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So, what do we do about guns?

Nov 6, 2017

Several listeners wrote to me after yesterday’s shooting in Texas to ask if I was going to talk about it today. I had no intention of doing so.

Long ago, and certainly after the massacre of the elementary students in Sandy Hook, it became clear to me that our society doesn’t care enough to do anything about this.

True, the money and the power of the National Rifle Association over our elected representatives has been enough to thwart the mildest and most sensible gun safety measures.And we also seem so attached to a distorted and wrong-headed view of the Second Amendment that a mass murder or two a month, and losing thousands of people every year in senseless shootings, seems normal.

By “distorted and wrong-headed,” I mean the idea that the Second Amendment means you have the right to as powerful an arsenal as you want, no questions asked. In fact, for many years the NRA did not want this issue brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, because long-ago decisions indicated the amendment really only means that states have the right to raise militias, meaning something like a national guard.

The Constitution was written at a time when the United States barely had any permanent army. Of course, to say that the weapons the killer used in Texas are the same thing as the one-shot musket over the pioneer’s fireplace is to equate an elephant with a gnat.

Even the controversial, 5 to 4 Supreme Court Heller decision in 2008 saying there was a legal right to own a handgun made it clear that guns can be strictly regulated. But we’ve been unwilling to do even that. Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard wants the legislature to end any requirement for training before someone is allowed to carry a concealed weapon, and other lawmakers want to allow them in emergency rooms and schools.

I’ve grown tired of arguing against this insanity. But late yesterday, I heard from a gentleman named Denis, who listens to Michigan Radio in Perrysburg, Ohio. He wondered about the possibility of repealing the Second Amendment.

“I realize that this would mean fighting the gun wackos, but it seems that there are a lot of people who are getting fed up with the number of innocent lives lost to these killers.”

My first impulse was to tell him this would be impossibly hard. You’d not only have to get it through Congress, but have it ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures.

But then I suddenly realized that some fights are worth making, and fighting for full-on repeal might conceivably lead to some more sensible legislation from Congress involving guns.

That won’t be easy. But neither is coping with the daily possibility you might be massacred at the shopping mall by some nut who wants to impress Jodie Foster. If a significant groundswell developed in favor of repealing the Second Amendment, Congress might just try to head it off by banning assault rifles or requiring background checks before someone buys enough guns to wipe out all of Saginaw.

Somebody has to do something. It may be a cliché, but Lao Tzu was right when he said the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So, Denis, go for it.

All we have to lose is more lives.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.