Guns and the Second Amendment

November 30, 2015

In almost 21 months at this site, I’ve only written two posts that focused on guns and the Second Amendment. One of them, Guns: Embarrassed and Ashamed!, was posted less than three months ago, and its title tells you everything you need to know about my not saying enough about the problem of guns in America.

The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting prompted this post. Three dead. Several others will survive. The alleged shooter’s motives are not clear, although some evidence suggests a relationship between his views on abortion and the situs.

President Obama said “enough is enough” after the shooting. He and many others have used the same words, too often, with no evident change in the offing. identifies 351 mass shootings in the United States, more than the total number in 2014. And, of course, mass shootings don’t represent most shootings in America. Gun Violence Archive reports the stats for 2014. More than 140 shootings per day. More than 30 deaths per day.

The Second Amendment reads: 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 interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 in D.C. v. HellerNo. 07-290, the Second Amendment provides for an individual right to be free from governmental regulation of weapons. Until the National Rifle Association and gun rights activists revved up their engines over the past few decades, the mainstream legal community did not believe the Second Amendment had anything to do with your or my right to possess weapons, free from governmental regulations. Conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, after he retired, called the notion of an individual right to possess firearms, embodied in the Second Amendment, “a fraud on the American public.”

Alas, in Heller Justice Antonin Scalia found such a right, and got four more votes. The reasoning is tortured, the history is flawed, and there is lots of inconsistency associated with the concept. (No one, for example, challenges the right to regulate the possession of bazookas.) Nevertheless, five is a majority on the United States Supreme Court.

As it happens, and with a healthy respect for the notion that correlation does not imply causation, I looked at List of Countries by Firearm-related Death Rate. The numbers are, perforce, imprecise. Countries report over different periods of time, and reporting is likely better in some countries than others. That said, the U.S. reports 10.5 gunshot deaths per 100,000 people. That’s about one-fifth of the number who die in Honduras, Venezuela, and El Salvador, but it’s 5x the rate in Canada, 40x the rate in the UK, and about 160x the rate in Japan. Among OECD member nations—the OECD is a marker for developed economies—only the gun death rate in Mexico is higher than the U.S. rate, and it’s only marginally higher.

Now, each of Canada, the UK, and Japan, along with many other countries in the OECD, have strict gun control regimes. With respect for the  fact—and it is a fact—that correlation does not imply causation, correlation may reflect causation. (This is logic, readers. I took the class, 38 years ago. Got an A. And the gin hasn’t totally destroyed my memory or my cognitive functions.) Provide an explanation for the disparity, other than gun control, and I am all ears! Really!!!

I have a few closing thoughts on this disgraceful state of affairs. First, the gun rights movement tagline for decades has been “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” So I wonder:

When an angry husband with no criminal history kills his wife and children because she wants a divorce, what do we say?

When a driver, stressed out to all get out, grabs his pistol and fires at the driver whose driving almost killed him, what do we say?

When a four-year-old shoots a playdate playmate, because the gun was there, what do we say?

And what do we say about the criminals who used weapons stolen from law-abiding people whose guns are not locked up? (And how, exactly, will the arsenal protect its owners if it is locked up.)

Second, most people only focus on the horrific, mass shootings. They get reported. Cable junkies can “live the moments.” On the other hand, family violence situations don’t make the news, unless they happen in a small town, the participants are prominent, or there’s some other angle. And that’s where most of the killing occurs. People know one another, someone—not an outlaw, at least until he acts— gets angry, and lives are destroyed.

Finally, we really can’t blame the U.S. Supreme Court, or even our elected leaders, for this disgraceful state of affairs. Heller makes regulating guns harder, but an effective, nationwide regulatory scheme was never part of the mix. We live in a “you can’t make me” society which pays homage to the individual. And for so long as that’s who we are, we match up very well with our gun culture.

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