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WE ARE KILLING US
I can't believe what a wuss Wayne LaPierre has become. Armed guards in every school in America-- how wimpy is that? Other milquetoasts advocate arming principals and classroom teachers--- more half-measures. Any red-blooded lover of the sacred Second Amendment knows the children should be packing heat!
What could go wrong?
But seriously, folks...
We should repeal and replace the Second Amendment. It is the most incoherent and trouble-making single sentence in the entire US Constitution:
"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."
Did James Madison (bless his heart) envision that his words would someday mean that 100 million Americans would own 300 million guns, including "assault weapons" that would enable one shooter to slaughter an entire infantry division of 18th-century soldiers?
He left the word "arms" undefined, but it would seem that Mr. Madison could only have had in mind the sort of hand-held military weapons the Continental Army used in battle, that its soldiers might have used before the war for hunting, and taken home with them after the war to use for hunting, and kept ready if called to militia duty: flintlock muskets and pistols, capable of firing a single shot, and requiring reloading before another shot could be fired.
Presumably he did not imagine that individuals should be allowed to own the mass-casualty weapons of his day: cannons loaded with grapeshot or exploding shells, and use them to settle private disputes, or to massacre children in public schools.
Mr. Madison also did not define "a well-regulated Militia," but the National Guard has always been our "well-regulated Militia." The Guard began with three militia companies founded by the Massachusetts Bay Colony on December 13, 1636. George Washington once commanded the Virginia Militia, which became a part of the National Guard, a state-based, nationally coordinated, part-time, citizen-soldier alternative to the permanent national standing armies of Europe. A group of private citizens parading around with guns is not a "well-regulated Militia." It might be a gang.
Do you still have to bring your own weapon when you join the Guard? Did Adam Lanza, the Newport shooter, belong to the Guard? I don't think so.
THE NEW SECOND AMENDMENT
"The right of qualified adult US citizens of sound mind to keep and bear registered, non-military arms shall not be infringed."
If all gun laws were based on this revised Amendment, adult US citizens with clean records and sound minds could still own and collect rifles and shotguns and pistols with which they could hunt, have target practice, defend themselves, and, of course, murder each other, use to commit crimes, and/or kill themselves. But the mass slaughters to which we have become accustomed would eventually be curtailed, as weapons capable of perpetrating them are taken out of circulation.
No doubt some diehard "patriot" types would find this version of their sacred text emasculating in the extreme. They already imagine, or long for, a future in which they take up arms against a tyrannical Federal Government...especially now that it's led by a black man. (Gun sales skyrocketed after Obama's first and second victories, as they also do after every massacre.) These peoples' paranoia is driving the whole debate about guns. They imagine that the Second Amendment implies a right to take up arms against the government, which is, however, forbidden by the Treason Clause, Section Three of the Constitution: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." The National Guard defended the Republic against internal uprisings like Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and the Confederacy. Along with the ATF, FBI, and US Marshals, the Guard would presumably be called on to defend the Republic against attacks by any private "militia" or other armed gang.
Repealing and replacing the Second Amendment will be a long-term, difficult process. However, just as Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation needed to be made part of the Constitution by the 14th Amendment, the coming new restrictions on gun ownership will only become permanent if the new Second Amendment is entered into the Constitution. A frontal approach in the US Congress is unlikely succeed anytime soon, given the present dysfunction, but grassroots citizen petitions could drive the introduction of resolutions in all fifty state legislatures to consider the new Second Amendment.
THE THREE TYPES OF GUN OWNERS
The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who have guns for hunting, target shooting, and/or self-protection. They have considered the possibility that they may someday use a gun to kill an aggressor, or else they wouldn't own a gun; but they expect that they would be have to be forced to do it, only do it in self-defense. They don't actively fantasize about killing people but the thought has to cross their minds; in fact they might dread it. They own guns because it is part of their cultural tradition and personal identity to own guns. They don't think they are doing anything wrong--- and they aren't doing anything wrong. (But if they ever want to...they already have the guns. So, there's that.)
The second distinct group of gun owners are criminals, the very people the law-abiding gun owners, and the doomsday warriors, have armed themselves against. Practical-minded criminals use guns as tools, to commit their crimes. (Their motto comes from Al Capone: "You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.") However, criminals, even when they try to be practical, tend to have poor impulse control: they shoot when something goes wrong, out of fear or anger. (Because, hey, the guy pissed me off, and I had a gun...) Also, criminals have plenty of enemies (mainly other criminals, and gun-owning victims who might fight back, or seek revenge, but also the police) and feel they need guns for self-protection...just like law-abiding citizens feel they need guns to protect themselves from criminals.
