Repeal It

I originally wrote this post last Friday night and then, in a moment of doubt on Saturday morning, unpublished it. It wasn’t that I didn’t completely believe in the argument; I just wanted to make sure that it was the kind of thing I wanted to appear on this site. It is.

I try not to get political here very often. [1] But I cannot contain myself today. I am angry and heartbroken by the massacre of twenty schoolchildren and six adults in Connecticut. I think about the topic of gun violence every time there’s a gun-related mass-casualty incident, and it feels like I’ve been thinking about it a lot in recent years. Today, though . . . I just do not understand how it’s possible to perpetrate such a horrific act on such a scale. However, I do know that it would not have happened without a gun as part of the equation, and I think it’s about time we did something radical with guns.

Before you dismiss me as a knee-jerk, Eastern liberal, you should know that there were handguns in my house when I was a teenager. I shot one of them twice with my stepfather, as part of a “there are now guns in the house, and this is why you should leave them alone” campaign. After the first shot we realized that I had really good aim, despite only having one good eye. The second shot took me completely by surprise, and I dropped the gun out of fright. I can still see the damage done from the first shot, and I won’t ever forget the fear-turned-embarassment of the second. Of course, on one other occasion the same gun almost featured tragically in a situation I would rather forget.

Despite all that, in the past I was deeply opposed to gun control. In fact, on my college debate team, I twice argued passionately in favor of a right to keep guns and use them for hunting and self-defense and as a means of preventing tyranny. (Yes, I actually bought into that paranoid, militia-esque belief that a well-armed citizenry was all that kept us from a totalitarian hell state. That was a long time ago.) I believed that private gun ownership made sense in sparsely populated rural areas (like Wyoming) where everyone was a law unto himself as well as in crime-riddled urban areas (i.e., everywhere that wasn’t Wyoming).

Time has passed and now I can only see those beliefs as outdated and immature. Sure, guns can prevent some crime—and hunting, however you feel about it, is a different beast altogether—but firearms contribute to so many deaths and violent crimes. They are fundamentally different from other kinds of weapons in their ability to indiscriminately cause damage from a distance. I find it hard to justify handgun possession, since in my mind they are scaled down weapons of mass destruction. With the carnage they caused today, how can they not be thought of in the same class as WMDs?

I am tired of gun violence apologists—and let’s face it, that’s what they are—saying, “Oh, well, it’s just an isolated incident and the act of a deranged mind. We can’t prevent against this kind of event.” Not so. All of these tragedies may be uncoordinated, but there is a sine qua none that binds them together: the gun. How many repeats of the same tragedy must we have before we do something about guns? How many murders, attempted murders, and assaults do gun (ab)users have to commit before we say the consequences outweigh the supposed “benefits” of private gun ownership?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that most (or even a small percentage) of gun owners are just a hair’s breadth away from homicide. But I do think most guns have only two purposes: either to project the intimidating possibility of violence to all within the bullet’s range or to actually inflict harm on another person. It’s perfectly possible to own a gun responsibly and never use it, and it’s possible to use a gun in order to prevent harm to others, but this is not how most guns in this country (when used) are used. Moreover, the magnitude of gun ownership in this country has a corrosive effect on the overall safety and well-being of everyone in the US, as we saw from today’s events.

I’m not an originalist when it comes to Constitutional interpretation—nor am I a judge—but I understand the late 18th century point of view on this issue. Guns were in the culture in post-Revolutionary America and were used during Shay’s Rebellion out in western Massachusetts (1787) and the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 by both the groups seeking to oppose tyranny/taxation and the militias that were used to put down the anti-state insurrections. Frontier violence was a fact of life, even though the presence of guns contributed to its worst abuses. (Well, guns and liquor together really.) Hunting was also a part of life for a large number of people. (And don’t forget the fear of slave revolts.)

Times are different now. The Civil War pretty much settled the issue of how dangerous state militias can be, and the idea of private gun ownership preventing a tyrannical government with a well-trained standing army from taking away our liberties—given some far-fetched dystopian scenario where it actually wanted to—is laughable. Furthermore, handguns and assault-style weapons create a much different gun environment than even 100 years ago.

The second amendment no longer protects American citizens by providing a framework for well-regulated gun ownership and/or militias. It provides a cudgel to prevent responsible regulation of firearms. The amendment has outlived its usefulness.

It’s time to repeal the second amendment. Remove the pretext of gun ownership and/or citizen militias as a Constitutional necessity for the preservation of individual liberties and happiness, and in its absence let the people decide how much and what kind of gun restrictions we really want. I will likely come down differently than you do, but in a democracy we should all have a voice in the decisions about the kind of society we live in. Different jurisdictions should be able to tailor gun laws to the needs of their populations.

The current Supreme Court has shown that there cannot be meaningful gun control in this country while the second amendment is in force and while Congress has a pathological inability to enact sensible regulation on its own. If, after a horrific tragedy like what occurred in Connecticut today, we can’t figure out a way to change the gun culture that exists in the United States so that it protects people, we never will. Something has to give on the second amendment; either we abandon our fetishistic attachment to it as an idea that prevents any meaningful gun regulation, or the entire amendment has to go. The blood of those killed in the next “isolated incident” will be on our hands.

1 — I occasionally write about healthcare economics here. It’s an issue that I don’t feel should be politicized, but sadly it is. Affordable healthcare is important to me, and I feel the problems about access to it are totally solvable, even if it’s going to be difficult to do. [back . . .]

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2 Responses to Repeal It

  1. scully says:

    After reading this I have a few thoughts. First: You are an amazing writer! Second: I very much agree with you.
    As I mentioned on your facebook status… The only real gun I’ve seen that wasn’t attached to a cops waist was in a store, in the states. I’ve never seen one or touched one or known ANYONE who possessed one with the exception of a few northern Ontario hunters rifles. I am 33 years old and I’ve never touched a real gun. Born and raised in Canada will do that to you. Sure there is some gun violence but as a nation we’ve gotten on JUST fine without every single person and their grandmother owning guns.

    You’re right. You can’t really call it an “isolated incident” any more can we? If people aren’t going to be smart enough to lock that shit up and make it impossible for someone mentally incapacitated to gain access to it, none of that would have happened on Friday.

    What’s it gonna take?

    To see that the rest of the world doesn’t live with guns?! Wake up USA and put it back in your pants. Nobody NEEDS guns.

  2. StephenS says:

    Jeff, I can’t really take issue with anything you state here in your eloquent post. I can only add that we can go a long way toward making things safer TODAY if we start to enforce existing gun control/gun safety laws that are already on the books here in the States. There are a lot of laws out there (the “Brady Bill” assault rifle ban among them) that simply have not been prosecuted in any way. It wouldn’t solve everything, but I don’t think we can simply enact (or repeal) laws without taking the law enforcement and prosecutorial action that would be required to back it up. Thanks

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