Stand your ground! That is the rallying cry of the gun lobby. But this is no defensive strategy; they have gone on the offensive. The gun lobby would like to take us back to the Wild West. With a good friend in the White House and Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, second amendment zealots across the country are emboldened to further dismantle every sort of regulation on gun use and ownership. Their distorted views of the constitution and the second amendment fuel their movement and this should be of concern to us all.
Countries around the world struggle to implement democracy—to negotiate differences through the ballot box as opposed to the barrel of a gun. Disturbingly a few years ago, right here at our state capitol I met gun zealots who were prepping for an insurgency—building up their arsenals--insisting it was their second amendment right and duty! But now the plentiful money and fear-mongering of the gun lobby has successfully pre-empted the need for any armed insurgency to take over the government. These extremists won big time last November at the ballot box. So what’s in store?
Here in Minnesota, a “Stand Your Ground” bill was recently introduced in the state legislature. It would eliminate the legal obligation to retreat from danger before using deadly force – even outside one’s home. If Trayvon Martin being shot by George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012 comes to mind, yes, you get the picture. Also introduced was a “Permitless Carry” bill which grants anyone the right to carry, transport, buy, sell (etc.) any firearm or self-defense device without a state permit or restriction of any kind. Heretofore Minnesota had been able to withstand such provocative gun laws unlike many other states around the country. But things are changing. As they say, elections have consequences.
On the national front the gun lobby is aggressively seeking to overturn longstanding gun safety measures along with some recently enacted by Obama. Common-sense rules that prohibit people with mental disabilities from obtaining guns--including the elderly with dementia. Common-sense regulations that keep people from buying silencers that would make it more difficult for bystanders or law enforcement officers to hear gunshots. And common-sense measures that allow states to enforce their own conceal-carry laws as opposed to practicing reciprocity with those states whose laws are more lenient.
Second amendment zealots would have us believe that gun rights cannot be regulated or abridged in any way. That is total bunk! The Founders established our constitution to promote the general welfare and provide for our common defense. They chose democracy, the process by which citizens come together to govern themselves through peaceful law enforcement. The Bill of Rights was added for reassurance that the individual still had standing within majority rule—not that individuals could be above society’s laws. Two-hundred and fifty years of our democratic experiment reveals that there is no perfect formula for balancing individual rights with legal social regulation. Societies are not static; historical contexts change and so do our laws.
Every day, we as citizens are accountable to the government and ultimately to each other as we dutifully comply with the myriad of regulations we choose to impose upon ourselves for the common good. Think traffic laws and car licenses, property taxes and house deeds—just to name a few. Of course, seldom is there consensus on just the right amount of regulation, but that is the nature of democracy. Compromise. None of us gets exactly what we want. And none of us can do whatever we want, whenever we want-- living as we do among our fellow human beings in ever closer proximity.
American democracy continues to be a radical experiment in rule by law—i.e. regulation—and in the peaceful resolution of differences and conflicts. Many gun-rights zealots want to hedge their bets that democracy won’t work. On the one hand, they insist that they are law-abiding citizens, but these so-called defenders of the second amendment claim to need no regulation. Further, they insist that guns aren’t the problem; it’s the people behind the guns. But any attempt for universal, thorough background checks on the people behind the guns is also off-limits to these gun extremists. In effect, they are positioning themselves beyond the reach of law—above democratic governance. That is a very troubling thought.
As Americans, we watch countries around the world struggle to govern--working to keep peace amidst conflicting parties and establish effective law enforcement agencies with disciplined police officers. Those that cannot provide adequate safety to their citizens are viewed as “failed states.” Is that where we are headed?
We are at a turning point in our own country. We can further arm our citizens—as the gun lobby would have us do—so self-appointed extremists can take “justice” into their own hands. Or we can re-commit ourselves to building a more perfect union that works for the well-being and prosperity of all our citizens. Double-down on our own efforts to establish effective law enforcement agencies with disciplined police officers. Let’s stop the veneration of gun-toting extremists and debunk their distorted interpretation of the second amendment. And let’s support common-sense gun violence prevention measures now.