I’m about to speak about something that you probably never expected to read on this space: gun control. Warning: things are about to get political. I try to keep it light and whimsical here on Rhyme & Ribbons despite being deeply political in my personal life because this space is my place to escape and focus on the positive.
I had originally scheduled this post to be published earlier today, but due to the Democratic filibuster, I delayed my post. I was flooded with respect and gratitude toward Senator Murphy and the others that led the floor for nearly 15 hours yesterday and in the early hours of this morning. I was moved to tears this morning. It’s the first time in awhile that I’ve felt a rush of patriotism. It’s also been a long time since I’ve felt passion and pride in our Congress.
I may live in England now, but I’m American. I love my country and I love our constitution. Which is why I have to speak up. This week, I can’t be silent. As an American, I feel sick. Physically sick at the state of the country. I could never begin to comprehend the anguish of those who lost loved ones this weekend, or the impact that it’s had on the community. So I’m not going to try to extend my understanding and sympathy because though their deaths leave their mark on my heart, there’s no way that my extension of sympathy can even touch the hurt caused by a gunman’s actions to the victims families.
Besides Orlando, there were multiple other shootings this weekend, including the murder of 5 people in New Mexico (my home state), and 4 of those 5 New Mexicans were children. It’s constantly being asked, when are we going to say enough is enough? In an ideal world, appealing to people’s hearts would be enough, that I wouldn’t even need to have the following discussion. But we don’t live in an ideal world. So let’s hash out some constitutional law.
If you are not speaking out for gun control, you are part of the problem. If that means throwing family and friends under the bus for their strong belief in the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment, so be it. I love you, but I firmly believe you’re wrong.
I believe you’re wrong because you are extrapolating something from the 2nd Amendment that isn’t strictly there. The 2nd Amendment only guarantees gun rights in some interpretations. Let’s look at the wording of it, “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.” The key part of the preamble that people tend to brush aside is the “well regulated Militia” bit, and it’s extremely important. So important that it’s been subjected to over a century’s worth of scrutiny.
This is where the Supreme Court has come in, and this is where I feel that a modern court has failed us. Though many Americans seem to hold the sanctity of owning a gun right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it’s only in recent memory that the court has ruled this way. The first time the court ruled that the 2nd Amendment protects the rights of gun ownership with little to no control was in 2008. In fact, every other time that it came up to the court prior to 2008 (District of Columbia v Heller) the decision and interpretation was that the amendment does not guarantee unrestricted gun freedoms; in 1934 the NRA themselves testified for gun restrictions.
But with the power increase of pro-gun lobbies, public sentiment has been manipulated, coerced and twisted until we all believe that the founding fathers put gun ownership right up there with voting. And of course, this public sentiment influences Supreme Court decisions, which is entirely legal because some of the Court believe the US Constitution to be a “living” constitution, open to adapting to internal and external pressures and changing over time. (This, of course, plays a key part in the debate between Originalist vs Loose Constructivism, but that’s a very complicated debate. And not be honest, not one that I think most gun proponents in America think about.)
Historically, all terms in the Constitution must have some kind of effect, so the preamble to the 2nd Amendment (the “militia” part) is no exception. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall stated in Marbury v Madison 1803 (the landmark case that established judicial review in this country) “it cannot be presumed that any clause in the constitution is intended to be without effect” So why are we so willing to ignore what Madison most likely meant with their well-regulated militia? As far as I see it, there is no mention of an individual’s right to own a gun for individual self-defence or recreation…
In most other documents from the era, “bearing arms” was a very specific term only used in a military context, and if the 2nd Amendment was solely about gun rights, there’d be a much easier way to word it.
I will concede, that this is my (and many others) interpretation to believe that gun rights without limits are not protects. But portraying it as a gospel truth is also one interpretation, that is not only potentially wrong, but highly dangerous. There are many shades of grey in the US legal system and no clear-cut, inarguable basis for opposing gun restrictions.
Can you pick holes in my logic? Of course. And I can in the pro-gun lobbyist’s. But it’s that ambiguity that highlights the fact that it isn’t a right specifically spelled out to us. I’ll say it again. It’s an interpretation. Let’s all say that again, the right to own a gun is an interpretation not a solid fact.
It’s naive to think that we can suddenly take all guns out of America, but it should, without question, be harder to get a gun than it is to vote or open a bank account. In the months after 9/11, my 5 year old niece had a pair of safety scissors confiscated from her backpack at the airport because security recognised the danger for abuse. No one argues with TSA when they confiscate our razors, scissors and lotions. No one argues that the things we take on a flight are a protected right as our “property’. So we are we now willingly turning a blind eye to actual implements of death? We have all become the bystander that is watching a crime.
Even if you don’t own a gun yourself, but automatically assume it is a spelled out protected right, you are contributing to systematic and silent approval of violence in our country. Since Sandy Hook there have been nearly 1000 mass shootings. And Sandy Hook wasn’t decades ago. It was in 2012. Let’s just let that number sink in for a second. The Constitutional high ground is important, but let’s be honest, the rights of gun ownership are more about the court of public opinion than the law of the land. The question I want all Americans to ask themselves is this; is your interpretation the Constitution so important that it’s worth sacrificing innocent lives and public safety?