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Controlling Gun Violence

Copyright © 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010-2013 by David E. Ross

The Constitution

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.

2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America

Words were not wasted in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. There are no extraneous sentences or phrases. Thus, A well regulated Militia is a very significant part of the 2nd Amendment. This is not about each individual person maintaining his or her own arsenal; this is about the individual states maintaining militias. Further, the phrase being necessary to the security of a free State clearly refers to the states having militias, not to private militias. Teacher with SWAT team, blackboard says 'Glory of the 2nd Amendment', teacher says 'I was halfway through my lecture when the gunman burst in…'

Clearly, the control of private ownership of guns is not prohibited. As my daughter noted, the 2nd Amendment actually endorses state laws regulating the ownership of weapons (through the regulation of militias) and prohibits the federal government from eliminating state militias or interfering with state gun-control laws.

Some argue that the 2nd Amendment applies to individuals associating with their friends and neighbors to create an informal, ad hoc defense force. Read the amendment again! It says A well regulated Militia…, an obvious reference to a militia organized under government sponsorship and control. It also cites …the security of a free State, without mentioning the security of a free people. The proper role of the people under this amendment is to enlist in the state's militia and serve under the state's regulations for that militia, including howsoever the state chooses to regulate the firearms used by the militia.

Those early statesmen who wrote our Constitution and its first ten amendments — the Bill of Rights — were very careful to distinguish between people — the citizenry who organized to form a government — and the state — the collective expression of that government. Knowing they were writing the rules by which we govern ourselves, they also avoided any hidden meanings. Thus, militia has its conventional dictionary meaning.

My interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is consistent with the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court extending over more than a century. Repeatedly (1943, 1980), the Court refers to the "well regulated militia". The Court also refused (1996) to hear an appeal against a lower court that ruled the 2nd Amendment is a right held by states, not by private citizens. In any case, the Court ruled (1886, 1894) that the 2nd Amendment affects only the federal government and does not put any restriction on state gun-control laws; more recently (1983), the Court refused to hear an appeal against a lower court that made the same ruling.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 in Silveira vs Lockyer that the 2nd Amendment does not apply to individuals. Asserting that the intent of the 2nd Amendment was to protect gun rights of militias, not individuals, the Court of Appeals upheld California's laws against assault weapons, stating:

Because the Second Amendment affords only a collective right to own or possess guns or other firearms, the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Second Amendment claims is affirmed.
Supported by the NRA, Silveira appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2003 (as in 1996) refused to accept the appeal.
Four conservative justices on the Supreme Court — Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito — frequently refer to the "original intent" of the Constitution. They repeatedly insist that we must adhere to the explicit words in the Constitution's articles and amendments and not try to infer provisions that are not clearly stated.

In the case of District Of Columbia vs Dick Anthony Heller, those same four justices — joined by Justice Kennedy — ruled in 2008 that the introductory words of the 2nd Amendment were meaningless and could be ignored. By 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled that the "right of the people to keep and bear Arms" is an individual right and had nothing to do with a "well regulated Militia".

This, of course has thrown all existing gun-control laws into question. While the NRA wingnuts claim that will enhance everyone's safety by allowing all of us to defend ourselves, I fear the resulting proliferation of guns will only prove to increase their availability to criminals.

I believe that the Supreme Court — with a change in membership under future Presidents — will heed the actual words of the Constitution and will overturn District Of Columbia vs Dick Anthony Heller by declaring the 2nd Amendment indeed applies to a "well regulated Militia".

28 July 2008

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A Comparison

The NRA and its supporters claim that a well-armed citizenry deters crime. Does it?

According to the latest complete crime-rate statistics from the FBI (2011), the murder rate in the U.S. — with weak and ineffective gun-control laws — is 4.8 murders per 100,000 population with 67.7% of the murders committed with firearms.

According to the latest crime-rate statistics from Statistics Canada (2011), the murder rate in Canada — with strict gun-control laws — is 1.7 murders per 100,000 population with 26.4% of the murders by firearms.

The latest reported rate (year ending 30 June 2010) in England — another nation with strict gun-control laws — was 1.1 murders per 100,000 population with 6.6% of the murders by firearms. The latest (2004) reported murder rate in France is 1.6. In Australia (year ending 30 June 2007), it's 1.3.

No, guns alone don't kill people. It's people with guns that kill people. The high rate of murder in the U.S. may reflect the fact that too many people in the U.S. have guns.

