I came across a classic internet-clip of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in full, histrionic campaign-mode, declaiming about “assault” weapons and large-capacity magazines. “No one needs ten bullets to kill a deer!” he cried, to thunderous applause from an appreciative crowd. “End the madness now! Too many have died already!”
Apart from the entertainment value of a skilled politician delivering a “stemwinder” to an excited partisan crowd, Mr. Cuomo’s comments were worthy of note on two points: first, because they were part of an orchestrated liberal campaign to exploit the horrible murders of 20 children and 6 adults that had just occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and second, because they illustrate Mr. Cuomo’s peculiar view of the Constitution’s Second Amendment – a view evidently shared by many media people and liberal politicians.
With respect to the first point, Rahm Emanuel’s famous observation that a politician should “never let a good crisis go to waste” springs instantly to mind. I was going to say that I had never seen such shameless political exploitation of a tragedy, but then I recalled the 2011 incident when a gunman seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) at a shopping-mall in Tucson, Arizona. Media people immediately tried to link the crime to conservative politics.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said the Arizona shooting showed that conservative talk radio and the Tea Party had provoked “…an end to civil discourse…” She made this obtuse connection despite the known fact that the shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner – who killed six people besides wounding Ms. Giffords and twelve others – was a disturbed loner with no known political agenda or connections. He was, in reality, just another idiot who got hold of a gun and started blasting before anyone could stop him.
After mercifully recovering from her wounds, Congresswoman Giffords and her husband, former Astronaut Mark Kelly, founded an advocacy group that raises money to elect people to Congress who will enact “common-sense measures” for curbing gun-violence. Ironically, Ms. Giffords is now exploiting other shooting incidents in exactly the way her own incident was exploited.
One can hardly blame the congresswoman for wanting to do something that might spare others the pain and near-death experience she endured. Jared Loughner destroyed her career and nearly her life. He also killed a judge, a Congressional staffer, and a 9-year-old girl. Who wouldn’t want to try to stop such horror? Her experience was dreadful. I’m glad she survived. God bless her.
However, doing “something” is not enough. The great thing is to do something useful. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that passing more laws will stop a crazy or wicked person determined to kill people with a firearm. We already have so many state laws passed to prevent guns-crimes that the Supreme Court has begun to strike some of them down for overstepping the Second Amendment. In 2008 the Court tossed the District of Columbia’s law which prohibited all possession of handguns inside the city – even in one’s home. It was one of the strictest laws in the nation. For the first time the Court ruled that the Second Amendment actually guarantees a citizen’s right to use weapons for self-defense.
“We hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito joined Justice Scalia in the majority opinion.
In 2015 a federal judge further ruled that DC’s law requiring a person to have a “good reason” or a “proper reason” to obtain a gun carry-permit was “unconstitutionally vague.” The stipulation had resulted in issuance of very few permits. The court’s ruling affirmed a suit brought by three individuals who had been denied permits.
An increasing body of data shows that “gun-free zones” – as they are popularly called – not only do not prevent gun-crimes, but perversely enable them. One can hardly fail to note that some recent mass-shootings might have been stopped, had someone in the school, theater, restaurant, office or mall been armed. In the attack on the Republican baseball-practice on June 14th, armed people on the scene – police, in that case – prevented a tragedy from becoming a full-blown catastrophe. “Gun-free zones” guarantee only that no responsible, law-abiding people can resist in such incidents. The criminals know that only they will be armed.
Studies show that “right to carry” or “must issue” laws enabling citizens to be armed actually reduce rates of crime in those jurisdictions. People who fear and hate guns discount such studies, but the trend is unmistakable. The District of Columbia finished 2012 with 135 homicides – a far cry from the 482 murders the city endured in 1991, when its strict gun-laws were in full force.
DC police don’t officially connect this improved situation to the Supreme Court’s ruling, but you don’t have to be a criminologist to see that not knowing who’s packin’ a piece might make thugs less bold about waving a gun around. Criminals overwhelmingly say that their greatest fear is not the cops but an armed “mark.” An individual personally threatened is far more likely to fire than police, who must follow strict guidelines governing deadly force. Studies show that 2 million crimes are prevented each year by use of a firearm – most of them without firing the weapon at all. This preventive aspect of gun-possession is generally ignored by politicians intent on “doing something” to stop gun violence.
Gov. Cuomo’s parting shot (so to speak) about not needing “10 bullets to kill a deer” is also worthy of examination. I am not the first to be alarmed by the idea – common among reporters and politicians – that the Second Amendment guarantees possession of firearms so citizens can hunt. This view is as incorrect as the former conventional view that the Second Amendment allows citizens to possess weapons only so they can serve in a “militia” – i.e., a citizens’ army. Gun-opponents argue that since our official armed forces – including a National Guard in each state – now handle our national defense, the need for a citizens-militia is obviated. But the Supreme Court says holders of this view have miscomprehended the Amendment.
The Founders who drafted the Constitution and its Bill of Rights understood very well that the government could not guarantee citizens’ rights. Indeed, they knew that the government might, at some point, become the enemy of those rights. Only citizens can secure their own rights, and only an armed citizenry can do this effectively.
Possessing and using arms in times of danger is what the Second Amendment is really about. Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride to warn citizens that the British Army was on its way to seize stores of weapons and ammunition at Concord. The Revolution’s first battles were fought to protect those weapons. Colonists didn’t need the arms just for hunting or target-shooting. The stakes were much higher. So might they be for us at some future time.
The Second Amendment doesn’t split hairs over which types of personal arms are permissible. In the common meaning of the term, “arms” are weapons that an individual might reasonably possess and use. Artillery was not part of that meaning, but various types of rifles clearly would be. Knowledgeable people argue that weapons like the AK-47 or the Knight’s SR-15 carbine are the modern equivalent of the 18th century musket. These are weapons a citizen-soldier might wish to have, should he be needed in a militia to resist enemies, foreign or domestic.
We all agree that the murders of children and innocent citizens are horrible crimes that no one wants to see repeated. We can improve our methods for keeping crazy people off the street and away from firearms, and we should do so. But restricting or prohibiting law-abiding people’s ownership of weapons and ammunition won’t accomplish this. Ridding the country of all weapons is a liberal pipe-dream no likelier to happen than banning cars because some nut-cases drive them into crowds of people. It would be useful if the media stopped beating that particular dead horse. We live in dangerous times, and we need to be wise about these things.