On April 20, 1999, two teenage students at Columbine High School in Colorado brought guns to school and randomly shot their fellow students and teachers. The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students and 1 teacher, wounded 23 others, then committed suicide. They woke up that morning, got themselves a gun ... because they wanted to be the "chosen one," to show everybody what's what.
These two young people would never have succeeded in killing, or inflicting much harm at all on a school full of young strong teenagers and adults, if the killers did not have guns.
For many years, we have also witnessed young people, sometimes children, randomly committing what are called "drive-by" shootings. A group of young people, often under-age, get into a car together, have with them assault weapons, drive around looking for another young person walking on the sidewalk or standing in front of a home, then shoot and murder that other young person. Often they claim that the victim was a member of another gang. Sometimes just being in no gang is sufficient grounds for someone to be killed. We don't hear as much of a public outcry about these young victims because they tend to live in gang-controlled neighborhoods which, in turn, tend to be black or hispanic majority neighborhoods.
The importance, significance to society, amount of media and politician attention, merited by the death of teenagers and children is largely dependent on the race and class of the victim. Middle-class white kid victims get the most attention. Black kids get the least.
But let's pretend for the moment that all children matter, that each time a child is murdered in this country by a gun, particularly if the gun is held by another child, that is a significant and serious loss to our entire country. Let's assume that every adult in this country has a primary responsibility to protect and provide safety for each child in this country. Let's assume for the moment that a society in which adults do not protect their children is a society which soon will cease to exist.
Do The Citizens Have The Right To Pass Gun-Control Laws
We now run into the fundamental question: how can we stop this spread of gun violence? Can we prohibit the sale of guns to children? Can we restrict the sale of guns to adults? Can we ban assault-weapons, or any weapon that fires more than one bullet at a time? Can we ban the sale of hand-guns? Can we require all gun owners to carry insurance to cover the potential death of another citizen by that gun? We require people to carry liability insurance on their cars -- why not on their guns, too? Can we have laws that make people wait 30, 60 days after filling out an application before they can actually receive a gun? Can we prohibit sale of guns to anyone who has ever had a domestic disturbance police visit to their home in which they were involved in a domestic disturbance incident? What about anyone who ever had a DUI? Can we make it illegal to sell a gun to them?
Can we make it illegal for people to carry guns to school, or to church, or to public parks? Can we make the decision that the safety of the majority against even accidental gunfire trumps the wishes of one person to carry a gun? The gun manufacturers, through their front organizations, claim that the citizens have no right to pass gun-control laws, and that they have the right to sell guns to anyone, even to infants if they want to. They are wrong, but they have paid so much money in bribes to our politicians that they keep getting away with selling their lies to the public
The NRA And The Gun Sellers And Money In Politics
Whenever the citizens of this country try to come up with laws to restrict or control gun ownership, the gun and ammunition manufacturers industries, through their front organization the National Rifle Association, launch a major assault to prevent those laws from being enacted or, when they are enacted, to bring lawsuits before right-wing corrupt judges to get the laws overturned. (Note the name: National RIFLE association, has nothing to do with handguns or assault weapons, and was originally a rifle-safety group, but now is just a hack organization, a pusher for the gun makers). The entire reason for the existence of the NRA is to make money by allowing every person to have a gun, to create more violence and killing, and create the fear that will lead people to buy more guns, which means they make more money. It's all about money
So why do they get away with it? First, they have a lot of money that they devote to advertising, marketing, public relations, and a phony campaign which unfortunately has convinced even the non-gun-owners that the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to own a gun. The Constitution does no such thing.
Second, they use their money to oppose any politician who supports any regulation of guns. They fund opponents, and throw out of office any politician who supports any gun control whatsoever
(Columbine killers: what's the likelihood they were the only seriously screwed-up kids in our country who ever will exist and who would ever get their hands on guns and use them to murder others? Ask the parents of the dead kids at Virginia Tech.)
