Mass murder by guns is a tragedy we shouldn’t have to bear.
Pursuing ways to prevent it is always the first promise made. Doing something about it is the promise never kept.
The grim fatality count this past month – eight shot dead in the Atlanta area, 10 in Boulder, and now eight in Indianapolis – accentuates the inertia.
Gun advocates are preoccupied with trying to read every protective nuance into the Second Amendment. Gun control supporters are distraught over hostility to their cause from Republicans.
There is no middle ground, despite the carnage. Yet compromise – long seen as sellout by both sides – is the solution if we ever hope to curtail this senseless cycle of mass murder by guns.
A good place to start is the 219-year-old Second Amendment: “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 Supreme Court infrequently wrestles with the meaning of a “well regulated Militia,” which is the introductory clause. The second and last clause refers to the right of the people to own guns and cannot be nullified by the first clause, the court ruled in 2008. The late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia authored the majority opinion.
The present issue is not the right to own guns for self-defense, hunting and recreational shooting. That’s been settled by the Supreme Court. The NRA and conservative pols who warn that progressives seek to take away your guns is a self-serving false narrative. The court has made it clear they cannot do it.
But the court has not restricted Congress, under the Second Amendment, from enacting gun regulations aimed at public safety – including background checks for all sales to prevent guns from falling into the possession of the mentally ill, people with criminal records, undocumented immigrants, and individuals with restraining orders keeping them from a partner or a partner’s children.
Public opinion polls show strong support among Americans for universal background checks. It is a common-sense safety measure. So, too, are proposals to ban the sale of military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, which are often the weapons of choice for mass shooters.
It is helpful to the discourse to put the Second Amendment in its historic context. The typical guns of the late 18th century were single-round muskets and flintlock pistols. They had a maximum range of 50 yards, approximately the width of a football field. A skilled gunman could maybe get off three shots in a minute or two.
Today’s high-powered rifles and handguns can discharge 12 times more bullets in less than a minute, with a range of 600 yards, or the length of six football fields. That’s a dramatic difference the Founding Fathers could never imagine. Nor could they realize then the current U.S. population – 330 million people – and the ratio of 120.5 guns per 100 people. Put another way, more guns – 394 million – in the possession of civilians than any other country.
Every liberty-loving American should be worried about the volume of civilian armaments, should our bitter political divisions ever break out into another civil war. The Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol unmuted that fear.
In the aftermath of Indianapolis and other recent mass killings, the least we can do is to enact needed gun safety laws. Maybe, just maybe, they will prevent some, if not all, such tragedies.
Bill Ketter is the senior vice president of news for CNHI, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.