A Reply to Lightner on Guns

By Walter Lee walt@crcom.net

Bruce Lightner calls for opposition to the National Rifle Association and for a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of repealing the Second Amendment. While I disagree with him as to the obsoleteness of the both the Amendment and the concept of the militia, I commend him for recognizing that the issue is essentially constitutional and solutions often touted as "common sense" are impeded by the Bill of Rights.

Certainly the Second Amendment is not the only issue that impinges on modern "common sense." Given the Supreme Court's broad interpretations of the First Amendment, surely we might want to apply some "common sense" restrictions to freedom of the press. The creation of the Internet has allowed an anarchy of ideas to spread throughout our society. Surely it is "common sense" to ban pornography, anarchistic formulas for bombs, dirty tricks, etc., and the rabid anti-government rhetoric that challenges progressive notions in society. It's not as if the Founder's of this nation envisioned a world where just anyone was expected to be able to print and distribute radical ideas.

And religion-- that's another arena that needs to be regulated. Every Tom, Dick and Jane seems to be starting a new religion. There are no fixed requirements for ordination set by the government. All sorts of groups call themselves "churches" or "fellowships" and some of them have really weird ideas. Maybe if the government set up a "common sense" approach that would sort out the real flakes from the truly religious, it would help. Religion divides our society when some groups advocate dressing in strange ways, refuse to eat certain foods, or want to shut down the economy on Friday or Saturday or Sunday. If the government would only set "common sense" standards, religion might be made more useful and less destructive.

And think about the Assembly clause. Remember the WTO riots only a few months ago? Certainly, huge crowds assembling on the streets of the nation are not what the founders were thinking about. It would make a lot of "common sense" if people weren't allowed to assemble in large groups-- say more than five or maybe ten-- without a permit of some kind. Surely, "common sense" folk can see the reasons of getting a simple permit. It doesn't have to be hard. Just notify the local police that you want to have a gathering and let them know what its about and there shouldn't be much problem.

And in regard to petitioning government: That's what the NRA has been systematically encouraging for thirty years. You have already noted the problems that that creates. Listening to all the millions of telephone calls and reading and maybe answering millions of letters takes so much of the government's time and money. We could have a far more efficient government if people wouldn't do such things in the service of who knows what strange causes.

There's not much in the First Amendment that lends itself to "common sense."

The Third Amendment -- concerning quartering troops in times of peace-- is obsolete on its face. It could be repealed without much protest.

The Fourth Amendment gets abused routinely. Privacy is a luxury in this day and age. Anyway, unless someone is up to no good, why should they object to having someone look through their affairs. Since most of us are on computer and there are so many ways to have access to people's files, it only makes sense to allow reasonable inspections of things like medical and financial records and to scan a person's hard drive for child pornography and anti-government propaganda. Likewise, the demands that warrants describe the place to be searched and the people and things to be seized really handcuffs our police. Who knows what they would might find if they really looked? Let's face it, we need better enforcement of our laws and to allow a criminal to escape justice because of technicalities is just not "common sense."

The Fifth Amendment too, gets abused way too often. Why shouldn't a person be required to testify against himself? Some people go so far as refusing to voluntarily give a blood sample or pee in a bottle. If we would do routine drug testing on all citizens and forcefully prosecute any who either refuse or come up "dirty," we could win this war on drugs in a few months. Places like Saudi Arabia have found an answer. They simply cut the heads off those found to be using or distributing illegal substances. (I guess I am getting ahead of myself, but this suggests the VIII Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment needs to go, too. While we are on the Eighth, we might as well get rid of the prohibition on excessive bail. What's the purpose of bail if its not to keep people locked up after they are arrested. Criminals are out on the street again before the cop has finished his/her paperwork. That's not "common sense."

The Sixth and Seventh have to do with trials-- criminal and civil. The jury system is outdated. Where the founders thought that jurors were there to judge both fact and law and were selected from the district in which the parties resided because they would better be able to evaluate the witnesses and the situation in which the offense took place, now we know that jurors are incompetent to truly seek justice. Now the judges are seen as the authority on the law and all the jurors do is determine a set of facts and answers the judge's questions. Surely judges, who hear the same thing as the jurors can decide if a case has been proven. Let's ditch this 18th century anachronism and let professional judges make the decisions. On the federal level, they are appointed for life and surely the President knows better than average folk like you and me, who is capable of making the right decisions. And what's that part in the VII about "common law." There is nothing "common" about the law today. That's why we have to have judges and lawyers to sort out every case.

