THE US MUST BAN THESE GUNS.
We do not yet know who will be the next president of the United States, but there’s nearly a mathematical certainty that the person to hold that office will be called on to console a grieving nation after another mass shooting. It is so expected that you could draft the speech today, predict the response, and anticipate the legislative paralysis that would surely ensue.
It is shocking that a democracy as mature as ours is fundamentally unable to have an adult conversation about guns — as if the Second Amendment has sentenced us all to an unending argument about how many angels fit onto the head of a firing pin.
The Founders had specific, if inarticulately worded, thoughts on the necessary and proper regulation of firearms. In their world, gun ownership for certain groups of white men was sometimes required by law. The most common gun in Colonial America was the Brown Bess musket, a weapon designed for the British Army and used extensively throughout the empire. It could fell a man or a moose, and its ubiquity in the hands of civilians and soldiers alike made it iconic. Capable of firing one shot every 20 seconds, it was the assault weapon of its time.
Times have changed. On Sunday morning, in a nightclub in Orlando, a man wielding a Sig Sauer MCX was able to fire off 24 shots in nine seconds of his four-hour rampage. Of the 300-plus people in the club at 2:02 a.m., nearly one-third were struck by flying lead — 49 fatally so.
There is nothing more American today than a mass shooting, the quickest way for the wicked among us to join the ranks of the reviled. Their motives are many, but their opportunity is limited only by their gun and ammunition magazine brand preference. In this country, the federal government limits duck hunters to weapons that carry only three shells, to protect the duck population. But you can buy an assault weapon in seven minutes and an unlimited number of bullets to fire with it. For every McDonald’s in the United States, there are four federally licensed gun dealers and an untold number of unregulated private dealers who can legally sell an unlimited number of guns out of their homes, backpacks, and car trunks without requiring a criminal background check or proof of ID.
These weren’t the guns, and this wasn’t the America, that the Founders foresaw. That is why we need a new assault weapons ban, written for the realities we face in 2016.
From the origins of the country, there has been a broad understanding that all constitutional rights are subject to reasonable exceptions, and that the purpose of the amendments is to ensure that the government doesn’t violate rights indiscriminately. The Supreme Court has ruled, and there is no legal problem with a new assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban.
Of all the exceptions, those involving public safety have been regarded by generations of jurists as the most reasonable and constitutionally acceptable. Simply put, banning weapons of war that fire dozens of rounds per minute is no more of a restriction on the rights of hunters and gun collectors and those seeking self-defense than controlling crowds is a violation of the right to assemble, or allowing slander judgments is a violation of the right to free speech, or banning grotesque forms of genital mutilation is a violation of the right to practice religion.
A sensible, mature society recognizes that extreme, destructive positions in the name of constitutional absolutism is just another form of fundamentalism; it seeks to prevent even the consideration of reasonable, responsive policies to address national problems by declaring them preemptively out of line. Would a better ban on semiautomatic assault weapons reduce the nation’s overall amount of violent crime? Research suggests not, but it would clearly reduce the violence of some crimes, particularly mass shootings like those in Newtown and Orlando.
Even harder to fathom is the blinkered fanaticism of the National Rifle Association, a group that once supported background checks and other federal regulations, which now professionally conflates the right to bear arms with the unregulated right to bear any arms that the hand of man can devise. Their statements come with ghoulish predictability in the wake of every massacre, with the same message: Of course guns are a tool of mass death, but they also have other uses.
But are those uses worth the carnage inflicted by these weapons?
In the end, of course, the NRA and the zealotry it fans are only symptoms of the country’s unhealthy gun fetish. On the one hand, the state of Massachusetts prides itself on its own tough gun laws. On the other, our state also profits from the production and sale of semiautomatic assault weapons by companies based here. Indeed, at its root, our gun culture is driven by demand: Millions of Americans feel that they need to own an assault weapon for either their own protection or their casual enjoyment.
But millions more Americans want assault weapons banned outright — 57 percent now support a federal bill to do so. And as a country, we know exactly what needs to be done to protect ourselves, because we’ve done it before: The National Firearms Act of 1934 rightly regulates the machine gun, and it could rightly regulate the semiautomatic assault rifle as well. We must hold our Congress accountable for arming criminals and terrorists with military-style weapons.
Unless this nation wants to see more mass killing in our schools, churches, theaters, nightspots, and office buildings, we must address the casualty quotient, which vastly increases with the use of semiautomatic assault arms. The idea of restricting unfettered access to assault weapons is only considered radical when it comes out of the mouth of a modern US president. To most Americans, and every other democracy on the planet, it is rightly considered common sense.