I DO NOT UNDERSTAND US GUN CULTURE

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

“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”.

The amendment, adopted in 1791, is the oft cited reason that there is such a dearth of gun control laws in the United States.

In the aftermath of the Orlando Massacre that saw forty-nine innocent victims massacred, I simply cannot understand gun culture in the USA. I understand why farmers might need a long gun to keep the foxes away from the chicken house; I do not understand why any civilian requires a semi-automatic weapon. (Incidentally, the AR 15 used in the Orlando Attack is legal in Canada on shooting ranges). I know people, seemingly intelligent people, that believe that an armed society is a safe society—that the solution to mass murder is more, not fewer, guns. If only the victims had been armed, they would have been better able to protect themselves; that gun free zones create undefended and therefore vulnerable targets.

The theory is somewhat analogous to the Mutual Assured Destruction Deterrent Theory during the height of the cold war. — That if both the USA and the USSR each maintained a sufficient nuclear arsenal to blow up not only the other, but the entire planet, neither would have any incentive to start the insanity.

Trusting world leaders to employ restraint is problematic enough, considering the presumptive Republican Nominee for the White House. But seriously, you are going to arm students, church goers and movie attendees??

Or what about the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando? It has been many years since I have been to a nightclub—but I remember that invariably disputes occur over spilled drinks and who is dancing with who. Add alcohol to the mix and…..No, I prefer fewer, preferably no, weapons to more, as a precondition to my safety go to the website.

I am quite certain that 225 years ago, James Madison did not envision AK-47s when he drafted the Second Amendment. Much debate involves the original intent of the amendment. The drafters were mindful of previous attempts of the English to disarm the colonists. Published papers suggest the purpose was to allow a state militia to arm itself against a federal army. Even federalists, such as Madison, recognized the personal “right” to bear arms as an important check against tyranny (internal or external). Only 9 of 13 states immediately ratified the Second Amendment.

The preface to the amendment, “A well regulated militia” supports the contention that it applies only to state rights or collective rights to arm a militia. Alternatively, and much more recently, it has been proposed that the first clause might express the overall intent of the amendment, but the substance is in the second part and the “right of the people” confers to an individual the right to bear arms.

Different Circuit Courts have interpreted the Second Amendment differently. But the matter appears to have been decided conclusively by the US Supreme Court in its 2008 Judgement in “District of Columbia v Heller”. Under consideration was DC’s total ban on handguns.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority judgement and held that the Second Amendment did indeed protect an individual’s right to possess a firearm and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense within the home.

However, he held that like most rights, “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose”. Accordingly, concealed weapon bans have been upheld as have “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

In the end, SCOTUS held the total handgun ban violated the Second Amendment. But the court placed important limits on Second Amendment rights. There is no high court decision before or after affirming a constitutional right to possess assault rifles.

In fact, in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which prohibited the manufacture for civilian use certain semi-automatic firearms it defined as assault weapons and certain large capacity ammunition magazines. The Bill included a 10-year Sunset provision and the ban expired September 13, 2004.

The Bill was championed by Democratic Senator, Dianne Feinstein. It met opposition in the House of Representatives and the Sunset Clause was offered as a compromise.

The ban was never challenged under the Second Amendment; empirical studies are inconclusive regarding what effect, if any, it had on gun crime because rifles in general and assault rifles in particular, are used statistically infrequently in total gun crimes. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, however, found that in 1990-1994, 4.82% of gun crimes used assault weapons. When the ban was in place, that number was reduced to 1.61%.

Senator Feinstein attempted to reintroduce the ban several times. After the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newton, Connecticut, Senator Feinstein introduced S. 150, in January 2013. The legislation was similar to the 1994 assault weapons ban but without the 10-year expiration clause. Notwithstanding fierce opposition from Texas Republicans and the NRA, the Bill made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But S. 150 was defeated on the floor of the Senate by a vote of 40-60.

Every time a mass shooting occurs, an increasingly dejected Barrack Obama appears on national television to plead for some meaningful gun control. But as President, he is the Chief Executive and can only enforce a law if Congress passes on. The National Rifle Association is such a powerful and well-funded lobby that many congressmen fear losing an election or primary, to a NRA funded challenger, if they support gun control.

President Obama closed last Sunday’s Press Conference with the query: “I guess we have to decide as a society if we want these types of weapons”. I know I don’t.

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