A Question of Guns

Nov 15, 2011

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of what was once a nationally famous tragedy; the post office shootings in Royal Oak, Michigan, in which five people died. This was one in a series of similar shootings, which left our language with the memorable term, “going postal.” The Detroit Free Press had an anniversary story about the event, together with the latest installment in their series “Living With Murder.” Well over 3,000 people have been murdered in Detroit in the last decade, almost all of them shot to death.

The newspaper looked at these killings and explored ways to try to stop them.  They wrote about neighborhood groups and citizens who go patrolling with the police.

Mayor Dave Bing said it was a problem of our young people getting “caught up in this violent culture,” and said we needed to stop showing disrespect for each other. I guess he thinks if we all do that and take a few moments to read the gospels, or maybe Martin Niemoller, we’ll be less likely to shoot strangers in the head.

Which may be true, but isn’t really very much of a practical solution. What was almost unbelievable to me, however, was that  there was no mention of doing something about the real problem: Guns. Disrespect doesn‘t kill people. Guns kill people.

Not every murder is committed with a gun. There will always be murders, at least until humans become extinct. But it would be hard to kill 21 people in a restaurant with an axe, and impossible to kill someone with a butcher knife who is three hundred yards away.

Now, I can see your eyes rolling. How naïve can I be? First of all, everyone knows the National Rifle Association has, through its powerful Washington lobby, the ability to prevent any gun control legislation from being passed, right?

Furthermore, hasn’t the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years issued decisions saying that nobody can outlaw or restrict guns?

Well, that’s what lots of people think. In fact, while two recent Supreme Court decisions have been dismaying for gun control supporters, they aren’t nearly as sweeping as commonly thought. Yes, three years ago the nation’s highest court ruled, 5-4 that the Second Amendment says there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home.

Two years later, in another one-vote decision, the court said states have only limited rights to restrict gun ownership.

But that didn’t mean, no restrictions. Even Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in the first case, said there is not an unlimited right to carry any weapon in any manner. He also said bans on concealed weapons can be legal.

Federal courts recently upheld the conviction of a man sleeping near an airport with a loaded gun in his car.

We can confront this issue if we have the will, and if we get sick enough of mass murder, we can even try to amend the Constitution.

After all, the Supreme Court once said blacks were only property and women had no right to vote. We changed those things, and can overcome the tyranny of the gun. Or we can all just keep watching babies die in the streets of our cities. It is entirely up to us.