February 18, 2018

The Sanctity of Guns: Are We Constitutionalists…or Just Plain Irresponsible?

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsLet’s end the insulting justification that the abundant assortment of firearms used to slaughter innocents in America is guaranteed by our God-given constitutional rights. Let’s recognize that refusing to rethink what was relevant 230 years ago doesn’t make us constitutionalists; it merely makes us irresponsible.

Let’s get on with the job of infusing a modicum of sanity into our gun culture. We understand and respect the fact that the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who pose a threat to no one. We have no quarrel whatever with the vast majority gun-owning Americans.  Nearly all of them, we would argue, would support sensible gun laws designed to curtail the subculture of gun-related violence that exists within our overwhelmingly decent and sane society.

But let’s stop pretending that we have more guns than people in America because it, somehow, safeguards our basic liberties. No, it doesn’t, and because it doesn’t, and hasn’t for many generations, let’s get on with the job of rethinking the second amendment. It will be a long slog because that tiny sliver of gunophiles (yes, we made that word up) who worship at the altar of guns as though AK 47’s and large-volume magazines were sacred religious objects will be whipped into a frenzy by the National Rifle Association and other organizations that routinely hyperventilate over the threat they say meaningful gun regulation represents to our liberty. Really?

Accidents aside, we understand that guns can’t harm people unless deranged or malevolent people aim them and pull the trigger. But the ubiquitous, and let’s face it, ridiculous presence of guns throughout our country isn’t compatible with a society in which its share of bad people and sick people have such plentiful means to become killers as well.

We understand, as Republican Representative Trey Gowdy reminded us this morning on Meet the Press that shovels have been used to kill people too. We appreciate him reminding us of that irrelevant fact, but we are having a hard time remembering when shovels were used to commit mass murder.

Look, we recognize that 230 years ago everyone owning a musket might have a tempering effect on a tyrannical government gone rogue. After all, such a government of tyrants would only have muskets too. So, it made sense when George Mason argued, “To disarm the people (would be) the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” And we appreciate that James Monroe believed, “the right to keep and bear arms”  should be added to the Constitution, along with other rights. Even James Madison, often referred to as the father of the constitution, compared, in Federalist No. 46, the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he contemptuously described as “afraid to trust the people with arms.” Madison assured his fellow citizens, 230 years ago, that they need never fear their government because of “the advantage of being armed.” What possible relevance is that to today?

Our greatest minds were preoccupied with the task of convincing thirteen separate nations spread out along a thousand miles of coastline to coalesce into a new nation with a central government. They had just fought a long and very costly war in which 25,000 Americans died (relative to size, still the deadliest war in our history) in order to unshackle themselves from a distant ruling government. Our right to bear arms was essential if we were to form yet a new (and, for many, a very distant) government. Who knew then, if the proposed electoral process would really work and if we would really be able to unseat a chief executive through the ballot box. We must remember that the ballot had not yet, in 1788, been demonstrated to be a plausible or an effective way to guarantee that, in America, governments would govern only with the consent of the governed.  Well, America, during its relatively brief history has, through the ballot box, changed direction time and time again. We can and have thrown the rascals out whenever the people have decided to throw them out.  We’ve never had to march them out with the arms we bear.

Furthermore, our right to bear arms has no relevance today when it comes to changing government leadership. For a citizen militia to have parity with the nation’s defense establishment it would have to have automatic weapons, armored vehicles, artillery, missiles, aircraft, anti-aircraft, incendiary and explosive weapons, unmanned armed drones and who knows what else. No sane person would, today, entertain such a thought.

So, perhaps the second amendment would be more relevant today if it were rewritten to guarantee the right of the people to own and use appropriate firearms for personal self-defense as well as for the protection of home and property against intruders, and for legal recreational sport and hunting.  Whatever rationale was appropriate 230 years ago to coax the people into ratifying our new constitution, is certainly not appropriate today and we should recognize that.

While assault weapons (semi-automatic rifles) are rarely used in the commission of crime in the United States, assault weapons (including semi-automatic pistols) have been the weapons of choice in 100% of the massacres (assaults in which four or more people were victims) that have taken place in the United States in the last quarter century.  According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 1624 mass shootings (four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter) in the past 1870 days. 1875 of our fellow Americans, including many schoolchildren, have been killed and another 6848 have been wounded, and probably scarred for life.

We can either go back to the days when everyone packed heat, or we can seriously try to bring this epidemic under control. We can do this. The Constitution was written to allow us to modify it when appropriate. It is now appropriate to begin that effort. It won’t be easy and it will take years to accomplish, but it’s time to begin. That’s what we would do if we were constitutionalists, and not simply irresponsible.

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8 responses to “The Sanctity of Guns: Are We Constitutionalists…or Just Plain Irresponsible?”

  1. marc slavin says:

    Hal, no mention of the seriousness of our nations mental health dilemma? No doubt that guns and mental-illness are a very bad combination.

  2. irwin yablans says:

    Thank’s for daring to address the sanctity of the second amendment.
    It’s time for all Americans to dispassionately consider the second amendment.It is after all, an amendment, which by definition recognizes the right of the people to ,indeed , amend the constitution.
    Let’s separate this problem from the usual partisan agendas and deal with it objectively, separate from all the rest of the political noise.
    Wonderful essay.

  3. Steve Prover says:

    One of the best essays on this too often emotional I have read…
    Well thought out with a well researched excellent historical perspective.

  4. Perry Green says:

    As a person who has both weapons and has been victim to
    being held and tied up in a robbery and also been threatened
    “It is going to be between you me and God” was my experience
    when the police came in another incident.
    I would welcome though the severe limitation of individuals to own AR 15 and other semi automatic rifles
    My fear is this might be a slippery slope of total confiscation
    of weapons as was the case in Nazi Germany. I never will allow
    my pistols and shotguns to be outlawed. The safe America most of us have grown up in has changed and there is a reason
    most of us live behind gates with access limited.

  5. Hal says:

    Enough lives have been lost to the threadbare “slippery slope” arguement. How many dead innocents does it take to eliminate rapid fire hand guns and rifles from circulation?

  6. Elliot solomon says:

    Couldn’t agree any more Hal, very well said

  7. steve hardy says:

    Her is a prediction you can take to the bank. The next time there is a mass shooting the liberal politicians and pundits will call for more government regulation on guns and the conservatives will quote the second amendment. The media will report it ad nauseam (encouraging the next copycat nut case). Our legislators may pass some feel-good laws, that won’t do any good. As long as we have a relatively free society and there are some psychopathic screwballs, this will happen again. Unfortunately, shit happens. There is no way to prevent it short of creating a police state that monitors everyone’s lives.

  8. Actually, we think there are measures between “doing nothing,” and “creating a police state” that make sense. Stay tuned.

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