The Ninth and Ten Amendments are ridiculous, too. Imagine saying that people have rights that aren't even mentioned in the Constitution. Surely, we have seen enough problems created by the enumerated "rights" that we don't want to go adding other "rights" as well. And the Tenth-- that looks as if it limits the power of government to just those things that are specifically delegated by the Constitution. "Common sense" dictates that there is nothing that the government cannot address and do. Certainly, the government cannot be limited to those few functions envisioned in the 18th century.

This whole "Bill of Rights" needs to be examined. Maybe when we get Mr. Lightner's Constitutional Convention together, they can create a better system of government. Heck, they can use the original Constitutional Convention as their model. At the time, they were operating under the Articles of Confederation which required that all the States agree to any changes that would be made in their union. (Every single state had the power to stop a change.) When the Constitution was proposed, they put an end to that and set up an easier process of ratification. Maybe a new Constitutional Convention can make it even easier-- maybe they will say that the States are simply antiquated concepts and now serve as administrative units of the federal government and that all that is necessary for a new constitution will be a majority of Congress and the President-- or maybe just the President and key cabinet members. Maybe we don't even need Congress any more. And maybe the idea of changing Presidents every four years is silly. Look how effective Castro has been in Cuba! If he were limited to eight years in office, he could never have done what he has done.

Yeah, a Constitutional Convention is a great idea. Unfortunately, there is a practical problem. You see, the people of this country are armed to the teeth. There is a gun of some kind in almost half the households of the nation. Nobody knows where they are-- how many there are-- who has them. And until that is known, the work of a progressive "Constitutional Convention" just might be misunderstood and the people might rise up like a volunteer fire brigade and put a stop to the "common sense" solutions that would make this a "better nation."

Changing the tone, just a few more comments:

I live in a village without a police department. Just a couple of years ago, some guys stole a car, crashed it in our little town, were reported to have stolen a gun, tried to kidnap a seventy some odd year old lady. I was part of an armed posse called up by the Sheriff's Office to capture these folk. (I was with a regular deputy. The three fugitives were taken by a member of the "water department" who had armed himself in response to the "hue and cry.") And by the way, our fire protection comes from volunteers.

It is a fact that in the 20th century, over 100 million people (mostly disarmed by law) have been killed by their own governments. That in itself is a strong case for the Second Amendment.

The United States is not "the Most Violent Nation on Earth"-- far from it, my friends. Nor do we have the most firearm violence. The statistics are always massaged in one way or another. They talk about "industrialized nations." (Look at Brazil, Columbia, and some of the African countries on a per capita basis for violence and firearms violence.) They talk about "gun deaths" in terms of the United States and include more suicides than murders. When compared with other nations, suicides are left out because the rate in the United States is low-- far too high, for sure, but low compared to other nations. Japan, with very strict gun laws, has about the same per capita rate of suicide as the U.S. has of both suicides and murder by all means. I heard a statistic on CNBC last night-- I don't know its original source-- that said we had about 17,000 murders last year in the United States-- 10,000 of which were committed with firearms. That's 7,000 non-firearm murders. That rate is well above most "industrialized countries" even if we leave guns out. The problem is deeper than guns and real "common sense" will look at such factors.

No accounting is made of the positive good that firearms contribute in society. The statement "handguns and assault weapons are designed to kill people" is correct. That's why the police carry them. However statistic show that private citizens use them against criminals far more often than police. Depending on your sources, they are used up to 2.5 million times a year to stop criminal acts. Even the most conservative accounts (of actual incidents reported to the police and filed in the Uniform Crime Report) show privately owned firearms used to save lives twice as often as they take lives (including suicide). There is a positive side to gun ownership as well as a negative one.

I can and will provide documentation on these numbers-- almost all from U.S. government sources, if requested. The problem with my numbers is that in some cases, they are for different years. I have pulled them out of the Statistical Abstracts of the United States at various times.

There is a major campaign underway in the media and by politicians to destroy the traditional understandings of the Second Amendment. This is happening at a time when firearm accidents are at an all time low, and when the criminal use of firearms is at its lowest in decades, yet we see an almost hysterical movement to curtail gun ownership. For me, I suspect the NRA as the instigator. If the hysteria over gun control were to go away, the NRA would loose its major source of revenue. In the past few years, the NRA has endorsed piece after piece of anti gun legislation. They proposed the Instant Check System which is now the Brady Law. Charlton Heston has endorsed the Assault Weapons' Ban. They made no timely objection to the Laudenberg Domestic Abuse Misdemeanor Ban. They have supported safety locks and training. The NRA has supported only the strictest of Concealed Carry Legislation. And as this legislative creep has moved through the system, gun owners have grown more and more nervous and NRA membership is increasing again. As Deep Throat said in the Watergate movie, "Follow the money." Who benefits from gun control? The NRA. In the end, it doesn't stop determined criminals. Even President Clinton has said that. Maybe we all need to look at the NRA. :~)