Where to Begin

Just when I had essentially become numb to our current political situation, Las Vegas exploded in chaos as a result of a a planned attack of automatic weapons fire. Las Vegas was not the first mass shooting in US history. Here’s a brief (and limited) list: “The Top 10. Mass shootings, of course, are not the only gun deaths in the States. The US holds the world record for gun deaths not related to the carnage of war.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution actually encourages gun ownership, primarily for citizens involved in a well-regulated militia. What the Framers had in mind was to give citizens what they needed to defend themselves against foreign invaders and a rogue military. Wise as they were, I suspect that the Framers would have said it differently if they could have foreseen the evolution of weapons and the lack of regulation. Those who buy the most weapons—and the deadliest weapons—do not belong to a militia, let alone a well-regulated one.

Weapons have changed a great deal since Revolutionary times. When the Constitution was written, firearms were all muzzle-loaders. The shooter would fire once and, before firing a second time, would need to go through a lengthy process before firing a second time. My guess is that had the Framers known what was coming, they would have used different language for the Second Amendment. But the real problem isn’t with the weapons: it is with those who buy the most deadly of them. Even the mentally ill can and do buy even the most deadly of firearms. Legal gun purchases, however, are only part of the gun market. Those who know in advance that they are going to use a gun for nefarious purposes can always find a source.

Even children can’t escape gun violence. They find weapons and “play” with the “toy,” or they are simply shot by accident. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what the Framers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. At some point we have to say “enough is enough.” My sense is that we do not need to change the Second Amendment to put an end to most of the carnage. In fact, we have to insist that the Second Amendment be taken at face value and require those who want to own weapons belong to and train with a well-regulated militia. The National Guard was originally conceived as the well-regulated militia the Framers had in mind.

What do you suppose would happen if serious military training were required to own weapons of war? Those in the militia would spend time marching, standing in formation, going on bivouac, and training in military tactics. They would learn to say, “Yes, Sir”; “No, Sir”; and “Right away, Sir.” In short, they would learn discipline. They could also practice shooting targets during militia training, and they would also have the opportunity to assist full-time soldiers in actual combat situations. They might decide that shooting wasn’t so much fun when others were shooting back—the kind of thing that real soldiers experience with regularity. When the “summer soldiers” decided that they had had enough, they would lose their “right” to own weapons of war. They could still, of course, buy and use hunting rifles and shotguns.

A couple of years ago I had an online exchange with someone about his need to own an automatic weapon. He said that he needed an AR-15 when he went hunting so that he could defend himself against a pack of attacking coyotes. Coyote attacks are rare. Early one morning when I was attending a workshop in California, I went for a run in the Hollywood Hills (a bit Northwest of Grauman’s Theater and came face-to-face with a coyote. We looked at each other for a minute, and then we both trotted on. Attacks by dogs are more common. Just in general, wild animals prefer to avoid humans. Perhaps they know something about us that we have yet to realize. People who want to own an automatic weapon can usually come up with a reason they need one, even if it is far-fetched.

Handguns are another problem. Hand guns have changed a lot since the Framers wrote the Second Amendment. I see nothing in the Second Amendment that specifically includes handguns, but we (in the States) have a long history of carrying and using them. When I was younger I knew people who competed in “quick draw” contests drawing and shooting paper wads at balloons. That’s not the sort of thing that causes problems. High-powered pistols with large clips are, however, problematic. Unless you are in law enforcement what possible—legal—use could such a weapon have? The real problem with hand guns, however, is that even people with relatively decent training (law enforcement) have a difficult time hitting what they shoot at, and they often shoot at the wrong thing or person. Just ask Amadou Diallo.

The NRA is able to basically “own” many of our elected politicians. And that needs to end. But the NRA is not the only organization that exerts undue influence on our politicians. The pharmaceutical industry, agri-business, fossil fuel companies, and other corporate organizations buy our politicians with campaign donations and “special favors.” That has to end, and it should all end at once. If we want a decent government, we have to get the corporate money out of politics. We would be a lot better off if we funded elections directly and prohibited any and all donations to campaigns. Can you imagine having a government where the politicians were serving because they desired to serve the people instead of serving because they are self-serving?