Third, they give money to right-wing politicians and buy their votes as well as their open public support. So you have Republicans trotting around the country (and some Democrats too) extolling the virtues of gun-ownership, speaking in public, proclaiming their love of the slaughter of small furry unarmed animals as a sign of their commitment to pointless murder of animals. To show how manly they are. Or, in the case of Sarah Palin, to show how hot they are. You know -- bikini babe loves the hot barrel of a gun. Wink.
Founding Documents Of Our Democracy
So let's look at the underpinning of the legal support for the position that everyone is entitled to have any gun they want, and the Constitution says so. The gun pushers rely on the ambiguous language of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which reads as follows:
"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."
The question is: what does this language mean? It is ambiguous on its face. First it refers to a "militia," which is commonly understood to mean a local, or state-based group of armed citizens existing to protect the people. Does that mean that a local community, like a city, has the right to authorize citizens to have guns, for use in a city militia? Second, it refers to the State. Does that mean that the State has the right to authorize citizens to have guns, for use in a State Militia? The first clause can fairly be read to mean that in order for each State to keep its own security, each State is entitled to have its own militia. Let's consider what it does not say in the first clause. It does not say that in order for individuals to maintain their individual security, individuals have some right to own weapons. It is not discussing individual rights or security. The clause only is discussing the rights of a State.
The second clause refers to the "right of the people to keep and bear arms." But that's not a separate sentence, it is not a statement by itself: it is qualified by the first part of the sentence referring to the right of a State to have a militia -- in other words, individuals have a right to bear arms for purposes of serving in a State Militia.
The language isn't clear. Arguments have been made for all the above. Only the NRA argument -- of some absolute, God-given right -- is accepted by the right-wing. But the other arguments are equally valid.
Keep and Bear Arms
Let's look closer: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." What does that clause mean, if it is not limited to a State Militia? The NRA argues this means that the federal government can do nothing to infringe the right of any citizen from bearing arms at any time at all. And the words "keep and bear" are equal in that clause, tied together. Which, if we accept the NRA view, means that the federal government can never "infringe" the "right" of individuals to keep and bear arms whenever and wherever they like. This means visitors to federal prisons must be constitutionally allowed to bring assault weapons in with them when they visit their criminal friends. Angry litigants can carry weapons into federal court. Visitors to the Supreme Court can enter fully-armed. We can all carry guns on airplanes, as many as we want. This would be the logical extension of the NRA's absurd argument.
The NRA view would also mean that if some citizen had openly vowed to kill a Senator, and all citizens have the right to enter into the public building which is the Senate, then the second amendment means the federal government cannot stop the armed assassin from going into the Senate and shooting the Senator. That is a ridiculous suggestion. Obviously the federal government can restrict and prohibit the bearing of arms by individuals when appropriate. Such as by saying no guns in the Senate, or in any federal office. No guns can be brought into federal prisons or onto federally-regulated airplanes. How about no guns along the parade route for a politician's tour? How can we reconcile that common-sense truth with the language of the second amendment? Only by acknowledging the second amendment is talking about state militias, and does not create any constitution "right" to bear arms for individuals.
The broadest possible fair reading of the second amendment is that it is silent on the rights of individual citizens to own or bear arms, and it instead is addressed to the right of a State to allow their citizens to bear arms to serve in a State Militia. Which means the constitution is silent on the question of individual gun ownership other than as a participant in a State Militia. Let's look at some of the founding documents of our country to see if we can make sense of this issue.
The Declaration of Independence was issued in 1776, over a year after the colonies were already at war with George III and England. This excerpt describes the motivation:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. ... But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
What does this language tell us? The text refers to Men (meaning individuals), Governments (entities formed by Men to serve the purposes of the Men), the Right of the People (presumably meaning the individuals), the right to overthrow a government and provide for a new government "to effect their Safety" and provide for "their future security." It says nothing about any individual right to own or bear arms. It instead refers to individuals setting up a Government to provide for safety and security as a collective act.
Then we have the Constitution. After George III went home, the colonies decided to set up a formal relationship among themselves which later became the federal government. The individuals, the citizens, weren't so keen on the idea of having another centralized government very distant from their communities, and figured it would become just another despotic regime like the one they'd just overthrown. So the statesmen and leaders who supported the federal government did certain things to allay the concerns of the people.
