Okay, here we go again. Yet another horrific mass shooting in America, this time in a high school by a deranged killer has taken the life of our most innocent members of society. Besides heartfelt sympathy for the victims and their families, the only acceptable thing to say publicly without being scolded as cold-blooded is to call for some type of decisive action.
And so I say, let’s call for action, but in smart, rational and proportional way. Because what usually happens after each of these tragic events, the usual actors pop up in the public debate, the loudest voices often getting the most attention by the media.
The sides are drawn between those who want to ban certain types of firearms like the assault-style rifle, and those defending the Second Amendment against any further restrictions whatsoever. They play their roles, until the next big news cycle comes along and sweeps the story away. No one learns anything, no one understands or respects the other side, and nothing changes.
While tragic events emotionally drive us to take action that might be beneficial in our personal lives, the case is much harder to make for public policy. We have seen the excesses abroad and at home following the 9/11 attack. One result was the Patriot Act, which led to “sneak and peek” covert search warrants, roving wiretaps and other violations of the privacy of Americans. Some of these violations were eventually declared a breach of the Fourth Amendment (Mayfield v United States), making them unconstitutional.
Every time the Bill of Rights gets attacked, it makes you realize how fortunate we are to have protections — those rights. So, as unpopular as it is to say, quick draconian solutions don’t usually work for complex societal problems and always have a lot of negative unintended consequences.
Which brings me back to the topic at hand, and what we should do about this very sick trend of mass shootings. First, there is always education. I’m not so sure that our constitutional rights are being taught to young people in way that allows them to understand the reason for why we have these rights, nor the hierarchy of our laws. This is especially true of the Second Amendment, which like First and Fourth Amendments, seems to be under constant attack by various forces in the name of security, comfort and safety.
We must always remember that as a nation of laws, we must respect those laws, even if we strongly disagree with them or our emotions lead us to different conclusions.
The highest law of land is the U.S. Constitution, which includes the Bill of Rights. The highest court to interpret that law is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS.) The Second Amendment has been upheld by SCOTUS in District of Columbia v Heller as protecting an individual’s right to firearm possession unconnected to service in a militia. It’s what’s called “settled law.”
We are not starting from nothing. Our public discussions must reflect this better. We also need to emphasize not only the rights, but also the responsibility that comes with exercising those rights. It’s hard to do that when the media only focus on gun ownership after high profile tragedies. Gun owners and advocacy groups need to reach out, outside of these events to educate others what is responsible ownership and what they are doing to strengthen it. We can always look to new, effective legislation, such as banning bump stocks and the need to close several loopholes in our federal background check system.
According to the FBI, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) only provides full service to 36 states and territories. Several other “common sense” rules have been proposed, but the political debate is stuck in a “zero sum game” mentality. I think that this is like the abortion debate.
Some people or groups will support limited legislation, but on the other side of their mouths, there is talk of how things must change to go along with the times and how obsolete the Second Amendment has become vis-a-vis today’s weapons.
CNN hosted a town hall on the issue, and had students speak and enter the public debate on policy. But as we bring young people into the adult public debate, they must also prepare them to listen to opposing arguments with respect. The hostile and uncivil tone cause people to dig in their heels. And I can’t help but think President Obama’s statement on people who “cling to guns and religion” all those years ago, still plays a role.
Finally, we have to remember, that just like terrorism, drug abuse and other scourges, there is no path that provides us with 100 percent certainty it won’t happen again. If there is any silver lining, it is that long-term gun accidents, violence and homicides are way down over the long term in this country. That does little to comfort the victims, but it does point to having far fewer victims going forward, and that gives up real hope, along with our real action.
A self-confessed news junkie, Joseph Meyers is a longtime resident of Guam.