And third, of course, some gun owners are crazy people. PJ O'Rourke, reporting in Rolling Stone during the 1985 civil war in Beirut, wrote that the situation was so dangerous that "You'd be crazy not to have a gun. Of course, all the crazy people have guns too."
The crazy shooter is way past caring about money. He doesn't want to rob you. He doesn't know you, and you didn't do him any wrong, but he wants to kill you--- and all the people around you, too. The crazy shooter isn't interested in hunting animals or target practice, except as practice for shooting people. Some crazy shooters were already criminals before they went on their rampage, like the old creep in Webster, NY, but many seem to have been law-abiding gun owners...until they went on their rampage.
One type of crazy shooter we thankfully haven't seen too much of in America so far is the political or religious crazy shooter. Most of our crazy shooters seem to have a grudge against people like themselves--- not members of another ethnic, religious, or political group. They don't hate "them": they hate "us." And they are us. (Here's another perfect opportunity to quote Walt Kelly's Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us.") They kill us because they think we're the enemy.
In most countries mass killings, if they occur at all, only occur out of some sort of religious or political or ethnic motivation. They are acts of terror, acts of war. Our killers are mostly damaged members of the same society they attack so viciously. A Palestinian or Taliban or Tamil suicide bomber kills his target and himself in the name of what he perceives, however evilly in our estimation, to be a greater end--- the defense of his religion or his ethnic group or the liberation of his homeland--- a cause larger than himself. His cause gives his killing, and his death, its meaning as far as he is concerned.
Our mass killers kill us, and themselves, for...what?
Mostly revenge for their not having been accepted by society in a way that suited their self-images, it seems. Bullies picked on them in school, nobody understands them, etc. And maybe because they feel their lives have had no meaning.
Our mass killers seem to be solipsistic, infantile nihilists for whom nothing is real but their fantasies of grievance and revenge. They may not even be "insane" by textbook definition. They are capable of meticulous planning. They understand cause and effect. Some are described as brilliant. They know that what they are planning to do, or are doing, or have just done, is "wrong," which may be why so many of them kill themselves just before being caught. (They are suicidal, but mere suicide isn't enough. They want to kill other people before they either kill themselves, or let the police do the job for them.) But even though they may not be insane, they are still crazy.
Since the 9-11 World Trade Center attacks, we have been in what we call a "War on Terror" and have turned ourselves into a "Homeland Security State." If all the mass killings in America since then had been the work of al-Qaeda, with Muslim gunmen using military-style assault weapons legally purchased in America, (the only case like this was that of Major Ghassan, who used his military weapon, at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, to kill thirteen fellow soldiers) perhaps something would have been done about our gun laws by now. But the fact that "we" are killing "us" has meant that we tut-tut for a few days and then go back to (gun) business as usual.
ALL THE CRAZY PEOPLE HAVE GUNS TOO
The problem we must address immediately is mass-casualty military-style battlefield assault weapons in the hands of crazy people. We don't have the wisdom or the knowledge to be able to identify a potential crazy shooter before he goes on his rampage. We can't pinpoint or detect the moment when the virus of evil overpowers the moral immune system. But we need to start paying more attention to whatever clues may be thrown off by these people: many of them confide at least once to someone else about their fantasies or their plans. Any future confidant needs to speak up when he hears this kind of talk. We should try to develop a protocol that can lead to screening and early detection, at the very least. And we should comb back through the files of people who have been treated in the past for any kind of delusional thinking and acting out, and checking up on them for potentially dangerous behavior.
Often the first clue that something is wrong is the gathering of the guns. But it is an accepted practice in America today for a person to buy a gun, or a lot of guns, including mass-casualty semi-automatic assault weapons with large-capacity clips. So gathering guns is nothing unusual. (Although it should be.)
Then comes the massacre.
That's why, in the absence of a way to predict and prevent these horrific events, and the impossibility of answering the question of why they occur, we need to focus on the means by which they occur, the thing that makes them so horrific when they do occur--- the guns. Gun advocates point out that Adam Lanza killed his gun-enthusiast mother, and took her legally purchased weapons to commit his atrocity, that there was no way to know he was going to do it, and no way to stop him, and so...nothing should be done in the future.
