America is confronted with one of the most complicated constitutional rights of its own making
Tomas Mega, Las Vegas, Nevada
After the incomprehensible massacre of twenty Connecticut children, America, for the moment, appears ready to address one of the most perplexing assurances enshrined in its Constitution; the Second Amendment, guaranteeing citizens the right to keep and bear arms.
The complexities are immense. The interpretation of the Second Amendment guarantees polarizing. None of the authors of that amendment are alive to gain counsel from. And, predictably, the arguments on both sides are frenzied and often in contradiction to facts.
Most estimates put the number of guns that are privately owned between 300 and 350 million; one for every man, woman and child in America.
It is a staggering number. That, combined with the ingrained history, culture and psyche of Americans and their guns, offers but a glimpse of perhaps the most complicated question regarding a constitutional guarantee Americans have ever witnessed.
It is also a political issue. Will more gun control work? Liberals say absolutely. Conservatives say no. In states with some of the most restrictive gun laws, gun crime continues to soar; Washington, D. C. and Louisiana are examples. In states with some of the most unrestricted gun laws, like Utah, gun crime is low. Connecticut, where the Newtown massacre occurred, is regarded as having strict gun laws. Liberals say that a ban on assault weapons would likely curb massacres like Newtown. Conservatives say that the problem is deranged people, not guns.
State laws regarding the purchase of firearms are complicated and not necessarily similar. But all states require some form of criminal background check before you can purchase a firearm from a licensed firearms dealer. If you are a convicted felon, fugitive from justice, drug user or adjudicated as mentally ill, you are prohibited from purchasing a firearm. But there are gaping loopholes. A private sale between individuals or at gun shows in some states requires no background check.
And what about the minds of the killers? What do we do about that? Are we to believe that a deranged young man in Connecticut, Colorado, Arizona or Oregon, whose mind is on murder, would choose to go play a round of golf rather than murder if he was unable to get his hands on a gun?
There is also the question regarding Americans carrying concealed weapons for protection. There are 49 states that have some form of concealed carry law, allowing a citizen to carry a handgun or other gun in public, in a concealed manner, either on his/her purse or in nearby proximity. Illinois is the only state without such a provision. With some of the most restrictive gun laws in America, Illinois ranks in the top 12 of states with the highest gun crime.
Mass murderers also seem to know where to go to do their killing. With the exception of the attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, in Tucson, Arizona in 2011, every public shooting in America for the last 60 years in which more than three people were killed took place where citizens were not allowed to carry guns. James Holmes, accused in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting apparently new this. Of the many Aurora theaters showing the Batman movie, the theater he chose for his carnage was the only one which explicitly forbid,through public signage, concealed handguns by those with a permit. Coincidence?
And what about other forms of carnage in America?In his speech in Newtown, President Obama referenced 10,000 deaths per year due to gun violence. Pro-gun advocates point at a report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that revealed in 2010 alone10,226 drunk driving fatalities occurred in America, 28 deaths each day due to drunk driving. Perhaps alcohol needs to be banned too?
The issue of guns in America is a complicated issue in a country whose citizenry and elected officials do not do well with complicated issues. The issue of mental illness cannot be ignored either. Addressing mental illness costs money. That means more tax dollars in a country that dislikes taxes intensely. In the July issue of this magazine, I wrote, “Arguably, there is only one other three letter word in the American lexicon that evokes as much passion an argument as tax: gun.” Conceivably, for the moment, some sanity has returned to both debates.