaders and billionaires who make more money every year selling death, losing their own school children to these tragedies will do anything to melt their ice cold selfish hearts. The whole situation is sickening and tragic and the new ridiculous 1780’s mentality Supreme Court has made it much worse for NY.

    We are also seeing a sickening number of law enforcement being heavily armed and I feel not well trained, not demilitarized and forgetting they are no longer in Iraq or Afghanistan but are back home in our cities and towns and not ever person of color is scary or out to kill them. It is a sad time in our country and I wish there was some way to work our way out of this insanity but I do not see it and your essay seems to leave it to the American donor and American voter as our best hope but through no fault of your own is very very short on specifics.

  12. Jamie Kabler says:

    Hal this is your best
    I agree with the ban on a AR

  13. Rick Gordon says:

    Thank you for your continuing thoughtful essays on important subjects.

    I do NOT want the 2nd amendment deleted, BUT I do want military style and assault weapons made illegal for private ownership. I see NO reason for private persons to own large ammunition clips or semi-automatic rifles. I am NOT a gun owner so must rely on professionals to identify and list these weapons.

    I want to see prosecution of those who become aware of dangerous person(s) and do NOT report them to appropriate authorities.

  14. Carol Putnam says:

    The critical words in the 2nd Amendment are “a well regulated militia.” SCOTUS has ignored this for a number of years. Do your historical research. The amendment was created to allow the slave holding states to create militias to chase and capture runaway slaves. The standing army was a lesser concern.

    • Hal Gershowitz says:

      Actually, there are volumes of research documenting the founders’ fear of a standing army and their adoption of the 2nd amendment as a counterbalance. I would be eager, however, to delve into additional research that contends that the second amendment was advanced to assist slave owners to pursue runaway slaves. Historical citations would be most welcome.

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