For the second time in as many calendar years, I awoke Monday to the words “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history” and braced myself for the horrors the new record would entail. And wondered how long the new record will stand in a nation that, inexplicably, lets this happen again and again because we won’t give up our guns or, in the alternative, put reasonable restrictions on who can own them and what kinds are allowed.
I haven’t always been this way. I used to be one of those types who kept a copy of the Constitution nearby as a person of faith might keep a Bible or Torah or Quran on their nightstand. And while I’m not one of those federalist nuts who can’t see that a living, breathing nation needs a living, breathing Constitution, I will admit to believing the first 10 amendments were pretty much sacrosanct. I mean, they’re the bill of rights.
Now, I’ve never been a gun person. They scare me. I walk into my dad’s house – he has many guns, of various shapes, sizes and calibers – and I see them lying around and I get nervous. It’s a lot of power for one person to wield over another. A lot could go wrong. Mistakes can be made and the results would be permanent.
But in those old days I’d take comfort in the Second Amendment and my belief that the guns of the people keep the government in check. If it was important enough for the Founding Fathers to put it second only to the rights of speech, religion and the press, that was good enough for me.
And besides, guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Right?
It took a single morning in December 2012 to tear down years of deeply held beliefs, and only one man to do it.
It took Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the senseless murders of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six of their teachers. A heinous act by a troubled young man who had no motive other than he was a troubled young man who should have never been allowed near one gun, let alone the arsenal he and his mother shared.
A legal arsenal. A constitutionally protected arsenal, gun owners remind us when we bring up the idea of restrictions or tighter regulations or background checks that dig a little deeper than motor vehicle violations, so that another elementary school isn’t shot up by another troubled young man.
Never mind that the words “well regulated militia” come before “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” in the text of the Second Amendment.
It took watching the President of the United States, the leader of the free world and a father of two, wipe away tears at the subsequent press conference.
It took knowing the love of my life, also a teacher, may be taken away from me just as easily by a troubled person wielding a gun that – while perhaps legal – is far, far too easy to get in this country.
My unwavering belief in Second Amendment rights was shaken to its core that day in December 2012. Back then, I wanted Congress to make it at least as difficult to buy a handgun or a hunting rifle as it is to buy a car.
And I wanted Congress to make it impossible for any regular citizen to get their hands on the kinds of weapons we outfit our military elite with. Things no self-respecting hunter would ever use on deer in the forest. Weapons that serve no purpose but to kill and maim human beings.
Congress’ response to the horror of Newtown has netted these results: 1,719 people dead and 6,510 injured in mass shootings – defined as four or more people shot in a single incident, not including the shooter – since Jan. 1, 2013, with mass shootings occurring in the United States nine out of every 10 days, on average.
In other words, Congress has done nothing. Even the simple things, like keeping military weapons out of the hands of civilians or requiring a look at a potential buyer’s mental health fail – and they fail across party lines. Somehow, the political will to protect Americans from gun violence doesn’t exist in the halls of Congress.
Of course, we know why. Our entire political system owes a debt – their jobs as our representatives – to the National Rifle Association. And with each passing election, that debt grows larger and our representatives’ moral obligation to The People transforms into a financial one to the NRA. And the NRA has proven it’s very effective at getting our representatives to deliver on that debt, no matter how many Americans are killed by guns on any given day.
No matter how many times we see a new worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
No matter how many times children are gunned down at school.
No matter how many people die in a rain of bullets at the local cineplex, or country music festival, or gay nightclub, or workplace holiday party.
And, inexplicably, no matter how many times a member of Congress is shot on a softball field or while talking to constituents outside a supermarket.
So no, I no longer believe in the Second Amendment. Money keeps our government in check, not guns, and the citizenry will never have enough of either to make a difference anyway. And even if weapons did matter, the government controls enough firepower to vaporize us all many, many times over.
Call it a chapter in the Great American Experiment that didn’t work out. A chapter that should be cut – repealed – from the national narrative.
A chapter that has cost America dearly, in Las Vegas, Newtown, Orlando, San Bernardino, Aurora, Killeen, Blacksburg, Red Lake, Littleton.
And in the city that will pay the cost tomorrow, wherever it may be.
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