I am going to out on a limb here and I may risk offending a few readers but the recent killing of in Connecticut of twenty seven people, mostly school children, should be offensive to all Americans. Yes, I am a liberal and I live in the North Eastern liberal-belt between Boston and Washington. On the other hand, I am a former gun owner who knows and respects plenty of gun owners.
I am hoping the one positive result of the horror in Connecticut will indeed be a gun control debate. But I am not against private gun ownership. I am against the National Rifle Association’s stranglehold on the gun control dialogue in Washington. They are so powerful that a politician risks their career by merely suggesting restrictions on the high tech-killing machines that are too easily accessed by the deranged killers. These are the same mad men (yes, mostly men) who periodically grab headlines by shooting up schools, colleges, movie theaters, political events and workplaces.
Yes, yes, I know that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution. Guess what? The constitution can be wrong. It has been wrong more than a few times. Our understanding of the constitution changes.
For example, our wise forefathers, who wrote our hallowed constitution, enshrined the idea that slaves were not fully human. The so-called three-fifths clause of the constitution is a perfect example of where they did NOT get it right. In that, every 5 slaves counted as 3 people in terms of apportionment for the House of Representatives. That kind of injustice demanded to be changed. Though it took years and a Civil War, slavery is now illegal in this country. That same constitution purposefully left a woman’s right to vote undefined. That authority was delegated to the states, most of which clearly denied voting rights to women at the time of the writing of the constitution. Those same wise forefathers were wrong again.
The difference between our constitution and, for example, the Catholic Church, is that our constitution (and our perspective on it) continue to change. The Catholic Church is still run by a bunch of celibate men who don’t live in the real world, who spend too much time telling women what to do with their bodies and arguing over what language to use in their religious services.
The founding fathers, in their substantive wisdom, enshrined ways to change the same constitution that they worked so hard to construct. They knew that life in this country, like human nature itself, would be an evolving, growing thing that would inevitably change.
What must come out of the Connecticut tragedy is a movement towards reasonable gun control. This includes:
Fixing holes in the national system of background checks for gun buyers.
Requiring background checks at gun shows in order to deny individuals access to firearms if they have a criminal record or a history of mental illness.
Banning gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list.
Banning the sales of high capacity ammunition magazines.
A federal requirement for updated and streamlined databases on gun ownership/purchases to enable law enforcement agencies to work together more efficiently.
Reinstatement of he Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was passed in 1994, which expired in 2004 and has NOT been renewed.
I am nowhere near suggesting repealing the second amendment or banning private gun ownership. When I was fresh out of college, living in California, I owned two different guns. One was rifle and one was a hand gun. I mostly used them for target practice. At that point in my life, I was sorting out where to go with my career. Law enforcement and the military were two options. I sold those guns because I needed the money for my burgeoning photography career.
I bought the guns from a dealer, paid the license fees, registered the guns and later sold them through that same dealer. California has much more restrictive guns laws now, which I support. Would I have cared then if the laws were more restrictive? Not at all. Would I have wanted to buy or sell a gun at a gun show where no background check is required? Probably not! Would I have wanted to buy a high capacity ammunition magazine or God forbid a full blown assault rifle? Absolutely not!
We do not need to actually amend the constitution to get “sensible” gun control. We need to simply admit that times have changed. Yes, private gun ownership is part of our culture and it should continue to be. But mad men with access to deadly and fully legal assault rifles are not part of our culture. They do not exemplify our values. Accepting that reality and creating reasonable gun control in the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is something our wise forefathers would very much have liked to see.