The Constitution gave the federal government very narrow areas of authority, mostly just things that individual states or communities couldn't handle that well on their own. Such as, for example, the federal government was given the authority and the duty to set up a postal service so that the people from Virginia could send letters to their families in Massachusetts. And the federal government was also given the authority and duty to set up a road system to connect all of the colonies, so people would have a reasonable way to travel to see each other. And, of course, the federal government was given the duty and authority to provide a common defense for all the colonies
But even after the Constitution had been drafted in such a narrow manner, some of the individuals were still concerned about the idea of a centralized government. And thats why the first ten amendments to the Constitution were drafted -- what later became known as the Bill of Rights.
Contrary to popular views, the Bill of Rights does not give rights to the citizens. It only restricts the power or authority of the federal government. It limits what the federal government can do.
For example, the First Amendment does not give people freedom of speech -- it just says the federal government can't do anything to abridge the freedom of speech. The first amendment doesn't give people the freedom to practice religion. It just says the federal government should not "establish" some national religion, or prohibit people from practicing religion.
First Amendment To the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Note: this is a broad statement limiting the role of the federal government. It does not say what the states may or may not do. Even then, the freedom of speech can be curtailed to protect the health and safety of the community (you can't yell fire in a crowded theatre because that is likely to cause trampling and great bodily injury to other people).
The First Amendment does not provide that religion is the foundation of our country, or that we are a Christian nation. It just says that the government is not going to (1) create or establish a religion (and, implicitly, require people to join that church) and it also will not (2) prohibit people from practicing whatever religion they choose (or not practicing if that's what they choose). The Separation of Church and State means that the government should stay out of religion.
However, that does not mean that religions can do whatever they want without government interference. Churches are subject to fire laws, crowding, noise abatement, health and safety rules. If a church wants to run a Sunday dinner for its members, their kitchen will be subject to the same health and safety regulations as will the local diner. And if they can't meet the standards, or somebody can prove the kitchen is drawing roaches and rats, and the church people can't prevent that, then the local city can prohibit the kitchen from serving the meal. Even if they call it a "communion" meal, claim it's a part of their religious ritual -- it's still subject to outright prohibition under the standard health and safety rules of the community. Of if their "communion" consists of smoking marijuana, the government can still prohibit the practice if that is the health and safety regulations that applies to everyone else.
Second Amendment: "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." Note: discussed above. But even if this were given the reading supported by gun pushers, this amendment should be given no more authority than the first amendment is. Which means that the "rights" of anyone to own arms should be subject to the health and safety concerns of the local community. As above. If it is shown that assault weapons, automatic weapons, and handguns inevitably lead to an increase in gun deaths, then the state or local communities should be entitled to ban them outright just like they can shut down the church kitchen and its "ritual communion" meals which are drawing rats and roaches to the neighborhoods. Same principle.
Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Note: this is the most interesting amendment, little discussed although getting more attention of late. The power and authority given to the federal government is restricted. Any power not given to the federal government in the Constitution, and any power which the Constitution does not "prohibit" to the States, belongs to the States or to the people. What does that mean?
Well first, the Constitution specifically grants certain powers to the federal government. At the same time, it also prohibits the States from trying to exercise certain powers usually because that would lead to inconsistent and incompatible results. If the federal government is going to set up and run a national postal system, for example, you can't have each individual State setting up their own rules about what size the envelope must be to pass through their territory -- that would make a national postal system impossible. For another example, since the federal government is given authority to enter into treaties with foreign countries, the states are denied that -- or the constitution "prohibits" that power from the States.
But we're still left with this question from the Tenth Amendment: powers not given to the federal government or prohibited to the States "belong to the States or to the people." Well, which is it? Is it the States? Or the people? If the federal government is given no authority in the Constitution to regulate issues regarding individuals owning or bearing firearms, does the State have the authority and ability to do that? I would argue yes. Because it is not "prohibited" to the States.
So how can we fairly interpret these founding documents, the amendments, specifically the second amendment, and the issue of gun control.
