March 6, 2013 —
As you might guess, there’s a lot of discussion on the Internet on each side of the gun rights/gun control showdown. Particularly revealing is talk about what the Second Amendment, which was adopted in 1791, means in the 21st century and how to apply it in our times.
On one hand, there are gun control advocates who say that the Founding Fathers surely weren’t talking about protecting modern-day, military-style armaments and high-capacity automatic weapons. Therefore, they assert, these weapons legitimately can and should be regulated. They also ask, “Who needs these kinds of weapons for hunting, sports and recreation in any case?”
This latter line of reasoning entirely misses the point for gun rights advocates, who understand that the Second Amendment was not written to protect guns for hunting and recreation. The amendment does not even talk about bearing arms to protect ourselves, our families and our property, a right the Supreme Court acknowledged only in the last decade. Instead, the amendment talks about the right of citizen militias to bear arms—by implication, to fight against (and overthrow) an oppressive government, the kind of tyrannical reign the Colonists felt under King George III. (The Founding Fathers were, after all, revolutionaries.)
Perhaps you can see where this line of reasoning is going. So let us float the argument that the Second Amendment protects the rights of citizens to arm themselves to be revolutionaries. And now, let’s add 21st century military hardware to the mix. If bands of citizens need to take up arms against some future, despotic (hypothetical) U.S. government, they had better have heavy firepower to go up against the nation’s modern-day army. Does the amendment then protect the right of a citizen to own a TOW-2 anti-tank missile made by Raytheon, or a HELLFIRE II missile or 70mm DAGR missile from Lockheed Martin? What about high-capacity magazines for automatic weapons?
As a society, where do we draw the line? And don’t say we can’t draw a line.
The Supreme Court’s most conservative justice, Antonin Scalia, has said quite plainly that gun ownership is not an unlimited right. In a July 2012 interview on Fox News, Scalia said, “There are some limitations that can be imposed…. It will have to be decided in future cases what limitations upon the right to bear arms are permissible. Some undoubtedly are…. What they are will depend on what the society understood were reasonable limitations at the time.”
For a majority of Americans, the time to set some limitations is now. But, how do we talk about where to draw the line when everyone is so riled up, when everyone is set in his or her own personal ideology, or keeps repeating some well-rehearsed dogma instead of trying to have a conversation?
Inflammatory language and hyperbole abound, including in New York State, where we have a brand new gun control law, NY SAFE. Take, for example, the comments of Town of Delaware board member Alfred Steppich, who has stated, “We should hold the governor [Cuomo] and the legislators in contempt of the Constitution, and try them for treason,” and then went on to invoke the specter of Hitler for what he indicated were Nazi-era gun ownership restrictions. (According to a 1994 book by the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre, such gun restrictions allegedly contributed to Jewish extermination by the Nazis, an idea debunked by multiple sources including this recent article at www.salon.com/2013/01/11/stop_talking_about_hitler/ .)
A gun rights rally in Albany, NY last week saw protest signs that compared Governor Cuomo to Hitler, and at least one sign that identified NY SAFE as doing the bidding of the United Nations. Already there are proposals to overturn the law.
Words that incite outrage are unnecessary, unhelpful and to many people unsettling, which is why remarks last week like those made by Pike County (PA) Sheriff Phillip Bueki were so refreshingly welcome, bringing a note of sanity to our region’s overheated gun discussion. Calling himself a “pro-gun” sheriff, Bueki nevertheless urged people to “calm down.” “I think the fear of people coming into your homes and taking your guns away and taking your rights away are unfounded,” he said.
The time has come to shed more light and less heat on the gun rights/gun control discussion.
Finally, we would like to ask gun rights proponents to take a close look at America’s weapons arsenal and to indicate: Where would you draw the line?