This has been bugging me since last week’s Supreme Court ruling; decided that I have to get this off my chest.
Last week the US Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 decision that Washington DC’s ban on hand guns violated the Second Amendment ( http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07slipopinion.html ). The next morning I was watching CNN HeadlineNews as usual. There they did a poll among the viewers: text RobinA if you agree with the ruling and text RobinB if you don’t. While of course entirely unscientific the outcome was telling and surprising: 84% in favor of the ruling. Probably the Supreme Court’s ruling is in the end a correct interpretation of current law, I found the high percentage in favor the really surprising, and maybe the worrying, part. The amendment was made in 1791. Its addition may well have been very appropriate then. Just a few years since Independence with distrust of (distant) government still very high, formal and functional law enforcement was probably far and few between, concepts of law and order different from now. But do we still life in the 18th century? But does the freedom to bear arms still outweigh its dangers?
Many arguments I hear made in support of gun ownership don’t make sense to me. Some of them seem not to get any further than reiterating the amendment itself: I have a right to own and bear arms because the amendment says and therefor I bear arms. That really falls in the “do you also jump off a bridge when I tell you to”-category. This stuff is a little too serious for a “just because I can” reasoning.
Two friends here in Rochester (at least that I know of) own and sometimes carry guns. Of one it is rumored that he always has a gun with him. That does not make me feel safer. Should I then also carry a gun to compensate? No, I don’t subscribe to the opinion that more guns make the world safer. Less guns make the world safer. Sure, guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But they sure make it easier; having a gun makes it a lot easier to kill someone in anger than when not having one.
One of the friends once argued that gun ownership helps keep the US a democracy and avoids something like Nazi Germany happening here. That comparison doesn’t hold. First, the Nazi party was elected into power in accordance with German law. Secondly, Germany was awash with guns and weapons from WW I and so none of that gun ownership prevented the well-known history from developing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_Party#Rise_to_power:_1925.E2.80.931933). One could argue that the abundance of weapons helped.
There is ample documentation that the abundance of hand guns in cities contribute to the high levels of violent crimes and homicides. Take my home town Rochester, NY with the enviable position of having the highest homicide rate in New York state: http://multimedia.democratandchronicle.com/maps/2007homicides.html and http://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/archives/2006/4/Rochester:+made+for+murder+ . The US homicide rate is the highest of the Western world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_homicide_rate – 5.7 per 100.000 citizens in the US vs for example 0.98 in Germany). Almost all of the school shootings over the last ten years have been committed by students who either themselves or their parents had legal access to the fire arms used in those very dreadful events (for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Illinois_University_shooting, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Tech_massacre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Lake_High_School_massacre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre). So if the argument is that gun ownership makes this a safer country then I am really worried what kind of Armageddon this Land of the Free woud be without.
Each time, organizations like the NRA argue that only the existing laws on gun control should be better followed and then none of those things would have happened. No, it doesn’t work that way. In the end this is a choice between your freedom to own and carry a gun, and my freedom and our children’s freedom to a safe environment. And I put before you that the freedom for a safe environment is the higher good.
Yesterday we had a neighborhood dinner party. The Supreme Court ruling came up. One of our neighbors said he was happy with the ruling because it was nuanced and it didn’t uphold the hand gun ban in Washington DC. He was happy with this because if the Supreme Court had decided in favor of Washington DC then he was fearful that this would have brought out “every gun lover in America and Obama would loose the election.” That is just too cynical for me. That is supporting the right decision for all the wrong reasons or the other way around. It made me think of the movie Bobby which we just watched a few days before. The movie ends with Robert Kennedy’s speech reviewing all the problems of that time (1968 remember): the Vietnam war, the protests, the struggle for civil rights, domestic violence and so forth. He asked a still very relevant question ( http://www.angelfire.com/pa4/kennedy/speech.html : On Mindless Menace of Violence): “What has violence ever accomplished?”
Where is this age’s RFK? Brave to take a specific stance on this, to stand for his or her beliefs no matter what. Where is the real world president that Michael Douglas played in The American President ( http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechtheamericanpresident.html ): “I will go door to door if I have to, but I am gonna convince Americans I’m right, and I’m gonna to get the guns.”
It is time to grow up. We don’t live in 1791 anymore. Time to change the Constitution. Time to do away with the boyish urge to play with dangerous toys. Either that or stop complaining about the next homicide, the next school shooting, the next rage killing.