High up in the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel, Stephen Paddock has arranged an arsenal of high-powered weapons, retro-fitted to be more efficient killing machines. He opens up on an unprotected crowd of about 20,000 music festival attendants even as the GOP-controlled Congress considers legislation that would allow gun owners to buy silencers and the so-called bump-stock device that turns a semi-automatic rifle into an automatic machine-gun like one (1). How did we end up like this, in such a dark, evil place?
The answer to that question requires that we go all the way back in our history to a time when we were 13 separate colonies, each one thinking of themselves as an independent nation. This was obviously before Washington et al brought us together, believing that we had a better of chance of surviving if we were united.
Separate and independent, the states wanted to protect themselves against intruders, foreign or domestic. So they formed militias; essentially all-volunteer groups that could take up arms and act as a deterrent against any aggressor.
As the colonies came together to form the United States of America, there was no certainty that this union would hold. Our neophyte nation, with no standing army of its own at that point, needed some means of mounting a resistance. The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights made that possible, extending to all citizens, the “…right to bear arms” within the framework of a “…well-regulated militia”. Here, the phrase “well-regulated” is key because it bespeaks of organization, order, discipline and training.
As best we are able to tell from the early history of the USA, the Second Amendment was embraced with nary a dissenting voice heard. That status quo was to remain in effect until well into the 1900’s. But then, something started to change and it involved a slow but steady departure from the need for a “well-regulated militia”. We were becoming a nation of individual gun owners with no more than lip service to the commitment to a militia or to its regulation.
Sifting through history, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened or what prompted this departure from the Constitution. Maybe it had something to do with the facts that we grew into a strong nation, capable of defending itself with a well-developed, armed military, and thus had no need for well-regulated militias. De facto, that would leave an individual free to bear arms, but now as a matter of defending himself and his/her possessions.
There is no question that domestic gun makers seized on this turn of events and capitalized on it: The widespread marketing of weapons for self-defense had begun. It is also beyond argument that the Republican Party became the champion of Second Amendment rights, a role it has maintained to this day. This advocacy progressed from handguns and hunting rifles to semi-automatic weapons; in other words, to killing with greater certainty and efficiency. Protests like “Who needs a semi-automatic rifle to kill a deer?” were drowned out by “That’s irrelevant ; it’s my right to own pretty much whatever kind of firearm I want!!”.
As the right to bear all kinds of weapons enlarged, there were some notable objections. A classic that comes to mind occurred on the evening of December 16, 1991 when Warren Berger, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, made a guest appearance of the PBS show “News Hour”. He argued that over time, the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment had been seriously “adulterated” to the point where an intellectual “fraud” had been committed on the American people.
If Berger’s judgment had any effect, it was negligible. Gun sales continued unabated; even rose as conservatives in and out of government not only ballyhooed the right to own, but started a narrative to the effect that one needed to be armed to rebel against our own government should it become tyrannical. This fear-mongering reached a fever pitch with the election of Barack Obama who was sure to abridge your Second Amendment rights, come for and confiscate your guns. After all, he was a Muslim, wasn’t he?
During Obama’s eight years as president, we as a nation, lived through the unspeakable horror of learning that 21 individuals, mostly children, had been senselessly murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Surely, this would be a turning point when this “gun-craze” would start to subside. It didn’t happen. And so we progressed on to other mass shootings in places like the church in Charleston, South Carolina and on to Las Vegas.
What do we do?
On October 3, 2017, in the aftermath of Paddock’s attack on thousands of innocents, Thomas Friedman authored a blistering attack on congressional Republicans over their long history of refusing to take a stand against gun manufacturers’ lobbyists (2) and pass some sensible, common sense gun control legislation.
In Friedman’s view, these lawmakers, as a body, are indifferent to public opinion, feckless, having been bought and kept by the aforementioned lobby. As such, he considers them beyond being persuaded. His only recourse then, is to seize power from them by supporting candidates who can and will stand up to groups like the NRA and Gun Owners of America. That support can come in the form of donations, canvassing for the candidate and of course, voting for him/her. Here is another idea that comes from your blogger: Attend town halls and the debates between candidates and demand an answer to this and like-minded questions; “Will you here and now, publicly disavow any support for legislation that advances the sale of more lethal firearms and their accessories?” Any hedging by a candidate, any unwillingness to provide a clear “yes/no” answer should be taken as a failure of your litmus test query.
- To hear rabid Second Amendment defenders talk, you would think that a gun becomes a useless piece of hardware if it isn’t equipped with a silencer and bump-stock accessory.
- Friedman’s op-ed is entitled “If Only Stephen Paddock Were a Muslim”. You can Google Freidman’s name and that title and you will be taken to the New York Times website where you can read it in full.