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Is This Still About the 2nd Amendment?

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Is This Still About the 2nd Amendment?

by Tish Levee

Part 4 of a series on gun violence

Worst civilian mass shooting in US.

I’ve written about gun control before in the Gazette, when I was touched personally by two deaths from mass shootings. But when I woke Sunday to the news of the shooting of 103 people, many of them LGBT, in an Orlando, Florida nightclub, my heart truly broke open.

The nation and the world have responded to this shooting differently than I remember happening before. True, after the Sandy Hook Massacre, which killed 28 people—20 of them children—the President ordered flags flown at half-mast, condolences poured in from world leaders, and there were vigils in several countries and states. But this time saw a massive outpouring of response around the world. From vigils in small towns—more than 200 on Sunday night in Santa Rosa—to large cities, like London, where thousands turned out in SOHO, there were vigils in at least 36 states and 17 foreign countries.

Similar to previous mass shootings, public support for gun control spiked after this weekend’s shooting in Orlando. But in the past, that support failed to produce any real political change. 

This time may be different.

When House Speaker Paul Ryan led a moment of silence on June 14th, a number of Democratic lawmakers began criticizing the lack of gun control legislation, and walked out, yelling, “Where’s the bill?” and “No leadership!” The next day Senate Democrats, led by Connecticut’s Chris Murphy staged a filibuster  for nearly 15 hours to protest the lack of Congressional action on gun control, ending when Senate leadership agreed to schedule a vote on a background checks bill, similar to the one proposed by Sen. Feinstein that was defeated a few days after the San Bernardino shooting.

Could it be different this time? Maybe because so many people were killed, the most in any mass shooting by a civilian; maybe because this was an attack on a LGBT club during Pride month; maybe because so many people have lately become more politically active; maybe people are just sick and tired of having 1,000 mass shootings in the last 1,260 days and more than 30,000 gun deaths a year in this country; maybe it can be different.

What it’s really about is GUNS.

Because this is not just about the LGBT community; it’s not just about 103 people being shot; it certainly is not about Islamic terrorism. Yes, it was a hate crime and possibly a terrorist act, but the bottom line is that this was about GUNS—and how easy it is to obtain weapons that no civilian in their sane mind ever needs. We aren’t talking about guns for home defense or hunting; we are talking about weapons whose only purpose it to kill people—lots of people.  These are NOT what the framers of the Constitution had in mind. Their weapons were muskets firing at best three rounds a minute; current assault weapons can fire 15 times than fast.

It’s not as if assault weapons have always been legal or banning them is a radical new idea. They were banned for 10 years in 1994, a ban supported by former presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.

We also need reasonable and responsible background checks. No one who can’t get on a plane, should be able to buy a gun at all. But days after the San Bernardino mass shooing, Sen. Feinstein’s proposal to do just that was defeated. And HR 1565, introduced by Mike Thompson, which would require “comprehensive and enforceable” background checks on all commercial gun sales, including those at gun shows, over the Internet, and through classified ads,” has languished since its introduction five months after Sandy Hook, when it was narrowly defeated in a Republican led filibuster.

But what about the 2nd Amendment?

Critics response to background checks and an assault weapons ban, is always, “What about the 2nd Amendment?” John Paul Stevens, associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, would add five words (in bold) to clarify it, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.”

None of the amendments are carved in stone. We have changed the Constitution 27 times, including abolishing slavery, permitting women (and 18-year olds) to vote, electing Senators by popular vote, and outlawing alcohol and then repealing that same amendment. There is no reason that we cannot change the 2nd Amendment, if we have the political will to do so, AND if our representatives find saving American lives more important than contributions from the NRA.

The statistics keep piling up.

Since Robert Kennedy was shot 48 years ago, more people (about 150,000 more) have died by gunfire than have died in all the wars the US has been in, including not just combat deaths but those from disease. And each year, there are more deaths. Could we finally say, “enough!” and do something about this? Other countries have done so. A recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that in 22 other high income countries, the firearm death rate was 0.0 to 3.6 per 100,000 population compared to 10.2 per 100,000 in the US. We are ten times more likely to be killed by guns than people in these other developed countries, and our murder-by-gun rate is 25 times greater, while we are six times more likely to be killed accidentally by a gun. While we have half the population of the other 22 countries combined, we have 82% of all gun deaths and 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14, and 92% of people ages 15-24 who are killed by guns were in the US.

Australia took bold action. Can we?

Perhaps we can learn from Australia, which has a 0.0% death rate from firearms.

Just twenty years ago, after a mass shooting in Port Arthur which killed 35 people, Australia decided to take action. It wasn’t easy, and the ruling Conservative party took some hits at the polls. But they felt the price was worth it. Australia has a much smaller population, but guns were also an important part of their culture. Nevertheless they banned all semi-automatic weapons and initiated a massive buyback program, buying back 700,000 guns, which would be equivalent to 40 million guns in the US. There have been NO mass shootings since 1996, whereas in the previous 18 years there were 13 with a total of 102 deaths. As Prime Minister John Harper (1996-2007) said, “Nothing trumps easy access to guns,” when it come to gun violence. 

The difference between US and OZ

One thing that helped was that Australia doesn’t have an organization comparable to the NRA. Since 1998 the National Rifle Association (NRA) has donated nearly $4 million to members currently serving in Congress, most of whom are Republicans. In the 2014 election cycle the NRA spent more than $30 million on candidates and other expenditures to preserve the status quo on gun control. While recent polls found a majority of Americans support many measures to lessen the deadly toll, they have not made that felt at the ballot box. As in so many other areas of our life, such as minimum wage, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and a cleaner climate, we will have to impress our representatives with the power of marches and vigils and the power of our votes.  We have to let them know that lives are more important than contributions from groups such as the NRA. And then we will have to keep on doing so, until we really see a change.

 What can you do? 

To learn more, check out sites for groups such as Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband astronaut Mark Kelly; Everytown for Gun Safety; Violence Policy Center; the Brady Campaign; and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

 

© Tish Levee, 2016