Minutemen, Modernity, and Magazines

By Jesse Ouellette

Traveling eastbound on interstate eighty-four, only fifteen minutes from the sleepy bedroom community where I grew up, there is an exit sign for Newtown, Connecticut. A once not so well known area, turned infamous from one tragic morning in December of 2012. On that morning, a deeply disturbed young man claimed twenty-seven lives at the Sandy Hook elementary school, twenty of which never lived to see their eighth birthday. Shock turned to tears, tears turned to hate, hate turned to outrage, and outrage turned to a cry for action which was met with a pledge. Being the most recent mass shooting in a string of similar shootings spanning back to January 2011, Sandy Hook was the proverbial straw that broke the President’s back. In a speech delivered facing the parents and loved ones of Sandy Hook, President Obama pledged that he would use “whatever powers this office holds” to prevent similar massacres from occurring (http://www.nytimes.com /2012/12/17/us/ politics/bloomberg-urges-obama-to-take-action-on-gun-control.html?_r=0).

Riding a wave of emotion and encouraged by a window of opportunity, Vice President Biden lead an initiative to develop a proposal on ways in which the federal government could tighten gun control with the presupposition that such a solution will be most effective in preventing another Sandy Hook, Aurora, or Casas Adobes. On January 24, 2013, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a longtime gun control advocate, introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, a bill “to stop the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices” (S. 150, 113th Cong. (2013)).

No sane person could disagree with the President’s pledge, the emotion behind the Vice President’s intentions, or the call for action that lead to Senator Feinstein’s bill. However, in the midst of a tsunami of media coverage and emotionally charged rhetoric, one question seems to be at the bottom of Senator Feinstein’s list:  is gun control really the problem?

The solution of introducing stricter gun laws falls short in producing statistical support to show any significant relationship between said laws and a decrease in murder rate in any given locality. Based on data analyzing the murder rate in the District of Columbia from 1968 to 2008, the effectiveness of strict gun control laws in creating a safer and less violent area is not apparent. A graph of FBI data shows an increase in the murder rate in the D.C. up until a handgun ban in 1976, following which the murder rate decreased.[1] However, beginning in 1986, the murder rate within D.C. skyrocketed hitting a record peak between 1990 and 1992, in 1996 the murder rate began to fall, and in 2008 the handgun ban was rendered unconstitutional in District of Columbia v. Heller.[2]  After this decision, the murder rate continued to fall back to 1960’s levels.[3] To sum up these statistics, the murder rate within D.C. hit a record high during a period where it boasted some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. Another graph details FBI data analyzing the murder rate in Florida from 1968-2008.[4] This graph shows a dramatic decrease in the murder rate following the enactment of a 1986 “right-to-carry” law, which allows citizens to obtain a permit to carry firearms. These examples are few of many counterintuitive statistics comparing murder rate and gun control, reiterating the question of whether stricter gun laws are really the answer to curbing gun related violence. There exists an abundant trove of additional causal elements that may shed light on why mass shootings like Sandy Hook continue to take place, mental illness being chief among them.

So why then are the President, the Vice President, Senator Feinstein, and their supporters in Congress so adamant that we must pass federal legislation to strengthen already stringent criteria for private gun ownership? Perhaps the answer is more political than practical. It is obvious that most liberals disfavor the idea of private gun ownership, while most conservatives favor greater liberty on the same subject. But are we not getting ahead of ourselves? Perhaps it is time to examine the issue of gun violence through a politically sterile lens regardless of how impossible a feat this seems.

“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.”[5] These words are not easily altered or deleted, and similar to each item in the Bill of Rights, they must be interpreted to apply to the times in which we live. The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press does not only apply to printing presses and quill pens, but also to modern media. So too should the Second Amendment not only apply to muskets and dueling pistols, but also to modern small arms, including semi-automatic pistols and rifles. It may be debated, but the answer seems fairly obvious when the question is presented of whether the average 1776 minuteman would have preferred a period appropriate musket, or an AR-15, they likely would have opted for the latter. In fact this very argument is made in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, which applied the Second Amendment to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.[6]

So why then is Senator Feinstein proposing detailed and strict regulation of modern day “assault rifles” and magazine capacity?[7] No doubt she would argue that such advanced weaponry provides the capability to kill greater quantities of people with greater ease. But a bomb made with everyday household products purchased at the local hardware store could inflict the same, if not greater damage, in a shorter amount of time. So do we begin regulating propane and matches along with high capacity magazines? An affirmative answer to the latter question would be ludacris. So how will Senator Feinstein’s bill, if passed, prevent more Sandy Hook’s from reoccurring? The answer is simple, it won’t.

