Since the gun massacre in Oregon earlier this month, various GOP presidential hopefuls have been scrambling over each other to climb into bed with the gun lobby and firearm zealots.
Dr. Ben Carson suggested that the best approach to disarming an active shooter is to rush the gunman and hope he doesn't shoot you in the process. Carson went on to talk about how once, instead of crushing a shooter at a Popeyes, he directed the criminal to the cashier. He described this incident as if it made him look heroic. It didn't. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, is busily attacking the Oregon shooter's anti-gun father for reasons that defy explanation. And, of course, Donald Trump has been all over the issue. Pivoting off his recently dropped "Second Amendment Rights" platform, Trump noted that he occasionally carries a firearm for the purposes of self-defense, the idea of which makes one think of Yosemite Sam, but with considerably worse hair.
Suffice to say, whenever there's a gun massacre, pro-gun conservative zealots take the absolute most extreme positions on the issue, going so far as to block any gun safety legislation, no matter how weak. Conversely, gun control activists and congressional Democrats tend to take frustratingly weak postures on the issue. For every Diane Feinstein, there are many more gun control supporters who tiptoe around the issue. Hell, even the post-Sandy Hook legislation supported by President Obama was a huge pander to Second Amendment extremists. Likewise, gun control supporters will often qualify new legislation by genuflecting to gun rights activists, qualifying every sentence with something along the lines of "We promise we're not coming for your guns, and feel free to hunt all you want."
It's the classic left-leaning negotiation flaw. Start from a position of compromise, then compromise even more until there's nothing remaining on the table. The NRA steamrolls any idea that even hints at capitulation. Give them an inch and they'll take a mile.
Too many massacres and too few gun control measures are, collectively, proof that starting from a place of deferential weakness has failed. Perhaps it's time to jettison all that and start from a position of strength. So here goes: There needs to be a serious push to either repeal or clarify the Second Amendment.
In the debate about guns and control, everything comes back to the validity and applicability of the Second Amendment in our modern context. What's its purpose? Why is it still necessary? Honestly, while I understand the arguments of the gun culture, I don't grasp why firearms need to be an intrinsic part of our Constitution and therefore untouchable as a product. The only legitimate reason it exists in 2015 is to provide a disproportionately sacrosanct, nearly biblical cover for the corporate, for-profit gun manufacturing industry. There's simply no other use for it, especially in a document filled with timeless and fully legitimate human rights.
Put another way: The Second Amendment is no longer a necessary means of self-preservation, as perhaps it might've been in an agrarian post-colonial America. Absent the hazards of the late 18th century, it has strictly become a means of protecting the availability of a retail product. Hardware. A hobby. Guns are a product that we don't absolutely have to own in order for democracy and liberty to flourish -- and, in fact, owning a gun is statistically bad for you, that is unless you earn your living manufacturing and selling them.
The original intent of the Second Amendment is dead. And, based on research by Thom Hartmann and others, the original intent to provide a means of patrolling slave quarters and putting down potential slave revolts (more on this presently) is as antiquated as the slave economy of nearly 150-plus years ago.
So what are the justifications for the Second Amendment? Specifically, what are the perceived reasons for the Second Amendment often cited by gun enthusiasts? (Incidentally, I assure you that James Madison, George Mason, Patrick Henry and the framers of the Bill of Rights never intended to codify an enthusiasm or a hobby as a human right.)
1) The Second Amendment is a necessary bulwark against tyranny. Nonsense. It's easily the biggest myth surrounding the Second. No gaggle of gun-toting rednecks or even a trained backwoods militia is any match for the American government and its military. If anyone is responsible for the exponential growth of the American government's military might, it ought to be the far-right goons who wallow in These Colors Don't Run! jingoism whenever the United States launches a war. I don't care how badass you think you might be, if the government wants to take you by force, it will. Certainly this isn't a comforting notion, but if you're worried about the unprecedented strength of the military-industrial complex, blame a conservative -- they've been foisting it upon us for decades.
2) The Second Amendment protects our ability to defend ourselves against criminals. Statistically speaking, you're less safe if you have a gun in your house. And numbers don't lie. Via Mother Jones, an Emory University study concluded, "For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home." So basic math obliterates self-defense as a valid justification. But if self-defense is a matter for the Constitution, then what about burglar alarms? Should ADT get an amendment?
3) The Second Amendment is necessary in the absence of law enforcement. This is the NRA's popular post-apocalyptic scenario, suggesting that when society breaks down and complete anarchy sweeps the land, we'll need guns or die. Okay sure. And we might need guns to help President Bill Pullman fight off space aliens, too. This argument redirects back to the previous point, which is that an amendment to protect something that's statistically more dangerous for the average homeowner in the event of a home invasion (before the cops arrive) is completely ridiculous. And, while we're here, what kind of shoot-outs are occurring during home invasions that require extended magazines and no time to reload? Going back to Hartmann as well, there was, in fact, a connection between this "absence of law enforcement" notion and the too-often unspoken intention of the amendment. Patrick Henry and other architects of the amendment wanted to preserve the southern institution of state militias which were tasked in part with guarding against slave revolts. Given how slaves often outnumbered slave owners, you can imagine why they were terrified enough to work something into the Bill of Rights, and use southern political muscle as a means of getting what they wanted. In the absence of a federal police force, therefore, a "well-regulated militia" became necessary for preserving the institution of slavery and the lives of the wealthy white landowners who benefited from it.
4) The Second Amendment is liberty! Sorry, but protecting the availability of firearms does nothing to foster a healthier democracy or perpetuate the existence of the United States. Nothing. The freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights and the further amendments beyond it generally augment the sustainability of basic human rights and American democracy. Gun ownership, however, does not -- at least in the modern context. (Interesting how the right to bear arms is codified in the Constitution and defended by mostly male enthusiasts, yet equal rights for women are not.) Yes, we're a nation founded upon liberty and freedom, but the freedom to buy a specific product, in this case firearms, no longer has any bearing on those values (if it ever did in the first place). There aren't amendments pertaining to the freedom to purchase any other product, yet our freedom to buy things is as healthy as ever. In fact, more than anything else we've become a consumer nation -- and without any constitutional amendments protecting the right to consume. Oh, and by the way, isn't it ironic that the same political faction that's the most hell-bent on protecting gun ownership and, in their words, "liberty," are the same people who are making it more difficult to cast a vote -- heaping new layers of government regulations and restrictions upon our most vital human right.
5) The Second Amendment protects hunting. First of all, there's nothing in the amendment about hunting, either for sport or for food or as a tradition. Secondly, why should a "sport" or tradition enjoy its own constitutional amendment? As for food, I actually agree that sustenance is a basic human right and so perhaps hunting for food within sustainable limits and regulations should be protected in some way. However, very few people would take seriously an amendment protecting the retail grocery store industry -- yet the gun industry gets a constitutional line-item somehow.
Again, we're only talking about a constitutional amendment that protects your right to buy a (deadly) retail product that ultimately carries no value to the perpetuation of the United States and American-style democracy. For all of these reasons, and in the absence of other amendments protecting other retail products, there's simply no need for an amendment protecting firearms in modern America. Take away this sacred justification, and we're left with a product, like any other, that falls squarely into the realm of government regulation for the benefit of public safety, just like everything else -- food, transportation, healthcare, housing -- even water and electricity. Guns shouldn't be allowed special latitude, especially based on an obsolete line in the Constitution.
Who knows if this will be a workable solution for new gun control successes, but the old solutions have failed. And the body count continues to rise, along with the for-profit gun manufacturing industry.