The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was as profound a tragedy as one can imagine; period. In light of this and similar events we need to have a national discussion about the real causes of mass murder. Contrary to what we will hear in the coming days and weeks, guns were not the cause of the Sandy Hook murders. Nevertheless, local, state, and national leaders, lead by California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein, will use this awful event as a rallying call to push for the most serious infringement of our Second Amendment rights ever proposed in this country’s history. They will ignore the familial and societal factors that actually compel these mass murderers to carry out their awful missions. They will ignore the connection between these horrible acts and the increase in the use of prescription psychiatric drugs on our children and youth, reductions in mental health services and incarcerations, increased exposure to violent images in mass media and games, and mandated removal of faith and morality from many aspects of our daily lives. Some of these representatives will be motivated to act out of a legitimate desire to preclude a recurrence of this type of event. Others, like Senator Feinstein, will seek to use this awful event to push long held personal agendas; an incremental step towards completely banning private ownership of the types of firearms which can best effectuate the intent of the framers of our Constitution.
We need to demand that our representatives do something that might have a real effect on reducing the occurrences of mass murder in American society. We must demand that they undertake action to understand the real factors that cause people to do these terrible things and then demand that they have the courage to actually address the root causes of the problem rather than its tragic manifestation. And we must do this without allowing the decimation of our Second Amendment protections.
The primary focus of this editorial is to briefly restate the intent of the founding fathers when they drafted the Second Amendment and then illustrate, with facts, the futility of passing laws regulating firearms and magazines in the hope that doing so will prevent criminal behavior.
Those who will argue for a new “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazine” ban will claim that there is no legitimate “sporting purpose” or self defense need for these types of weapons and accessories; as if sporting or self defense use were the intent of the Constitutional guarantee of our right to keep and bear arms. In its entirety the Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There is no mention of this being a protection of the right to have guns for sporting purposes, or as some will claim, solely for self defense purposes. The intent of the language could not be clearer, the right to bear arms was much more militaristic in nature and was to ensure that the recently acquired free status of the several newly united states, individually and collectively, could be defended against, and not subjugated to, a new tyrannical rule imposed by the creation of a federal government. Thomas Jefferson confirmed this understanding saying, “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government”. More recently the late Hubert Humphrey, not known as a bastion of conservative or right wing political thought, said, “Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. This is not to say that firearms should not be very carefully used and that definite safety rules of precaution should not be taught and enforced. But the right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.”
That protection against tyranny was the intent of the Second Amendment was acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for majority Justice Scalia recited that the history of “[T]he debate with respect to the right to keep and bear arms, as with other guarantees in the Bill of Rights, was not over whether it was desirable (all agreed that it was) but over whether it needed to be codified in the Constitution. Justice Scalia indicated that the founding fathers knew “[T]hat history showed that the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the able-bodied men was not by banning the militia but simply by taking away the people’s arms, enabling a select militia or standing army to suppress political opponents.” The conclusion of the Court was that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bears arms was a personal, not corporate, right; that it guaranteed the right to keep and bear those types of firearms typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes for use in personal defense as well as a deterrent against tyranny.
Those that support a proposed assault weapon/high capacity magazine ban would deny the populace the very civilian arms best suited to fulfill the constitutional intent of the Second Amendment. The AR-15 rifle, which fires a .223 caliber cartridge and is capable of being used with 30 round magazines, is one of the primary targets of any proposed assault weapons ban and is the best selling type of rifle in America today. These and other, similar rifles are owned and used by millions of Americans for clearly lawful purposes. The internationally known firearms and self defense expert, Massad Ayoob, recently wrote in Backwoods Home magazine, “The cops are the experts on the current criminal trends. If they have determined that a “high capacity” semiautomatic pistol and a .223 semiautomatic rifle with 30-round magazines are the best firearms for them to use to protect people like me and my family, they are obviously the best things for us to use to protect ourselves and our families.”
The ban supporters will, no doubt, argue that the loss of this fundamental right is worth the benefit that will accrue as a result of its implementation. They will claim that their restrictions will result in a reduction in violent crime. Evidence worldwide and here at home refutes those claims.
There are two truths that are obvious to me. The first is that laws only proscribe the behavior of law abiding citizens. By definition, criminals ignore the law. Every mass murderer violates numerous laws in the commission of their heinous act and none of those laws stop the horror. Secondly, if banning anything worked, America would be a teatotaling, drug free society and Chicago and Washington D.C. would have the lowest murder rates in the country. We aren’t and they don’t.