But if the Bushmaster AR-15 his mother purchased legally had never been manufactured, let alone sold, or if it had been bought back or confiscated and destroyed, and if neither she nor anybody else outside the military or law enforcement could obtain any such weapon, and if the most rounds he could fire with another gun was, say, six, then he might have still been able to kill some people, but the death toll would not be so high. Not much consolation, but still an incremental difference. Six dead is better than 26 dead. He couldn't have shot that one child twelve times.
Gun advocates say, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," and that's true as far as it goes. People kill using other methods. But in our society, people mostly kill people with guns. Especially when they want to kill large numbers of people in a short time: hard to do with a club or a knife. They use legally available military-style "assault rifles' with large-capacity ammunition clips, or semi-automatic pistols with large ammunition clips. That is what these weapons are designed to do. They are weapons of war.
WHO SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO BUY A GUN?
A "qualified citizen" as referenced in the New Second Amendment would be defined as follows:
All adult US citizens with sound minds and clean records may apply to purchase a non-military firearm, subject to a full background check and after obtaining a license issued by the state in which they officially reside. Any person found to have lied in the application should be barred for life from owning a firearm and would be subject to criminal penalties.
No one under 21 should be allowed to own any sort of firearm. In any gun-owning household where children under 21 are living, the guns must be kept under ultra-secure lock and key, subject to inspection.
No non-citizen of the US residing in this country should be allowed to own a firearm, regardless of immigration status.
No one who has ever been convicted of a violent crime or any crime involving a firearm should ever be allowed to own any sort of firearm. If such a person is caught with a firearm, there should an automatic ten-year prison sentence.
No one who has ever been hospitalized for a mental disorder should ever be allowed to own a firearm. If they are found in possession of a firearm, they should be immediately committed to a mental institution, or, if presently mentally competent, to prison.
Applicants for gun licenses fitting into the above proscribed categories (minors, aliens, ex-convicts, mentally ill) should not be granted permission to buy a firearm. Gun owners fitting these categories will be requested (and required) to turn their weapons in to the Gun Buyback Authority. (More on this in a moment.)
Gun purchasers should be required to re-register annually to make sure they have maintained their violation-free status, and that all their guns are accounted for.
Gun sales at gun shows or between individuals should be subject to the same registration and restrictions as sales by dealers. An electronic tracking mechanism and gun lock should be part of all new guns, so that its whereabouts can be known at all times, and the gun only able to be unlocked by its registered, rightful owner. There should be a voluntary program with monetary rewards to retrofit existing guns with such devices, and it would illegal to remove or tamper with the device. It would work like an electronic monitoring bracelet for people on house arrest, and if removed, would send out a signal. (If this technology does not yet exist, it needs to be invented.)
If a gun owner is arrested and freed on bond, he should be required to turn in his firearms until his trial results in his acquittal.
From the date of the new ordinance, no semi-automatic weapons, or any weapon with ammunition clips holding more than six rounds could be manufactured or sold. All existing unsold weapons of these descriptions should be destroyed, or given to law enforcement or the military.
THE GUN BUYBACK AUTHORITY
The Gun Buyback Authority, a special fund, a partnership between local, state, and federal governments, should be established to buy back assault weapons from their owners, top dollar paid, no questions asked. The fund would require a large endowment to begin with, but could become self-financing through donations and bond sales, and could include a mechanism to compensate victims of gun violence. The Authority would announce its opening with great hoopla, maximum, unrelenting publicity across all media. It would offer cash payments which would consist of dollar-for-dollar matches for guns for which the owners can show receipts, and would be based on manufacturers' suggested list prices for those without receipts, plus substantial rewards for all those who turn in their assault weapons voluntarily, without being contacted, before the first deadline. The more substantial the rewards, the more successful the program.
After the first deadline, every present known owner of a proscribed firearm who has not voluntarily come forward should be politely contacted by the Gun Buyback Authority, preferably by return-receipt certified mail, then by phone call, and e-mail, but never in person, and offered a payment, using the same formula but with a smaller reward, for turning in his weapon. It would very important for the buyback program to be voluntary, with no element of coercion, and no penalties, for a predetermined period of time, until the second deadline, after which it would be illegal to own a mass-casualty weapon.
