No Easy Answers
Texas Tragedy Was 212th Mass Shooting This Year
The elementary school shooting that killed 19 children and two adults in Texas was the 212th mass shooting this year, and the 27th school shooting. Among the dead who were identified in the shooting at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, were fourth-grade teacher Eva Mireles and fourth-graders Xavier Lopez, 10, and Amerie jo Garza, who had just turned 10 on May 10. Many of the shooting victims were children of Customs and Border Patrol agents.
The shooting occurred just 10 days after another shooting killed 10 people in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket.
Victims of this year’s shootings range from a young Eagle Scout and a 24-year-old UCLA graduate student to an Afghan refugee who had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. A 70-year-old nurse was murdered at a bus stop on the way to work; a 19-year-old Burger King cashier was robbed at gunpoint, then killed after handing over the money. An eight-year-old boy was shot outside of Chicago, and a pregnant woman was shot to death just after arriving home from her baby shower.
Tuesday’s shooting again raised questions about why the country is not doing more to prevent guns from getting into the hands of the wrong people. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act of 2020, but Senate Republicans have not allowed the bill to come to a vote in that chamber.
Opponents of gun control legislation cite the Second Amendment to the Constitution: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Gun control supporters point out that, for the Framers, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.
What the Framers intended and how the Second Amendment is interpreted have varied through the years. The Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”
When the National Rifle Association formed in New York in 1871, it sought to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called upon to fight in another war, as well as to promote the British sport of elite shooting. Civil War veterans saw it as a chance to hone their former skills, and rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.
Alliance with gun manufacturers was strictly forbidden. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA was accused of taking money from ammunition and arms manufacturers, the organization barred him from membership and sued him. NRA officers insisting on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns also worked hard to distinguish between access to guns for hunting, target shooting, and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not have the weapons. In 1931, the NRA supported federal legislation that limited concealed weapons, prevented possession by criminals, the mentally ill, and children, and required that all dealers be licensed and that they conduct background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act.
That nuanced approach to gun ownership changed in the 1970s. Until 1959, every argument on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun. In the 1970s, however, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that. In 1980, the NRA for the first time endorsed a presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan. The Republican platform that year opposed the federal registration of firearms. After the attempted assassination of the president, and the resulting passage of the Brady Bill in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike down the legislation.
Having become involved in national politics, the NRA received more and more money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C. The NRA spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election, the year of the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller which struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.
At the same time, those who say the Second Amendment’s reference to bearing arms only applies to militias have a problem: All 50 states prohibit private militias and military units from engaging in activities such as law enforcement activities. Only State Defense Forces (Guards, Reserves, and State Militias) and Naval Militias are recognized. That truly is a restriction on the Second Amendment.
Beyond such legal matters is the question of whether better gun control legislation can stop the violence. Many of the shooters have undetected mental health problems that are not apparent until after the carnage has occurred. It may go beyond mental health, as well: Social discourse has broken down and Americans are no longer talking to those who do not share their beliefs. I’ll end with a quote from Common Sense with Bari Weiss:
The social rot that’s come over America, the nihilism and hatred of each other, is part of the cause here. The dissolution of our social ties — and with them the accountability and responsibility that an actual community demands — has allowed insanity to fester unnoticed. Lockdowns accelerated the isolation, the purposelessness, the lack of meaning that was already overcoming us.
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