As an eight year old, I loved to play with toy guns. I never saw them as instruments of real death. At eight I had very little experience with real death. I knew Robocop, Commando, and Murder She Wrote. A big question of the time was “Who shot J.R.?” I knew of cowboys and quickdraws. I knew G.I. Joe used guns against the evil forces of COBRA. I knew that policemen were your friends and carried pistols in holsters. But, for many reasons, real and make believe – action and reaction – life and death – did not compute. And, when I hit junior high school and a shiny semi-automatic handgun was pointed at me in A.P. social studies when the teacher was out of the room, a pang of fear was quashed by the inability to emotionally process the reality of the situation. The gun was brought in by a student who took it from home. It was, luckily for me, not wielded with malice of intent. But it was the first time I had a gun pointed at me.
I will come right out and say that I do not support the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. I think that it should be rewritten to the point of virtual unrecognizability or abolished completely. I do not believe that civilians should have the right to bear arms other than those designed solely for the purpose of and limited exclusively to hunting animals within the limits of the laws pertaining to hunting.
There are several versions of the Second Amendment’s text, and each version has differences in capitalization and punctuation. This is based on text found in the official documents surrounding the adoption of the Bill of Rights. One version was passed by the Congress, while another is found in the copies distributed to the States and then ratified by them.
As passed by the Congress:
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.
As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
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.
For years I have conducted informal polls asking people to explain to me the need for a civilian citizen to own a device designed solely for the purpose of taking human life from various long distances. A common answer goes something like this:
“Americans need the power to defend ourselves from a potentially tyrannical government attempting to overstep their bounds by assuming marshal law.”
That’s a preposterous argument. If the most powerful military in the history of civilization wants to take over their own country, your owning of a Glock 9 or an Armalite AR-15 or an AK-47 is not going to stop them from sending tanks and drones and F-22 Raptors. I’m looking for a rational explanation of why the means by which to commit mass execution of human beings should be made easily available. That argument for the Second Amendment may have had its place in society several centuries ago. But, contrary to the arguments of Constitutional literalistic conservatives, we have, as a nation, outgrown the relevance of the Revolutionary War rationale.
The next argument usually consists of a self-righteous diatribe about having the right to defend oneself and one’s family. This comes with some reasonable and compelling points. Unfortunately, these points tend to be far more idealistic and theoretical than factually founded. Most instances of guns in the home lead to the gun owner mistakenly shooting a family member rather than a threatening assailant. Other common scenarios involve a minor seeking out or stumbling upon a loaded weapon and accidentally (or deliberately) harming or killing his or herself or another innocent individual.
The third and final common argument for maintaining America’s right to bear arms amendment has to do with hunting. Although I am not a hunter, I have no argument against those who are. In fact, those who hunt for food earn high levels of respect from me due to the actions they take for sustenance. I get my meat neatly packaged from the supermarket, neatly packaged by factory slaughterhouses that treat the animals inhumanely and rape the land and exploit their labor. Hunting is honest. That said, firearms designed for hunting animals tend to be distinctly different in design and purpose from those used to hunt humans. The main difference is that animals tend not to pose the threat of firing back. Have you ever heard a hunter say, “Cover me. Draw Bambi’s fire so I can get a shot at her.”? Can an individual use a single round, bolt-action rifle to take the life of another human being? Yes. But when one hears of instances of gun violence in the US, one does not often hear of a hunting rifle being used. Thus exists the term “assault weapon.”
I refuse to call these highlights. But, below are some of the most well publicized and, therefore, best remembered incidents between Columbine and present day.
April 20, 1999: Columbine High School, Littleton, CO: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire in their high school. Total injured and killed: 39
April 16, 2007: Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA: student Seung-Hui Cho, 23, opened fire on his school’s campus before committing suicide. Total injured and killed: 56
February 14, 2008: Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, IL: Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire in a lecture hall, then shot and killed himself before police arrived. Total injured and killed: 27
November 5, 2009: Fort Hood, TX: Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, opened fire on an Army base in an attack linked to Islamist extremism. Hasan was injured during the attack and later arrested. Total injured and killed: 43
January 8, 2011: Tuscon Shooting, Tuscon AZ: Jared Loughner, 22, opened fire outside a Safeway during a constituent meeting with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) before he was subdued by bystanders and arrested. Total injured and killed: 19
July 20, 2012: Aurora Theater Shooting, Aurora, CO: James Holmes, 24, opened fire in a movie theater during the opening night of The Dark Night Rises and was later arrested outside. Total injured and killed: 70
August 5, 2012: Sikh Temple Shooting, Oak Creek, WI: U.S. Army veteran Wade Michael Page, 40, opened fire in a Sikh gurdwara before he died from a self-inflicted gunshot would during a shootout with police. Total injured and killed: 10
December 14, 2012: Newtown School Shooting, Newtown, CT: Adam Lanza, 20, shot his mother dead at their home then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary school. He forced his way inside and opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults before committing suicide. Total injured and killed: at least 28
Of the 142 guns possessed by the killers, more than three-quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns. In fact, almost 70 were semi-automatic handguns, 35 were assault weapons, 21 were revolvers, and the rest were shotguns.
This leads to the NRA’s propagandist argument that if more people were armed, the casualties would have been fewer due to deterrent action by armed citizens. Scientific studies have been conducted to disprove this argument. Most of the situational experiments conducted involved training individuals to use firearms and placing them, unbeknownst to the subject, in a situation involving a mock attack by an armed assailant. The test used paint balls instead of live rounds, and the results tended toward a lot of innocent victims covered in paint and the “trained” subject accidentally shooting himself in the leg, a la Plaxico Burress.
But, even if that logic held truth, because of the most recent tragedy, should elementary school children be armed? “Here honey. Don’t forget your lunch and your Glock. Now hurry before you miss the bus!”
There has even been talk of arming teachers. I will not even entertain this suggestion as worthy of discussion due to the sheer number of pages worth of flaws about which I would need to write.
I am sure to incur responses that include discussion of adequate background checks and mental illness. I am well aware of how much easier it is to obtain a gun than it is to receive adequate identification and treatment of mental illness. Mental health issues are fluid. Tuesday, I may pass every test for mental health and capacity for purchase of firearms. One day, week, month, or year later I may be psychologically unstable enough to unload 800 rounds into a daycare. But not if I don’t have a gun.
If my lengthy discussion has not yet completely distracted from my earlier mention of my junior high school classroom stare-down with a smug adolescent wielding a shiny sidearm, I will revisit only long enough to say that there was no resolution or responsive action taken. Neither myself nor any other student in the classroom told on the kid. I don’t remember if I was too scared or too desensitized to understand the reality of the situation. It was a rough school. Fights were common. Violence was an accepted part of the curriculum. No harm, no foul. Right? I can’t even remember the name of the youth in question. I couldn’t even look him up on Facebook to see if he is a lawyer or a construction worker or a cop or an unemployed veteran or incarcerated for murder. I have former friends who are incarcerated for murder. I have former friends in the ground, shot execution style at the Johnston Landfill in exchange for a joyride in an early model Ford SUV. A friend (this one alive and well and on Facebook) responded to my inquiry about guns in America by saying “Guns are a part of our world.” My response was, “So is cancer. That kills people, too. Should I have a Constitutional right for you to die of cancer?”
So, please. Anyone with a rational explanation of the ease of availability of high powered assault weapons created only to kill human beings en masse, explain. Extended clips and magazines for handguns included. Because I think they need to be banned and no one, as of yet, has been able to give me anything that doesn’t translate to, “I like to shoot guns and you can’t take that away ‘cuz the Constitution says so.”