I have heard it said that the definition of being crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. There is plenty of evidence that stricter gun laws do not reduce violent crime. Yet more gun control is always the answer when a tragedy like Sandy Hook occurs.
Each year the Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence, an organization ” . . . devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities . . .”, ranks states based upon the strength or weakness of their gun laws. The following is a comparison of FBI statistics for the ten states which the Brady Campaign says have the strongest gun laws (the top ten) and those of the ten states with the weakest gun laws (the bottom ten) according to the Brady Campaign. Connecticut, scene of the Sandy Hook shootings, is in the Brady Campaign top ten; ranked fifth in 2011 for having strong gun control laws. The cited standings and statistics are for 2010 or 2011, the most recent information available. The FBI has reported that, in 2011, the violent crime rate in the top ten states was 376 violent crimes per one hundred thousand residents versus 350 per one hundred thousand in the bottom ten. The reported rates for murder and non-negligent homicide, unrelated to the instrumentality causing death, in the top ten states was 4.31 per one hundred thousand population versus 4.15 in the bottom ten states. Focusing just on murder rates for firearm related murders, FBI statistics show that the murder rate for all murders committed with any type of firearm was approximately 2.5 per one hundred thousand residents in the top ten states and 2.4 in the bottom ten. California, which tops the Brady top ten list, has 3.2 firearms murder per hundred thousand. The murder by handgun rate was 2.0 in the top ten states and 1.8 in the bottom ten. Again, the stricter gun control states fare marginally worse than those with weaker gun laws. The only anomaly is found in the murder by firearms other than handguns rate which was 5.1 deaths per thousand in the top ten states and 5.9 in the bottom ten. The obvious conclusion from all of these statistics is that stricter gun control laws do not reduce the rates of violent crimes, homicides, or gun related murders. Equally obvious is that there are other factors which actually cause violent crimes and murders other than the relative ease with which one can or cannot obtain a firearm or the type of firearm that is available. Nonetheless, stricter gun control will be touted as the solution to preventing school shootings. It won’t be a solution, simply because gun control doesn’t work.
I suspect that ban supporters will also claim that the state statistics are flawed because we don’t have a nationwide firearms ban. But nationwide bans, even in modern western democracies, don’t reduce violent crime. Both Britain and Australia banned most gun ownership, nationwide, in 1997 and implemented buy-up programs. In both societies, violent crime rates rose.
We’ll also be told that gun control will work this time because we’ll control “assault weapons” and “high capacity” magazines. Again, the historical evidence doesn’t support the proposition. This country had an assault weapons ban from 1994 until 2004. While we will hear Senator Feinstein claim that the ban resulted in a 6.7% reduction in murder rates, the study she cites acknowledges that the data is for one year of the ten year period and that the data set was too small to conclude that the apparent reduction was connected to the assault weapon ban. The Brady Campaign says, “Connecticut has strong gun laws that help combat the illegal gun market, prevent the sale of most guns without background checks and reduce risks to children”. Despite having strong gun control laws and an assault weapon ban, Connecticut was still the scene of the Sandy Hook murders. Proponents of a new ban will assert that both the Connecticut and 1994 assault weapon and magazine bans were not comprehensive enough; that we need a bigger, broader, more restrictive ban. And besides, we have to do something to protect the children.
Make no mistake about it, Senator Feinstein’s new assault weapon and magazine ban is not about protecting the children. If she was truly concerned about child safety she’d address the real threats to children. Depending on the information one looks at, during the last thirty years on average, ten to twenty children are killed each year in school related shootings. Yes, each child’s death is itself a tragedy. But statistics show that many more children die annually as the result of other causes. Eighty to one hundred children die each year by drowning in swimming pools and spas, one hundred to hundred and fifty in bicycle accidents, and more than two hundred are killed annually at the hands of drunk drivers. Where are Senator Feinstein’s cries to ban pools, spas, and bicycles? Where is the demand that cars be made that preclude their operation by intoxicated drivers? Those cries are inaudible. That is because Senator Feinstein wants to ban guns; end of story. In 1995, in a CBS interview, Feinstein said, “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them . . . Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ’em all in, I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren’t here.”
We have a fundamental constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Once that right is lost we will never ever regain it. And without that right, every other one of our constitutionally guaranteed rights is in jeopardy. Do not allow our politicians to trade that sacred right for the hollow, ineffective promise of reduced crime through a restriction of that right. We must heed the admonition of Benjamin Franklin who said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”