Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to support a bill that would impose a ban on some assault weapons along with other measures aimed at reducing the likelihood of another tragedy like Sandy Hook. That bill, in all likelihood, will now die in the Senate. Even if it somehow survives the Republican tantrum that will inevitably come, it has zero chance of passing a House of Representatives held hostage by rabid constituents and lobbyists like the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre.
I struggle to find words to capture the abiding sadness of this state of affairs. Each new massacre seems like it must be the final straw — that at last, we will come together and decide that even if we cannot agree on the exact prescription, something must change. Instead, we just watch a parade of coffins while we salivate over every twisted detail of the lives of the monsters that fill them with children. And when those lives have vanished into the dirt we do nothing but shout at each other as we buy even more weapons of war for our personal collections. We debate the mental status of the Aurora shooter while we do nothing and expect different results — the very definition of insanity.
Of course he was insane, as is any person who buys his 15 minutes with the blood of others. But at this point, who are we to judge? So we trot out poor Gabby Giffords, applaud her condescendingly and then ignore the plea that she has no choice but to deliver in simple, difficult bursts because the bullet hole through her head robbed the former Congresswoman of her power of speech.
Senator Ted Cruz, who has rapidly usurped Eric Cantor as my least favorite person in Washington, critiqued the bill by pointing out that as the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Sixth Amendment promises a fair and speedy trial. But unlike the Republican party of today, none of these are absolutes. Freedom of speech ceases to apply when it can incite harm, or in the case of slander or libel. The other amendments also have exceptions, especially in times of war. With the number of murders in Chicago alone far exceeding American combat deaths last year, this is no less of an emergency.
The Second Amendment also must have exceptions. We can debate whether an individual guarantee to own arms even exists outside of one’s membership in a well-organized militia. Whether constitutionally-mandated or not, most reasonable people would agree that hunters and sportsmen should be able to continue enjoying those activities. Likewise, presumably even Cruz would agree that the right to bear arms does not include a nuclear weapon. A line must exist somewhere between muskets and missiles.
We should draw that line at assault rifles. There is little reasonable rationale for their private ownership, and their potential for harm far exceeds any use they might have. They are comically unnecessary for activities like deer hunting and less practical for self-defense than a shotgun or a pistol. They are weapons of war. Again, there are exceptions. Farmers in Texas sometimes need AR-15s to shoot invasive hordes of feral pigs. But not a lot of other uses of that weapon immediately come to mind aside from mass murder. This year in the United States there have been far, far too many of those.
It is unconscionable that we cannot agree to take action, that this bill is dead. Teachers are dead. Parents are dead. Kids are dead.
Kids are dead, and yet we cannot agree that maybe a background check that actually checks someone’s background before handing them the power to cut the delicate thread of another’s life would be the prudent thing to do. We cannot agree to take weapons of war out of our homes and off of our streets. Instead we cling to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction — that only when we all have the ability to take the lives of our neighbors at any second of any day do we consider ourselves safe. Instead, we hide behind the idea that since criminals can get guns on the black market, there’s no value in restricting their sale. That ignores a simple fact with a simple fix: the guns used in Aurora and the guns used in Sandy Hook were purchased legally.