Friday, August 03, 2012

Guns and Violence in America

Americans seem to love their guns.  We've enshrined this idea in the U.S. Constitution, and the Supreme Court has essentially upheld our freedom to "bear arms."  The question is -- are there no limits?  And if not what is the cost to society?

Although the level of violence is going down across the country, gun violence is a common occurrence in many communities.  A mass shooting like that in Aurora or the shooting of Trayvon Martin gets our attention, but we quickly move on and fail to do anything.  Polls say that support for gun control has plummeted.   And in recent years gun advocates are becoming increasingly emboldened about their right to carry wherever and whenever they want.  So, we have folks parading around town carrying their guns, just to prove that they are "somebody."  To me, such displays of armament in public is rather juvenile.  What's the purpose, except to intimidate.  

In urban areas, where gang violence is often exacerbated by the availability of weapons, so that drive-by shootings become common and innocent bystanders -- often young children get caught in the cross-fire.  

I'm not opposed to gun ownership per se.  I grew up in Southern Oregon where guns are plentiful, but the purpose of these guns was, at least growing up, related to hunting.  But, unless you're an extremely poor shot, a semi-automatic rifle or pistol isn't very useful to shoot a deer or a duck.  Such weapons are designed to do one thing -- kill lots of people in a short amount of time.  Yet, there are no limits.  James Holmes purchased his weapons and his ammunition legally.  

So, what do we do?  What are the limits?  Antonin Scalia, who claims to be a strict constructionist in his readings of the Constitution focuses on the word "bear."  We are, he believes, entitled to own any weapon we are able to carry.  Thus, cannons and howitzers are off limits.  But, as I read, he is wondering perhaps whether or not it is legal to own and carry a rocket launcher -- you know the ones used to bring down planes.  At this point, he thinks that these are legal.  Really?  Is that what the Founders had in mind?  

I'll add this -- we have all this chatter on the right about the "Fast and Furious" investigation, wherein the ATF bungled an attempt to end gun smuggling.  But, really, if you don't want to control access to guns, a lot more guns are crossing the border beyond those that were released through this obviously bungled program.  

So, here's my question -- especially posed to people of faith -- even if the Constitution read through the lenses of Mr. Scalia permit unfettered ownership of weapons -- how should we respond?   Should we acquiesce or should we work to change this fascination with weapons designed to kill?  

You say -- well we have to protect our freedoms.  Do you really think that the US government is going to take away your freedoms if you don't have an arsenal of weapons in your basement?  And even if this is true -- that we have something to fear from our government (and I'm not of that mind) -- are we called to engage in such behavior -- as Christians?  





1 comment:

John said...

The Second Amendment is an anachronism, designed for different times and to address a different set of concerns. Regardless of the actual concerns of the Founders, the Constitution is the Rule of Law for our times too, and our concerns and our realities are every bit as important and ought to be even more controlling in how we interpret and apply the Constitution as theirs. In fact while their concerns are suggestive, ours should be determinative.

That being said, if as a nation we think automatic weapons and rocket launchers are not appropriate for private citizens to bear in public or amass in their homes, then as a nation we ought to have the right to restrict such things. We govern ourselves, we are not governed by a bunch of 18th Century gentlement farmers nor by their notions of justice.

The country and the Constitution belong to us today, and we have a civic as well as a covenantal duty to tend to both wisely, with contemporary issues and contemporary realities clearly in mind and not slavishly worshiping 18th Century notions and not limiting ourselves to responding to 18th Century realities.

Construing the meaning of the Constitution in today's world on the basis of what "bear" meant to an 18th Century farmer?!? What arms could he carry on his person? Seriously?

Should we then take into account the average height and weight of an 18th Century citizen, or the range of weapons available to him in determining how the provision is to be applied today? And of course then only men were citizens - women had no such rights, so then should we deny women this treasured right to carry flintlocks and dueling pistols?

Foolishness.