“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are incompatible with a craven Supreme Court majority’s opening the doors to madness in 2008 by ruling in the Heller decision that the Second Amendment applies to individual gun ownership—in people’s homes. Many legal scholars question that interpretation of the Second Amendment, which ignores the reference to a “well-regulated militia.”
It’s been all down hill from there.
Today, if there were a Guinness Book of Shameful World Records, the US would be on top. We have more guns than men, women, children, and babies in this country. We are teetering between horror and numbness as mass shootings with weapons of war devastate one community after another. There seem to be few gathering places where “the unthinkable” is no longer unthinkable.
A reporter who was in Georgia to cover the latest murderous attack—in a Walmart—noted a general unease around him. Georgia, you see, is an open carry state, allowing people to purchase and carry a firearm without a permit or license.
So in the midst of the shock and horror of confronting this pre-Thanksgiving carnage, plenty of people were calmly walking around with their weapons in plain sight. The reporter, for one, found the sight of so many nonchalantly armed pedestrians quite disarming.
There are twenty-six open carry states at this point.
How did we reach this intolerable situation? The convoluted story’s beyond my summation in a blog post. But at the core are the gun manufacturers—draping themselves in patriotism–fronted by a willing National Rifle Association that has become more radical over the years, buying elected officials decade after decade.
The NRA has fallen into hard times. With their leader disgraced by revelations of his high living and poor marksmanship in trying to make an elephant into a trophy, the lobbyists filed for bankruptcy, then relocated to Texas after a New York judge said that filing was in bad faith.
But last year, they were still able to prevent President Biden from installing his Senate-confirmed nominee as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). They vastly outspend all the gun safety organizations in lobbying and elections.
The NRA is “aided and abetted by an interlocking array of groups with lower national profiles,” according to The Daily Beast. The article described the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which, with dreadful irony, has its headquarters two miles from the Sandy Hook school where first graders were massacred in 2012.
Before the November election, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), one of the foremost gun safety advocates in the Senate (who was a Congressman representing Newtown when the shooting occurred) warned that gun safety legislation was one of the critical issues on the ballot.
He was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough Republican Senators to push through the kind of meaningful legislation that was promised following the modest compromise law that was hailed as great progress in June of this year.
We accomplished a great deal in this midterm election, and democracy and abortion were very much on the minds of voters who turned back some scary trends. I don’t wish to sound flippant, but guns have so permeated our culture that our language reeks of them: just weeks ago, our democracy dodged a bullet.
In good measure, credit for that result goes to Generation Z voters, who are animated by reproductive rights and voting rights. Yet these young people are the generation whose school years have been marred by active shooter drills. Studies have been documenting the trauma these drills themselves create. Not surprisingly, sensible gun safety legislation is one of Gen Z’s core issues as well.
For such legislation, they—and we—will probably have to wait. Among the odious leaders of the incoming House of Representatives, we find the depravity of campaign photos and Christmas cards showing parents and their young children armed with long guns.
We’ve already seen the People’s House defiled by Kyle Rittenhouse, the young killer who was an invited guest and considers himself a Representative-to-be. Ashli Babbitt, the young woman insurrectionist who was shot and killed as she tried to storm the Capitol, is lionized, and there are plans to go after the government official who shot her while doing his job protecting the Capitol, its occupants, and the peaceful transfer of power.
Yet none of this is what the majority of Americans want. A Pew Research poll conducted after President Biden signed this year’s legislation found 64% approval of the law, with 32% expressing strong approval. Only 21% said they disapproved of the law; 11% strongly disapproved. (Fifteen percent weren’t sure.)
Notably, most Americans in this poll felt there was a need for more legislation, expressing concern the new law wasn’t enough to reduce gun violence.
“About six-in-ten Americans (63%) would like to see Congress pass additional legislation to address gun violence, although there are deep partisan divides on this issue. Roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) say they would like to see another round of legislation, while just 32% of Republicans say the same.”
I think we must put that “deep partisan divide” into perspective. The poll found strong support among all racial demographic groups, with Asian Americans, the fastest growing demographic, at 75%. And we know from this election that pollsters have been over-representing Republicans in their samplings, while the numbers of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents outnumber them in the electorate. Without gerrymandering and voter suppression, I see reason to conjecture that Americans are less divided on this issue than that poll suggests.
There are two issues that gun safety advocates believe could make a big difference: expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons. According to an NPR report, polls show that 90% of Americans support expanded background checks. A Public Policy Polling survey found that 83% of gun owners support them, including 72% of NRA members.
Everytown for Gun Safety cites an article in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery that concluded
“Researchers estimate that if we still had a federal Assault Weapon Ban, we’d see 70 percent fewer mass shooting deaths.”
Following the horrific Uvalde shooting, when armed law enforcement officers stood outside while children begged for help and their small bodies were later found decimated by firepower, I was struck by the request from Texas officials that all parents should routinely provide a DNA sample of their children for identification purposes.
If that doesn’t move people to insist that their legislators enact a ban on these weapons, I don’t know what would.
What is the law enforcement community’s position on this issue? The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) issued a Firearms Policy Position Statement in 2018 outlining what it called “common sense policies that would assist in reducing gun violence, while upholding the second amendment.”
This document appears to me to be completely aligned with the goals of sensible gun safety legislation that has received legislative consideration, though rarely action.
Here’s what the IACP says about Semi-Automatic Assault Weapons:
Criminal Use of Semi-Automatic Assault Weapons
“First passed in 1994, the assault weapons ban required domestic gun manufacturers to stop
production of semi-automatic assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than ten rounds except for military or police use. While the ban was in place, it was remarkably effective in reducing the number of crimes involving assault weapons. In the period of the ban, (1994-2004) the proportion of assault weapons traced to crimes fell by a dramatic 66 percent.
“Semi-Automatic assault weapons are routinely the weapons of choice for gang members and drug dealers. They are regularly encountered in drug busts and are all too often used against police officers.
“The IACP has been a strong supporter of the assault weapons ban since 1992, and our membership has approved several reauthorizations of support in the years since. The membership took this action because we, as law enforcement executives, understand that the criminal use of semiautomatic assault weapons pose a grave risk to our officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.”
Chris Brown, President of the Brady Campaign, has said that expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban could be passed during this lame duck session of Congress. If they aren’t, we can foresee the rising toll of death and grievous injuries in the next two years of inaction at best, or even further shredding of our gun safety laws.
President Biden said on Thanksgiving that he is counting the votes for a federal assault weapons ban because
“the idea we still allow semiautomatic weapons to be purchased is sick…It has no social redeeming value, zero, none. Not a single, solitary rationale for it.”
I know this lame duck session has a crowded calendar, including important bills regarding the Debt Ceiling and the Electoral Count Act. Nevertheless, on Monday, I plan to call my member of Congress and two Senators to urge them to do their best to pass the following pieces of legislation before this session ends: further funding for Ukraine; additional funds for Covid to replace the government’s dwindling resources; and passage of expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban.
All three are life and death issues. If enough of us exercise our democratic rights now, can we make a difference?
We won’t know if we don’t try.