Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Countries, and One Very Outdated Amendment

Unfortunately, we have seen this before.  The horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School represents only the escalation of gun violence in this country to a previously unimaginable level.  The faces of the teenage and young adult victims at Columbine and Virginia Tech have now been replaced by those of five and six year olds.  But the rest of it is all too familiar: families shattered, a school forever to be haunted by memories of the tragic day, a community left to pay for the sins of omission of an entire nation.

Once the spotlight of national media attention has faded from this most recent slaughter – probably five minutes after the last storyline has been exhaustingly explored – what will come from it all?  The National Rifle Association will emerge from its public relations moratorium and start spouting the same nonsense.  The Second Amendment will be hailed as sacred, once again.  The video game manufacturers will claim that there is no evidence their product desensitizes their customers to violence.  Some fool will stand in front of a television camera or sit behind a keyboard and spout the nonsense that “guns are tools”, that restricting the law-abiding public’s access to weapons will ensure that only the bad guys have them.

Well, unfortunately, there is a “case study” on all this. 

On March 13, 1996, a man named Thomas Hamilton walked into the Dunblane Primary School in Dunblane, Scotland.  He was armed with four hand guns, all legally purchased, and 743 rounds of ammunition.  When he was done with his lunacy, fifteen five and six year old children were dead, along with their teacher, along with Hamilton, whose last shot was directed at himself.  But, in the outrage that followed, enough political pressure was placed upon government officials that the next year the Conservative-controlled Parliament passed sweeping gun control laws that were soon thereafter made stricter by the newly elected Labour-controlled Parliament the very same year.  In other words, the United Kingdom’s equivalents of our Republican and Democratic parties had the courage to act on a controversial issue. 

The result?  In 2009, the U.K.’s per capita rate of homicides by handgun was less than one-fortieth that of the United States.  And no, that’s not a typo….less than 1/40th the rate of the United States.  We’re not talking about Bora Bora here, or even some old style police state.  We’re talking about the United Kingdom, our special friend and closest ally, the nation from whom we inherited our language and system of laws.  If there is one country we can most closely compare ourselves to, it is the U.K.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was born largely out of the English Bill of Rights and subsequent legislation that sought to preserve the citizenry’s right to bear arms.  Of course, the English origin of that right was a product of the tumultuous 17th century, when they were torn apart by a Civil War, by kings and nobility who sought to oppress either Catholics or Protestants, depending on their own religious beliefs. It has no pertinence to their present state, a fact they clearly recognized some fifteen years ago.

Similarly, the right to bear arms in the United States legal tradition was born out of the necessity of having an armed citizenry in the absence of any sort of standing army.  Read the wording of the actual amendment: “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.”  That militia had been instrumental in defeating the British in the Revolutionary War.  It was a necessity in 1789, considering the powerful potential enemies poised on a fledgling nation’s doorstep.  In present times, the term militia can only signify the gravest of threats to the nation, the equivalent of terrorist sleeper cells within our own borders clinging to their guns and their paranoid delusions.

In other words, the second amendment is today as antiquated as the parchment paper upon which it was first printed.  And no amount of gun lobby propaganda can change the truth of that.

God bless the victims of Sandy Hook.  May we have the courage to make their deaths not have been in vain.