We Americans kill each other and ourselves at an alarming rate. “Gun violence” is one of the big political debates. Each mass shooting brings beating of breasts and “thoughts and prayers” and cries to “do something” and then, again and again, nothing happens. We, individually, must act. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
The number of deaths by guns has risen dramatically since 2012 when 28 were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook School. In 2021 there were 47, 337 deaths caused by firearms in this country. For comparison 42,915 people died in automobile accidents that year. More than half of gun deaths are suicides (26,328 in 2021) and another large chunk are targeted murders. “Mass shootings”, where four or more people are injured or killed in one incident, are less common (703 killed in 2021) but receive much more news coverage. We are still reeling from the most recent one at Covenant School in Nashville where six died.
Everyone points fingers and nothing changes. We need to acknowledge the anger and the lack of empathy that drives some of us to kill others and the hopelessness, bullying and isolation that often leads to self-destruction. Our homes and our churches and our schools have failed to adequately address these issues. I do not want to be shot, I do not want my neighbor or family members to be shot or shoot themselves. I want to feel free, and safe, to attend a public gathering without having to keep my eyes wide open looking for danger.
The question remains, what can be done? First there is legislation. Clearly you cannot shoot yourself or someone else if you do not have a gun. One solution would be to outlaw all guns. That, however, cannot happen under our current Constitution which says, in the 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.” Most advocates for the broadest interpretation of this provision talk only about the last phrase of this amendment implying that it is an unlimited and unlimitable right.
The rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution are not without some limitations. For example, freedom of speech has been broadly interpreted to include speech, actions and numerous other ways of “speaking”. Even so, there can be limits to the time, place and manner of speech. Generally, these are to balance other rights or a legitimate government interest. For example, I cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater causing a stampede and plead that I am protected by my right to free speech. Fighting words, defamation, fraud, child pornography, speech integral to illegal conduct, speech that incites imminent lawless action are categories of speech that are restricted. Logically the Second Amendment can be similarly limited by government when balancing public safety and preservation of life against the “right to bear arms.”
Arms are not defined. Clearly, in 1787, when the Constitution was written, machine guns, AR-15s and other semiautomatic weapons did not exist, so perhaps there could be legislation to define “arms” to exclude certain types of weapons and ammunition. Machine guns have been strictly regulated since 1934, and the importation and manufacture for nonmilitary use of machine guns was banned outright in 1986. That ban was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1991 rejecting a Second Amendment challenge. Congress, in 1994, under the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, banned private manufacture, transfer, or possession of semiautomatic assault weapons for a period of 10 years. No Second Amendment challenge was successfully raised during that decade. Unfortunately, that ban was not re-enacted and, since then, the slaughters at Sandy Hook School, Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, Sutherland Springs Church, Las Vegas concert, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, the Buffalo grocery store and Uvalde, were all committed with the use of semiautomatic assault weapons.
Safety is a primary issue. There are some people that just should not possess a gun. Stricter background checks, with no loopholes, and requirements of training in gun safety prior to an individual purchasing a gun seem like obvious necessities. The National Rifle Association started out with gun safety as a primary goal and taught safe firearms use. Their focus has since changed to a more inflexible defense of any gun ownership with virtually no restrictions. They spend a lot of money advocating that. For example, our own Rep. John Joyce received $49,444 from the NRA and pro-gun committees in 2018.
I have been asking myself again and again, what can I do? Some ideas for myself: Keep my own firearm secure and out of reach of others, especially children, and practice safe use when I hunt. Work on any anger that I have and try to model nonviolent communication. Be aware of friends and family that are struggling with depression. Volunteer for time on a crisis hotline. Contact my legislators to advocate for rational gun safety measures. Speak out, write letters to the editor. Encourage people to begin civil discourse with each other about solutions. What can you do?
The above editorial was written by Linda Gunn. Her views are her own.
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