The Constitution, Catholicism, slaves and guns

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.

7 responses to “The Constitution, Catholicism, slaves and guns”

  1. Have distinct guidelines on which guns are acceptable and which not: high-speed attack weapons, designed to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible are not needed by anyone outside of the military: they should not be on sale in any country, not least in the USA. Ban them now.

  2. I am always amazed by the fact that NRA advocates don’t bat an eye when one mentions that ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote in (I think) 7 states as long as they continue to reside on those states after they leave prison. What more essential stake in our democracy could there be than voting? Yet we have made a provision to take that away and appear to tolerate it comfortably. We should have no problems removing weapons whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible, as Fuzz Buzz says, and in tightening gun registration and sale procedures, as you say.

  3. I agree with not selling guns to anyone on the terrorist watch list. But I would also want to rewrite the privacy acts so that those who have been hospitalized for mental health diagnoses can’t get guns. That is much more of a problem than how much ammo is in a magazine. The mom who recently shot the intruder while her kids were hiding could have used some more ammo, and it certainly helped that the bad guy didn’t know if she had six rounds or more when she was waiting for the police. Legal guns are not usually the problem (with the exception of those with documented serious mental health issues getting guns legally.) Good guys with guns are the solution, not the problem. I noticed that some teachers in CO are getting handgun training, and I would bet everything I own (even my favorite L series lenses) that CO would be the last place a massacre would happen if it were well known that teachers are packing.

    I came here because you have a fantastic site and I can’t wait to listen to your podcasts and read your articles. I also hope to take some of your workshops. But couldn’t help but comment on this off-topic issue since you brought it up and I care a lot about it.
    Thanks for all of the great resources you have here!

  4. Thoughtful and well said, David!
    Thanks putting a frame around the “right to own firearms” issue. I’m going to pass this on to others.

  5. Well said, David. But I would add a riff on this sentence: “The Catholic Church (US Congress) is still run by a bunch of (un)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.” Just to add abortion and birth control to the list of hot topics! I like your list and agree with Fuzz Buzz about limitations on assault weapons.

  6. I too grew up with guns in Missouri and Oklahoma: got my first rifle when I was 10-years-old and learned to shoot. I learned, like many of my friends back then, to kill birds, rabbits, and squirrels. I didn’t always have a gun–what did I need with a gun in urban California? I got a Walther .38 and carried it for a while, until I realized it was only for one thing–killing someone who messed with me. It’s not time to stop accepting “cracker mentality.” There is hardly any reason to own a gun into today’s world. If you want to carry a gun, go back to the 1800s. Unfortunately, all this talk about guns reminds me playing Indians and cowboys when I was a kid.

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