When I was a kid and going to summer camp, I used to love shooting guns, and I was pretty damn good at it, too. Could pick off cans and hit targets dead center like nobody’s business. Then on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. I was 17 years old and, upon hearing the news, I cried. The very same day, I resolved never to shoot live ammunition again. Over 50 years later, I’ve kept the promise I made to myself, and I’ve never felt any desire to revisit that decision.
We live in a violent society. Gun violence is a major part of it, but the troubled kid who recently became a mass murderer in Isla Vista adjacent to the University of California at Santa Barbara also used a knife and his BMW to injure and kill, demonstrating that guns aren’t the only problem we face when it comes to violence. Still, gun violence is so prevalent and so lethal that it commands the largest of concerns when it comes to how people are being knocked off.
The nut cases of the NRA and the cowardice of elected officials in facing them down in order to enact reasonable controls on gun and ammunition availability present the largest obstructions to progress in reducing the slaughter. Let me state my position clearly: Wayne LaPierre and his ilk are people who believe that the only solution to the killing is more killing, that there should be no restrictions on any type of firearm including the most deadly automatic, assault-type weapons with large ammunition clips. These people generally adhere to the most extreme right wing agendas and seem to savor violence as the answer to violence. Nowhere in their agendas do we find any intent or desire to address underlying issues and factors leading to violence; nor do we find anything but the desire for revenge in the punishment of violent offenders: rehabilitation be hanged, along with the perpetrators.
From where in the darkness of the human soul does this frontier mentality with its predisposition to vigilantism and vengeance arise? Some of it is a harkening back to the myth of the Wild West, what one might call John Wayne-ism and the image of the justifiably self-righteous, entitled to take the law into one’s own hands. The other problem – the elephant in the room – is that damned second amendment.
Arguments over the meaning of the second amendment’s wording are never ending. Did the nation’s founders truly intend that the right to bear arms truly apply only to a “well regulated militia”, or did they intend that everyone should be entitled to his or her own private arsenal? If they had been able to foresee the types of weapons available today, would they have created the second amendment at all? Does the present National Guard constitute a well regulated militia and, if so, obviate the need for private ownership of guns?
These questions are constantly debated in the U.S., the most violent of any of the industrialized western nations, but progress toward reasonable controls is continually and effectively opposed by the fanatics of the NRA and the organization’s extortion and bribery of both national and state politicians. So, no matter how many lunatics shoot up kids at school, commit slaughter in shopping malls, movie theatres, and the streets of our cities, nothing will be done until the impossible happens.
And what is the impossible? The repeal of the second amendment. It isn’t going to happen, and because it isn’t, the problem will not be resolved. But, let’s imagine for just a moment what repeal would mean. It would mean that there would no longer be any constitutional basis for preventing states and local jurisdictions from regulating the sale and use of firearms and ammunition. It would facilitate confiscation of automatic, assault-type weapons from gangs and right wing fanatics. It would enable extensive restrictions to be placed upon who might be entitled to own guns. It would make life safer for law enforcement officials. And, finally, it would kick an important prop for the NRA’s lobbying and propagandizing activity
Note here that I am not suggesting a total ban on the ownership of firearms but, specifically, I’m advocating for strict controls on the sale, ownership, and use of them. The current carnage and inability to do anything about it are infuriating and should be intolerable in a civilized society. The U.S. is far behind much of the rest of the world in recognizing and acting upon what should be self-evident, namely, that we are long overdue in stopping the killing. Until people rise above apathy and vote out the obstructionists, things aren’t going to get any better. In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming of a country without the second amendment.