Updated 27 December 2012

Stolen Guns

The NRA agrees that guns stolen from law-abiding gun owners is a problem. In 2008, the Commercial Appeal newspaper (Memphis, TN) published a database of the locations of gun permits in the Memphis area. Chris Cox (now the top lobbyist for the NRA in Washington) decried this, stating: "What they've done is give criminals a lighted pathway to [burglarize] the homes of gun owners." What Cox indicated is that there would be fewer guns in criminal hands if there were simply fewer guns overall.

Source: Los Angeles Times
27 December 2012

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The most visible, vocal political force in favor of arming every United States resident is the National Rifle Association (NRA). Not only does the NRA actively lobby against gun control in both Congress and the state legislatures, but it also contributes money and workers to the political campaigns of its "friends".

Further, the NRA engages in an ongoing public relations campaign in favor of gun ownership. This campaign makes extensive use of some very catchy slogans. Let's analyze some of those slogans.

Doonsbury cartoon commenting deaths from firearms and weak gun-control laws


There is no magic bullet that can stop this problem. However, there are some laws that could reduce gun-related violence effectively if collectively implemented.

magic bullet: Yes, this is a sick pun; but I could not resist.

The NRA's Agenda

Actually the NRA has much broader goals than merely arming every man, woman, and child in the United States. Just before he became president of the NRA, Charlton Heston gave a speech in 1997 at a meeting of the Free Congress Foundation:

I've realized that guns are not the only issue. There is cultural war. … [Our allies are] Pentecostal Christians, or pro-lifers, or right-to-workers, or Promise Keepers, or school voucher-ers. … Why is 'Hispanic pride' or 'black pride' a good thing while 'white pride' conjures up shaved heads and white hoods?

Is there now room in the NRA for someone whose religion is not the one, true belief? That organization is now run by someone who seeks the support of those who would shoot doctors for the sake of "the right to life", who oppose the ability of labor unions to curb employer abuses, who would use religion to put half the population into a second-class status, and who would take my taxes to subsidize religious education for beliefs quite different from my own. Most frightening, Heston failed to understand that "white pride" is indeed the slogan of the white Christian nationalist movement, a terrorist movement of private militias that the NRA has helped to arm.

Former KKK Wizard David Duke clearly understands Heston's "cultural war". He praised Heston's speech: "I am thankful to hear a man with such high esteem say essentially the same things for which I have been reviled."

Heston finally had to resign as NRA president because of his affliction with Alzheimer's disease. That did not necessarily end the NRA's culture war.

Speculation that the NRA is really a lobbying front for gun manufacturers appears true. After all, why would the NRA opposed a United Nations proposed treaty that would restrict the export of guns without having any impact on domestic commerce or ownership of guns? This is because the treaty would harm the NRA's real sponsors, the gun manufacturers in the U.S. who account for 40% of the international trade in civilian guns.

We must recognize that we can be safe from gun violence only when we elect politicians who are not afraid of the NRA.

Cheney Takes a Shot at Kerry's Gun Ownership Stance

Pittsburgh — Vice President Dick Cheney used a speech to the National Rifle Association on Saturday to paint Democrat John Kerry as a firearm industry foe bent on over-regulating gun makers and owners.

Playing to conservative voters, Cheney appeared in the election battlefield state of Pennsylvania to pledge the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign's support for gun ownership.

© Yahoo/Reuters, 18 April 2004

This was another reason I voted for Kerry.

By a vote of 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McDonald vs City of Chicago that gun ownership is an individual right. The conservative majority of the justices — who long supported the concept of "original intent" in the Constitution — totally ignored the introductory clause of the 2nd Amendment. They thus proved that the term "activist judges" really apply only to liberals and not to conservatives who engage in "judicial legislation".

Someday, perhaps within my lifetime, a new set of Supreme Court justices will recognize that all words in the Constitution are relevant and will reinstate the introductory clause of the 2nd Amendment, making it apply to state militias. In the meantime, how many innocent individuals will die in gun violence in the United States?

Obviously in 2012, the answer to the above question was seen in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in a shopping mall just outside of Portland, Oregon, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere. One week after 27 innocent people died in Newtown — mostly young children — Wayne LaPierre (chief executive of the NRA) said that prevention of future school shootings requires the immediate deployment of armed guards at every school in the United States. Given the dire financial state of most public school systems in this nation, I hope this suggestion includes having the NRA pay the costs for these guards. The NRA should also pay the costs of the schools' insurance policies to cover the added liability when armed guards accidentally shoot the wrong person. And will the NRA not also provide armed guards in movie theaters and shopping malls?

Does the answer to gun violence really require even more guns?

Contrary to the advice of the NRA's LaPierre, an armed police officer based at Price Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, did not prevent a student from shooting another student at that school on 31 January 2013.

Last updated 1 February 2013

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