The 2nd amendment is a lawyer’s wet dream, devoid of anything approaching clarity and subject to the interpretation of whatever august chamber happens to be deliberating on its meaning. It is a Rorshach Test that helps to determine where we fall on the ideological spectrum. 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. If you want America to go back on the gold standard or own any pieces of clothing with the words, “these colors don’t run” on them, then you likely focus on the second half of the amendment. If you think that drone strikes are unconscionable or have an “I ♡ Obamacare” bumper sticker on your car, then you’ll be prone to devote your attentions to the first half. Anyone pompous enough to tell you he knows the “correct interpretation” of the 2nd Amendment is the same type of inflammatory jackass who insists he knows the real answer to a hypothetical question. Any reading of the 2nd amendment has as much to do with grammatical nuance as it does authorial intent. It’s all as clear as a barrel of Canadian crude.
When the Constitution was written, America was a fledgling nation with no standing army that was under constant threat of attack from their former colonial overlords on the other side of the briny deep. A couple of missteps here or there during The Revolutionary War or The War of 1812 and all the coins in my change jar could have Queen Victoria on them (right, Canada?). Naturally, the Founding Fathers would determine in all of their folksy wisdom that it would be a good idea to have a well-armed citizenry should King George decide to come back for seconds. Plus, in 1787 we were still surrounded by American Indians who were none too pleased to find us raping their land and giving them smallpox, and that’s to say nothing of the thousands of freaky ass animals that we’d never seen before roaming about the countryside. Guns were a necessary tool for surviving in the American wilderness.
Today, we have a standing army so immense that a fighting force comprised of the next 11 biggest armies in the world couldn’t equal its size. We have enough nuclear weapons to destroy every sentient being on this earth 100 times over and we have guns so powerful that they can fire off more rounds in a minute than your average Redcoat could get off in 3 hours. All of the frightening wilderness we used to encounter has been turned into a Costco parking lot and shooting animals is a sport rather than a necessity for survival. Would Thomas Jefferson have worded the constitution the same way if he was writing it on a Macbook Pro rather than a piece of parchment? I don’t fucking know. The Bill of Rights is a 225 year old document that was written in a very specific place and time and I don’t give a shit what that oafish Shrek of a man Antonin Scalia has to say about it, he’s wrong. The Constitution is a fluid, living document that was not written to be the secular iteration of The Ten Commandments. We’ve amended the damn thing 17 times before on matters as trivial as the prohibition of alcohol to issues as vital to our being as the abolition of slavery. There is precedent.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary this past Friday, it is incumbent upon us reexamine the 2nd Amendment and what it means in the context of 21st century life. This does not mean that I, or the vast majority of Americans, want to ban all guns and completely gut the freedom to bear arms. In my opinion, the protest-happy hippy that wants to eliminate all firearms from American life is just as irrational as the paranoid survivalist that has 15 assault rifles and 3 years of canned food at his house in case the government ever tries to invade his home and plant a control chip in his brain. I am very supportive of hunter’s rights and am well aware of the somewhat paradoxical fact that pro-hunting organizations like Ducks Unlimited actually do some of the most important conservation work in this country. I recognize the fact that some people feel safer knowing that they have a shotgun or revolver in their home to protect themselves and I have nothing against that type of gun ownership provided the gun owner passes a comprehensive mental health exam and background evaluation.
What I cannot abide is the idea that anyone has the right to own an assault rifle or semi-automatic gun with a high capacity magazine whose only reason for existence is to kill a large number of people in a short time. There is no circumstance in which a home owner would need to use a semi-automatic weapon with a 30-round magazine like the one Adam Lanza used to senselessly murder 20 1st graders and 7 adults. A small platoon is not going to storm your front lawn like it was Omaha Beach so they can steal your jewelry and fine china, and if you need a 30-round magazine to deter just one or two burglars, then you have no business wielding a gun in the first place. The Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that was used in the shootings at Aurora and Newtown is a vile and disgusting hunk of metal that has no place in our society and can offer nothing but incomprehensible anguish.
Owning a gun is not a right. It is a privilege. America has proven itself uniquely undeserving of that privilege, racking up a higher intentional homicide rate than any other developed nation, with the overwhelming majority of those homicides coming from firearms.1 The right to life trumps all else and there are 20 small children and 7 adults in Connecticut who had that right violently snatched from them for reasons that remain unclear, but will always be inexplicable. To appropriate a favorite slogan of the American Right: freedom isn’t free. Your freedom to purchase and play with semi-automatic weapons has cost us in ways that go beyond the 20 exuberant examples of youth and beauty that were taken from us Friday. Your freedom cost us more than the lives of the 6 courageous and blessed educators. Your freedom to wield an assault rifle cost us whatever sliver of hope we had that our children would grow up in a less violent and depraved world than we did. That is a cost I am not willing to pay and neither are the tens of millions of Americans who realize that without life, there is no liberty and without love there is no life.
1The United States had 4.2 intentional homicides per 100,000 residents according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The next closest developed nation was South Korea with a rate of 2.6 per 100,000. Technically Liechtenstein was higher, but since they only have a population of 35,000, their 1 murder last year gave them a rate of 2.8 per 100,000.