As multiple news outlets are reporting, America’s summer of gun madness continued this morning in Missouri, where a man walked into a Walmart wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a loaded rifle and a hundred rounds of ammunition. Mercifully, no one was injured and the man was arrested, but there can be little doubt that the result could have easily been another senseless tragedy.
How much longer can we allow this insanity to continue and still call ourselves a free society?
The obvious answer to this utterly crazy situation, says commentator and legal expert Elie Mystal in a recent essay in The Nation, is to launch a serious conversation about the Second Amendment, its original meaning, how it’s been perverted and, ultimately, how it needs to be changed. In the essay, Mystal makes a powerful argument that those who would support responsible gun regulation in our country need to stop shying away from the obvious truth that the Second Amendment (at least as it has come to be interpreted) is an albatross around the nation’s neck:
The Second Amendment is why we can’t go to school, or work, or a house of worship, or a nightclub, or a movie theater, or a music festival, or pretty much any public gathering without fear of getting shot to death. The Second Amendment is why you can’t be immediately arrested for openly carrying around an assault rifle in a public place, and why you can’t be immediately arrested for smuggling a hand-cannon in your gym shorts. The Second Amendment is how law enforcement justifies the need for military-grade armaments—to match the “firepower” they meet in the streets. The Second Amendment is why we have a generation of young people that is scarred or missing from gun violence. And the Second Amendment is why I had to tell my 6-year-old last night to act like Scaredy Squirrel and “play dead” if an “active shooter” storms his classroom, thereby mangling the whole moral of the books.
Mystal points out that it hasn’t always been this way. The Second Amendment was, for centuries, interpreted in a vastly saner fashion. Today, however, the amendment has been interpreted by conservative judges in such a way as to make reasonable gun control laws almost impossible. His proposed remedy for this situation: repeal and start over.
As long as this interpretation is the law of the land, effective gun regulation will be impossible. All serious efforts at gun regulation need to start from the premise that the government defines the parameters for “responsible” gun ownership, not the NRA, just like the state defines the parameters for responsible alcohol consumption, not Jose Cuervo.
That leads to only one logical conclusion: Repeal the Second Amendment and start over from presumption that you do not need a gun unless you are going off to war or going off to train for war.
Of course, Mystal acknowledges, this would be a super tall order. But, he says, we have to try. Here’s his powerful conclusion:
If we repeal the Second Amendment, and reset the law to the principle that there is no constitutional right to be ready for the Purge, then it should be fairly easy for states to make carve outs that still allow people to hunt and feel manly by shooting something that can’t fight back. There’s no constitutional right for me to drive a car, and yet I drive all the time, subject to a number of licensing, registration, insurance, and safety requirements. Taking away constitutional protection is not the same as eliminating enjoyment of products that could easily kill us.
It will take overwhelming popular support to repeal the Second Amendment, but guess what, it takes overwhelming popular support to do anything about gun regulation. The utility of starting to muster that popular support against the Second Amendment is that, if successful, that support cannot be frustrated by Republican judges ensconced in our antidemocratic branch of government. If Republicans tell us it’s the Second Amendment that stands in the way of reasonable gun reform, then it’s the Second Amendment that we should be coming for.
The Republicans have turned the Second Amendment into a Golem. They’ve animated it, weaponized it, and unleashed it upon their enemies. It is killing children. It is time to hit this monstrosity in its clay feet.