“A Well-Regulated Militia”

am not going to write about what happened in Tucson two weeks ago. Obviously the events are tragic — although we can take a small measure of hope from the survival of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) — and enough has been said about the shooter.

Nor am I going to try and lay this at the feet of the Tea Party; Jared Loughner was not inspired by the violent rhetoric they toss around casually without fear of reprisal. While we can probably all agree that it is unwise to pray for the death of your opponent or to shoot a human-shaped target with your opponent’s initials written on it, Sarah Palin’s crosshairs on a map were not the reason for this incident.

What the tragedy at Tucson does show is that we need to seriously question our societal obsession with firearms.

The saying that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” is — to put it bluntly — a load of crap. A disturbed individual could never show up at a rally with a concealed bow and arrow or a butcher knife and kill six others.

What kind of private citizen needs to be able to fire 30 rounds without reloading? If someone breaks into your house, and it takes 30 shots to either shoot the intruder or scare them away then there is a fair chance you have also accidently hit your dog, your neighbors and — if Mr. and Mrs. Smith was any guide — every piece of antique china in the dining room. Despite what you might think from playing Call of Duty, bullets are not easily stopped by sheetrock and two-by-fours. The only reason for carrying such a dangerous weapon is if you’re Jack Bauer, repelling an entire team of enemy commandos. In that case, an M-4 or MP-5 would be more effective anyway and have the added benefit of being unable to be concealed in public.

The second amendment says that “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.” Even though Justice Antonin Scalia and the NRA insist otherwise, this text does not allow an unlimited right to carry more guns than Neo in The Matrix. The key phrase of the amendment is “a well-regulated militia.” This phrase does not refer to the crazies training to combat their impending relocation to FEMA concentration camps. It can only refer to the National Guard or a similarly organized and regulated group. Should you be able to carry a weapon if you’re not serving? Sure — a shotgun or a hunting rifle seems both reasonable and consistent with the founders’ intent.  But you don’t have a constitutional guarantee allowing you to carry an Uzi to work.

I almost cried when I read Gail Collins’ column about Tucson in the New York Times.  I’m no John Boehner, bawling into my designer sleeves at the first sight of pathos, but I do have a ten-year-old sister, so when I read that a little girl, only nine, was shot in the chest that day because she had just been elected President of her class and wanted to learn more about democracy, I understood why we still have the death penalty.

If, as a society, we cannot agree to keep handguns and automatic weapons out of the hands of the deranged, to ban extended magazines and to forbid the practice of carrying a pistol under one’s jacket, then we must prepare to accept more tragedies like Tucson, Virginia Tech and Columbine. The nine-year-old victim, Christina Taylor Green, was born on September 11th, 2001. More children and teens are killed by gun violence every year than perished on that awful day. How many more must die before we learn? Guns by themselves do not kill people.  But people with guns sure as hell can.