Note: If some of this article seems familiar, it’s because you’ve seen
my Facebook and/or Twitter postings on the subject that is
dominating our national news. Parts of this article are copied
verbatim from those postings.
When I was 130 days old … almost to the minute …, the United States of America dropped a nuclear weapon on Hiroshima, Japan … killing 70,000 to 80,000 people within minutes. Three days later, they repeated the bombing at Nagasaki, Japan … killing 35,000 to 40,000 more. I and my contemporaries grew up with a nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. Until the Cold War “ended” in 1989, our children shared that threat of premature, manmade death.
Since Columbine on April 20, 1999, 150 students and teachers have died in mass school shootings. At least another 171 have died in non-school mass shootings. Seventeen of the 150 died on Valentine’s Day 2018. at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida. The shooter was a 19 year-old, troubled, former student who had been expelled. He is only one year older than his oldest student victim. His weapon of choice was an AR 15.
As one would expect, there have been a lot of calls to ban the sale of the AR 15, but don’t be fooled. The AR 15 was originally designed by a company named ArmaLite (no, AR does not mean “assault rifle”) for use by the military in Vietnam, but that’s not the problem. The AR 15 is scary-looking, but the reason that it’s favored by mass shooters is that it’s semi-automatic, has a standard 30-round magazine, and fires a round that leaves the muzzle at over 3,000 feet per second. The innocuous-looking “hunting rifle” pictured at the right has the same qualities and is just as deadly.
If you think you need a semi-automatic, high-velocity rifle for hunting, you’re a really lousy shot. Even if you did need such a weapon, a 10-round clip should be adequate. The animals aren’t shooting back. If you need such a weapon for self-defense, you’re only defending yourself against someone else who doesn’t need to have one. (If “The Government” comes for you, they’ll bring better hand weapons, tanks, and drones. If the “Zombie Apocalypse” comes, there are close to two and half million AR 15s in the U.S. … and who knows how many Ruger Mini 14s and other semi-automatic, high-velocity rifles with large magazines.)
Repeal the Second Amendment?
The other day, I heard journalist Bret Stephens call for a repeal of the Second Amendment. He has written two Op-Ed articles on the subject … one after the Las Vegas shooting; the other after the Valentine’s Day shooting. This is unacceptable for three reasons:
- Repealing an amendment to the Constitution requires a new amendment.
The only constitutional way to repeal an amendment is to pass another amendment that supersedes it. The only time this has ever worked was when the 21st repealed the 18th (Prohibition).
- Passing and Ratifying an amendment to the Constitution is intentionally complex and difficult.
If you’ve read my article “Were You Using that Freedom (The Constitution)“, you know that passage of a new amendment to the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote both of the House of Representatives and of the Senate. Thereafter, ratification of the newly-passwd amendment requires approval by 3/4 of the states.
- Repealing an amendment that’s part of the Bill of Rights could be a “slippery slope” much worse than the one the NRA is so fond of mentioning.
The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States are called The Bill of Rights for a reason. Our country’s Founders did not agree on the structure of their new government. The Federalists believed that the bulk of power should be focused in the central government. The Anti-Federalists believed that the individual states should retain that power. The Constitution and the Rule of Law that it represents is the result of a series of compromises between the two groups. Several states ratified the Constitution only under the condition that the Constitution be amended to specify the rights of the People. North Carolina and Rhode Island waited to ratify the Constitution until after the Bill of Rights was included. If there are those who want to repeal one of these fundamental rights, there are those who might want to repeal others.
The Bill of Rights guarantees that the People retain certain rights … but, those rights are not without limits. The First Amendment guarantees Freedom of Speech, but the Courts have ruled incitement to violence or suicide is not protected. A deliberate misrepresentation of facts about an individual (slander) is not protected. Obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment.
Similarly, the Second Amendment has limits. In the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, the decision … written by the late, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia … the Court said:
Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.
A Fox Guarding the Chicken Coop.
The leaders of the NRA are not defending Second Amendment rights. They’ve sold out the membership. They’re defending the rights of weapon manufacturers to make more money. Why don’t our Federal and State Legislators understand that? Have they sold out too? Are they that afraid of single-issue voters? (If so, it must drive them to distraction. There are a lot of single-issues out there.) Are the Right and Left too busy fighting each other to notice that innocents are dying?
The survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting understand. They’ve seen the carnage close-up. They’re scared. They’re not “Crisis Actors“. They’re angry. If they seem unusually poised and articulate for high school students, it’s because they are members of the post-millennial generation. Unlike their critics, they’ve grown up with YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. The oldest among these students are barely 4 years older than Facebook. (I know some of their contemporaries. They’re my grandsons.)
What Can We Do?
I understand that collectors, sport shooters, and other responsible gun owners might want to purchase some of these weapons. We don’t have to ban semi-automatic weapons. We just need to make them harder to buy. You need a license to drive a car. Would many responsible gun owners object to needing a license to purchase certain high-end weapons? You need to be 21 to buy alcoholic beverages. Can’t most responsible gun owners wait until that age to have an AR 15? Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Grandpa shouldn’t need to run a background check on you before selling you his Ruger Mini 14, but the person at the “gun show” probably should.
Our task is to protect the innocent and the rights of responsible gun owners. It may not be easy. There’s a lot of bad feelings and misunderstanding on both sides of the debate. We can do it only if we stop posturing and begin to reason together. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School activists understand that. If our Legislators can’t learn, perhaps we should use our votes to “ask” them to leave. Perhaps we should lower the voting age to 14. (35% of the MSD victims … 43% of the student victims … were 14.)