On Thursday night at 11:30PM, I drove my 16 year-old son and his buddy to a movie theater in Pasadena. They were meeting up with five other friends who earlier in the day had decided to catch the midnight show of the latest Batman movie. They had seven seats reserved in the front row.
What they didn’t know as they took their seats was that one hour earlier at a similar midnight-show in Colorado a gunman, armed to the teeth and protected head-to-toe by body-armor, had entered the theater and opened fire. He targeted the front row with his first bullets. Two days later my community’s Sunday music concert, played on cool grass under great oaks, had the marked presence of extra police. The Colorado shooting was cited as the reason for this show of force.
In the aftermath of that shooting, how many parents in my town feel the same way about letting their children go to a “late-show” or take in a peaceful summer concert? This week in Oak Creek, Wisconsin how many families feel comfortable praying in church?
This, besides the tragedy and mayhem of the actual killings, is the price we, as a nation, pay for our love affair with guns - the pursuit of happiness impinged by a society that shows no inclination towards limiting the distribution and presence of guns. I have little respect for the array of opinions and policies that surround the entire issue of guns in America. They are alternately tortured or solicitous. Simply put, guns have virtually no place in our modern society, and it’s time we really, really absorbed that fact.
The Framers of the Constitution constructed a Bill of Rights and within that a Second Amendment with its statement about bearing arms - 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.
I am not a legal scholar and will resist the temptation to re-analyze every clause and comma of every law that has arisen from interpretations of this Amendment, but neither will I acquiesce to the legal analysis of the mostly conservative minds on the Supreme Court who have crafted such “solutions” to national crises as Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. Such minds will take us all to the grave grasping our 223 year-old Constitution, intact, but with our common-sense, modern-day lives in a shambles. The Aurora, Colorado massacre is evidence of that. And based on the actions and thoughts of the Supreme Court vis a vis the Second Amendment we can expect more of the same, with no end in sight.
In 18th century America the concept of a national or federal government with the potential power to overwhelm and override the laws, direction and rights of individual states and their citizens was an untested idea, even though that national government was democratically elected and bore almost no resemblance to the Kings, Queens, Emperors and Royal figures who lorded over the bulk of humanity with unchallengeable authority.
Nevertheless, it was considered prudent to ensure that states and their citizenry would have the means and guaranteed right to oppose or resist such domination from the national government in the form of “well regulated militias.” To that end (hence the presence of that very specific term) citizens would be allowed to bear arms. The clause does not preface the right to bear arms with any statement about individual rights of self defense, let’s say to settle a street fight, nor does it mention the right to bear arms in defense of one’s home or the right to bear arms to hunt squirrels or to recreate. No, directly, unambiguously and deliberately it references “a well regulated militia.”
Words are words, and those specific words suggest the setting, framework, concerns, and most of all, the intentions of the Framers - they were worried about the larger and pressing issue of balancing state powers versus federal powers. If they had intended otherwise they would have stated otherwise.
In any event, today, in 2012, the formerly untested form of government known as a Democratic Republic has been in full swing for over two centuries, and judging from the conclusions of many minds, including many conservative ones, America “the greatest country in the world” seems to have mastered the challenge of balancing those powers as well as creating a relatively benign federal authority. And if that is not the case, I would like to ask, especially the jingoistic conservatives among us, to please cite the nation and form of government that has done a better job of this or from whom we can learn?
If that can’t be done, then clearly many of the fears and reasons for ensuring armed and well-regulated state militias have largely disappeared over the centuries rendering the Second Amendment, in the words of Dick Cheney (my favorite conservative thinker), “quaint.”
To be continued.
Check back Sunday for Part II.