The second amendment can be fairly interpreted to mean that the federal government has no authority to prevent the states from setting up their own, armed, militias. I do not think it is a complete ban on the federal government restricting guns on federal territory -- such as prohibiting the assassin from walking into the Senate, fully armed, for the purpose of assassinating a Senator. The drafters of the Constitution were not stupid, and did not intend such a result.
A fair reading of the second amendment, giving reasonable weight to both clauses, shows that it has nothing to do with the right of an individual to own or bear a weapon for personal use. The first clause of the second amendment regarding the right of states to have a well-armed militia for the security of the state is there for a reason. It explains the second part. The second amendment has nothing to do with individual gun ownership. The Constitution is silent on the subject of individual gun ownership.
But even assuming we accepted the NRA argument that the second amendment prohibited the federal government from abridging the rights of individuals to own or bear arms, that does not mean that the states or cities cannot make laws prohibiting gun ownership, or regulating it pursuant to health and safety regulations of any community. There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the States from doing so. And pursuant to the Tenth Amendment, any power not given to the federal government goes to the State.
The right-wing promotes irrational fear to support gun ownership for everyone. They say that "when" the federal government comes to throw us all in prison, then we will need our guns. But that's just silly. The only way the citizens have any ability to stand up to some mythical federal government that wants to imprison us all, or kill us all, would be if the citizens had their own military with as many people, and as sophisticated weapons, as the U.S. military has -- the biggest military in the world. So it's just ludicrous, part of the right-wing fantasy, to suggest that some guy with a handgun is going to hold off an assault from the federal government, assuming such a thing could happen. Would they also argue that individuals have the right to have nuclear weapons? Apparently so.
The only way that people can control their own government is by organizing, standing together for their rights. A few guys with handguns, listening to the crazed drug-addict on the radio, imagining themselves John Wayne or Rambo, will likely end up with a few more wives or girlfriends dead from these guys once they've had too many beers, or maybe their kids or neighbors' kids dead because kids will always want to play with guns.
So the next time some politician whines that they can't do anything to impose gun control, keep this in mind: they could do it if they wanted to. But they just don't want to stand up to the gun pushers of this country. It's a financial decision on their part to let our children continue to be murdered by other children.
A Brief Word On The CourtsBefore I became an attorney, I assumed that judges were the smartest people in the legal profession. It made sense. After all, they must have a very sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the law so they can rule on legal issues. Two attorneys go into court. They each say the law should be interpreted in favor of their client. The judge has to make the decision as to which attorney is right. It is a very important job.
So imagine my surprise after I had been practicing law for some time when I learned that most judge positions are patronage spots -- "Heck of a Job Brownie" positions that people get because they have connections and are supported by one of the two major political parties. If there is a Democratic Governor, then Democrats will become local judges if there is a vacancy. If there is a Republican Governor, then Republicans will be appointed. Same for the federal benches: Democratic Presidents appoint mostly Democratic judges, Republican Presidents appoint Republican judges. It's a political patronage position. That's important, because it means that the judges have their own strong political affiliations and views which create bias in their rulings.
The reason people fight about who will be appointed judges by the President of the United States is that those judges can essentially destroy the constitution by absurd ideological rulings. Such as the judges who prohibit gun control and buy the NRA position that individuals can own and bear arms whenever they want. Some judges decide what outcome they want, then tell their clerks to come up with some rationalization to support it. Just because a judge says that you can't ban handguns, for example, means nothing at all. It just means that judge is a conservative, was appointed to the bench because he was a conservative, and will stand up for the right-wing in this country even if it inevitably means that more Americans will die because of that decision. Some judges do not think "the people" should have any rights at all.
So we have elected politicians who will do nothing to protect the people, and instead take money from the NRA so that we have armed gangs terrorizing our neighborhoods. You know -- just like the pirates in Somalia. And then we have judges who ideologically support the right-wing against the reasonable needs of the citizens to be protected against gun violence.
Bottom line: the reason we have so many gun deaths in this country is corruption in our political and judicial system. If enough citizens demanded a complete ban on at least handguns and assault weapons, and serious restrictions on rifles or shotguns, then we would finally get some decent gun laws.
NRA bribes paid to politicians: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/06/nra-aims-for-results.html