What is more troublesome – gun violence or the stupid debate about it?
For at least the last fifty years we have endured escalating, senseless gun violence and a senseless gun debate about it. And where are we today? Nowhere. We’re still stuck in 1791. In fact, today, we’re buried deep in a narrow-minded, stupid-hole from which we continue to interpret a bunch of revolutionaries’ 200 year-old thinking and – with a straight face – call it reasonable. It makes no sense. Is that because there are more stupid people or more guns? Or both?
The FBI estimates that there are 200-300 million guns privately-owned in the US today (that certainly earns the moniker of a “gun culture”) and those guns are one helluva lot more lethal than the muskets Thomas Jefferson was thinking about when he and his friends penned the Second Amendment, “… the right to keep and bear arms.” Back then, if some “nut” went to the market to kill someone, he had only a slight chance of getting off a couple of shots before someone took him down. Today, a “nut” can fill the mall or theater with ninety rounds in a matter of seconds.
It’s a very different world and yet, we are still arguing about an unchanged, out-dated, badly defined right. The fact that the founding fathers are still revered (some of it valid, some misplaced) doesn’t mean that they were so prescient as to imagine the gun arsenal a citizen could amass today. There is one gun for every man, woman and child in the US and on average each gun owner owns four guns. We can’t blame the founding fathers for short-sightedness but we certainly don’t have to accept that they knew what would be best 220 years later – unless you’re a head-in-the-sand constitutionalist (Justice Scalia comes to mind) or a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). They should change their name to the N”WMD”A – National Weapons of Mass Destruction Association. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the NRA’s most prominent critics, says the organization is “a $200 million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising.” He adds, “More than anything, the NRA is a marketing organization, and its flagship product is fear.”
Who needs 33 rounds – Jared Loughner?
It is not the Second Amendment that is wrong; it is the irresponsible acceptance and interpretation of it. The US Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times so there is no good reason not to amend it again so that it reflects the reality of a modern, violent world in which “nuts” have unfettered access to military arms that Jefferson could never have imagined. Would Jefferson and the others not agree that no one needs an AK-47? Surely not Jared Loughner (Arizona mall murderer). Nor James Holmes (Colorado theater murderer). And you can bet that Joseph Loughrey, 44, of Pennsylvania is sorry he even had a gun because as of last week he no longer has his seven-year-old son who was shot by his loaded hand gun.
Is there no middle ground?
We all know the tired argument from gun totting firebrands: “ … people, not guns, kill people.” And as country and western singer Ted Nugent recently said, “We need nut control, not gun control.” These catchy clichés prop up one side of the debate while adding no intelligence. It’s typical “low-information” thinking. Either or. Black or white. No guns or huge arsenals. And yet, any intelligent person – which should include Thomas Jefferson – would agree that there is a middle ground. Is it too much to expect, to ask, that Ted Nugent and all the NRA folk try to understand that if we can control the access “nuts” have to military arms we can decrease the amount of violence. Not all of it, but a lot more than we do. And it would not have to deny responsible people their right to keep and bear arms – sensibly, carefully, responsibly – for huntin’ and protection, for which no one needs an assault weapon or a 33 round extended magazine.
I realize that “responsible” and “reasonable” do not enter the NRA side of the debate and that the gun economy is far bigger than the body count from gun violence. Obviously the tragedies of Trayvon Martin, Gabrielle Giffords, Columbine, Virgina Tech, Wisconsin Sikh temple, etcetera, etcetera, are not enough to shift the balance from money to intelligence. In fact, the sale of guns has increased dramatically since Barrack Obama was re-elected and one gun maker, Ruger, sold over a million guns in 2011. They’re stocking up in case Obama tries to bring in new restricting legislation (we can only hope). Even the kids are shopping.
Jefferson or Gordon Gekko?
Thomas Jefferson probably would not have taken up the fight against assault weapons because he also put economics before doing what was right. He may not have espoused to Gordon Gekko’s philosophy that “greed is good,” but he sure put money first. Even as he wrote, “All men are created equal … ” (except for blacks and women), he also wrote a letter to George Washington and told him that he had done the economic arithmetic on slavery.
What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets.
Jefferson owned as many as 600 slaves and although he denounced the slave trade as an “execrable commerce … this assemblage of horrors …,” he did nothing about it. So if he could vote today, I think it’s fair to assume that if he put money and hypocrisy before the horrors of slavery he sure as hell wouldn’t ban assault weapons because of the unfortunate deaths of a few innocent people. Probably, if he was here today living among the gentry, instead of owning slaves he would own stock in gun manufacturers and he’d do well because the share prices of both Ruger (NYSE: RGR) and Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ: SWHC), two big publicly traded gun companies (and maker of the semi-automatic rifle used in the Aurora cinema shooting), reached record highs in 2012.
As long as the NRA’s good ol’huntin’ dog, Wayne LaPierre, is spreading money around Washington and fear around the back roads and gated communities of the nation, we are likely stuck with assault weapons and the carnage of innocents they leave behind.