Sorry Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, if there is one thing Congress should have learned from the Prohibition, making something illegal will not prevent its use. Setting aside Wayne LaPierre’s hot-headed rhetoric, he hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said “criminals do not follow laws.”[8] So what is the solution then? Perhaps, like taking pain killers to mask the agony of a toothache and hoping the problem will dissipate, more regulation, although it may make our politicians look productive and lure some Americans into a false sense of security, will not prevent mass shootings from reoccurring. Greater attention needs to be paid to the root cause of gun violence in America, the shooters. In fact, less than one percent of law abiding gun owners perpetrate gun related crimes while the vast majority of gun violence is committed with illegally obtained firearms.[9] While Senator Feinstein and her allies in Congress could attempt to regulate the black market, a more practical solution would be to use tax payer money to finance a think-tank focused on the idea of targeting the mentally ill’s ability to access firearms. Perhaps then we may see a workable solution to gun violence that will actually secure public safety.

At the end of the day, let us not forget, our Country is unique in the sense that we as citizens guarantee ourselves the right to bear arms, and although the original purpose of this right was for the defense of the people against the fear of a tyrannical central government, we have been at peace with ourselves for 148 years. We need not suppress the Constitutional right of many because of the actions of a few. However, we also need not ignore the underlying cause of the habitual mass shootings that have scarred our Country, we must act, but we must act without emotion, adhere to our governing documents, and proceed with aptitude and logic in the face of ignorance and partisan politics.

Sources:

http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/assault-weapons

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/12/14/connecticut-school-shooting.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/us/politics/bloomberg-urges-obama-to-take-action-on-gun-control.html?_r=0

http://rt.com/usa/biden-gun-president-weapons-411/

http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp#[36]

http://gunowners.org/op0746.htm

District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008).

U.S. Const. amend. I.

U.S. Const. amend. II.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/01/24/lawmakers-to-unveil-new-assault-weapons-ban/

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/lapierre-nra-wont-accept-blame-for-criminals-86868.html

http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Don-t-blame-crime-on-legal-gun-owners-97536.php

http://www.historynet.com/civil-war-facts

One thought on “Minutemen, Modernity, and Magazines

  1. This thought-provoking piece addresses an issue that continues to plague our Nation – gun control. It is important to recognize the responsibility Sandy Hook imposed upon us. We owe a duty to those children and adults who lost their lives at Sandy Hook to promote effective gun control measures. As Mr. Ouellette properly notes, passing stricter gun laws fails to address the cause of the problem.

    In order to address the issue effectively, we must balance the Second Amendment right to bear arms and security. As the court properly noted in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 2817 (2008), the Second Amendment is not an absolute right. In Heller, the court outlined two imitations on the Second Amendment right to bear arms. First, the Second Amendment allows prohibitions that prevent felons and the mentally ill from carrying firearms. Second, the right to bear arms does not extend to the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

    We need to look at these limitations when addressing the issue of gun control. Sandy Hook and many of the other mass shootings all dealt with, to a certain extent, the limitations outlined by the court in Heller. In most of those tragedies, the shooter was either mentally ill, or used a dangerous weapon, or both. Thus, as Mr. Ouellette notes, we first must address one’s ability to access firearms. Second, we must address which, if any, firearms are dangerous and unusual weapons. Here, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Ouellette. I think that semi-automatic firearms are dangerous and unusual weapons. Accordingly, such weapons should be reserved only for use by our servicemen and women in the course of combat. Regardless of one’s position on whether semi-automatics constitute dangerous and unusual weapons, the point is that these are the debates we should be having with respect to gun control. We should not be discussing how to take away a constitutionally protected right.

    I applaud Mr. Ouellette for reminding us that an effective solution to the issue of gun control does not usurp the supreme law of the land.

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