It's Past Time to Get Guns Under Control
It was in June 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, that attorney Joseph Welch confronted Sen. Joseph McCarthy with the famous line that many believe was the final blow to McCarthy's bullying, delusional anti-communist campaign:
"Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
It may be that the gun control debate has reached a similar climactic point. How long can we tolerate increasingly frequent mass executions? At what point does a sense of decency, or perhaps rationality, overcome a residual national Wild West mentality? Will the NRA at last be relegated to the role of a latter-day Joe McCarthy?
It is time - it is, in fact, 30,000 deaths a year past time - to at least begin to get some control over our national fixation with firearms.
"Guns don't kill people, people kill people." We've all heard it. By that standard, nuclear weapons don't kill people either; still, I don't particularly want my neighbor to have one.
This is not a simple issue, but if the murder of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and teachers trying to protect them doesn't force a national debate, then we are very far down a road to civic chaos that the founders who wrote the troublesome Second Amendment could not have imagined.
The discussions surrounding that amendment are so tedious as to be meaningless by now. The amendment cites the need for a well-regulated militia to protect the security of a state as the basis for a right to bear arms.
The Supreme Court, in two decisions in 2008 and 2010, separated that right from any need for a militia, and allowed that reasonable restrictions on firearms were consistent with the Constitution.
It may be obvious, but that makes it no less relevant, that modern firearms were inconceivable in 1791 when the Second Amendment was adopted. At the time, a single-shot musket was the weapon of choice, whether for a militia, for shooting dinner, or, most likely, for both. If there was ever a case when the Constitution must be viewed through a modern lens, this is it.
Even the most left-leaning legislator in the country would not propose banning all firearms. Hunters can hunt, target shooters can shoot, a carefully managed pistol may be acceptable for self-defense; but assault weapons? They only appear to be suitable for mass murder.
Yes, yes, I know; there are millions of them out there now; criminals will get them no matter what we do; that horse is long out of the barn. It sounds a lot like nuclear proliferation.
So is the proper course just to ignore the whole thing until everybody is armed to the teeth; until Iran has nukes; or should we at least try to pull back from the brink and prevent crazy and evil people from having access to the means to kill?
It may well take decades to rationalize gun laws and achieve reasonable control over the sale and ownership of firearms. That is all the more reason to start now. We should all be very weary by now of school shootings and rampages in theaters and random killings in shopping malls. Those could be our children, our friends, ourselves.
Just as the Army-McCarthy hearings pulled the cover off Sen. McCarthy's ongoing witch hunt, the shootings in Newtown will hopefully prove a catalyst for a reasonable consideration of how and why we have come to this place, and how to move away from it.
I read just the other day that there is going to be a new television show on The Learning Channel, of all places. It is going to be called "The Best Funeral Ever." What would the founders think about that?
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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