There would be a grace period between the second and third deadlines. If you voluntarily turn your now-banned weapon in after the second deadline, and before the third deadline, you would still be compensated in the amount you paid for it, and no penalty would be incurred, but there would be no reward. This policy would be extensively publicized before the second deadline, to encourage people to turn in their weapons while they could still get the reward, while amping up the social pressure.
If you do not respond to written, emailed, and phoned requests, and are known to still be in possession of one of these weapons after the third deadline, the Gun Buyback Authority would pass responsibility to police, who would decide what to do next. At no time would employees of the Authority ever carry weapons of their own, or knock on anybody's door. But the police could do so at their discretion.
After the third deadline has passed and mass-casualty weapons are illegal, If you commit any sort of crime using one of these weapons, and you are not killed and do not succeed in killing yourself, your penalty will be an automatic life sentence with no parole.
Alongside these measures, there should be an immediate ban on the manufacture of the ammunition these weapons use, and a buyback of ammo should be a part of the program.
MANDATORY GUN INSURANCE
Another source of income for the fund would be from the sale of annual mandatory gun insurance. Every gun retailer, and every gun manufacturer, would be required to carry huge lines of liability insurance that would indemnify victims of gun violence traced to guns purchased from the retailer and made by the manufacturer.
Every gun owner would be required to have gun insurance on every gun they own for as long as they own it--- and the premiums would be steep. Liability insurance would apply to sales and purchases of ammunition, also. Let it lapse and fines and forfeiture ensue.
As of now, gun sellers and manufacturers bear no responsibility for what is done with a weapon they have sold. Therefore their incentive is to ignore, skirt, or flout any minimal background checks and restrictions on ownership that might already exist, and to sell as many guns they can to as many people as possible, bar none, no questions asked.
But if they had to carry gun-sellers' and manufacturers' insurance and were financially and/or criminally liable for having sold a gun to an unqualified person who has used the gun to rob, rape, injure, or kill someone, they'd have incentive to investigate buyers more rigorously.
There will inevitably be holdouts for whom the idea that they can't be trusted with these weapons is insulting. Or who find alluring the idea that they are among the elite few who still own ultra-powerful weapons. Maybe they will never use them, or maybe the temptation to act out to test their power will be irresistible. There will be a black market, just as there is now. All law enforcement can do is keep holding the line, and whittling away at the supply. Public silent shunning of gun scofflaws should be encouraged. Gun advocates will howl about the unfairness of these measures and how difficult they will make it to own guns. But that's the point.
To be fair to strict believers in the old Second Amendment, this process is going to be difficult and will require a new use of police power that many, many people will find very alarming. It will have to be done very gently to avoid standoffs and shootouts with diehards.
IT'S TIME TO STIFFEN OUR PARTISAN SPINES
Two disparate groups, the gun owners and the non-gun owners, are increasingly identifying themselves with opposing political parties. There are plenty of Democrats who hunt and have guns for self-protection, but the trend is toward a partisan divide in this as in other issues, and the angry, bitter, older, more rural, whiter Republicans, sore losers who say they want to "take our country back," from those they don't consider to be "real Americans," claim most of the gun owners and militia members. The Republicans have positioned themselves as the party of "gun rights," but the Democrats are not quite ready to be the party of "gun control." The Republicans are going to fight the ideas set out in this essay tooth and nail. They will line up with the NRA and insist on more guns everywhere. (Arm the children!)
According to a news report on NPR, in Pakistan, every political party has an armed wing. The IRA used to be the armed wing of Sinn Fein. The Nazi Party had an armed wing, the S.A. The right-wing militia movement is arming itself against its greatest fear: a "liberal takeover" or a "government crackdown" that will take away their freedom--- i.e., their guns. Demographics are against the Republicans. Their base is shrinking and the younger, browner, gayer, more female, more urban Democratic base is expanding. And the Republicans will have to decide: when our backs are finally against the wall, just how far are we going to go? Far enough to make the NRA and the militia movement the armed wing of the Republican Party?
It will take some spine for the Democrats to stand up on this issue. But it's time for the Democrats to stiffen their spines anyway.
It will take many years to make a dent in the numbers of these weapons using these measures. And these weapons are only the most powerful and egregious of the weapons that are out there. We will no doubt suffer through many more mass killings and many, many more everyday gun homicides, before these measures start to make a difference. But we have to start somewhere. The present situation is untenable.
Let's start with a petition drive to Repeal and Replace the Second Amendment.