A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
That, in its entirety, is the Second Amendment, the foundation of the debate on guns.
I offer it in opening so as to clarify for all of us that the language of the founding fathers includes both a right to personal firearms as well as some expectation of order and limitation.
The point is that if we are going to debate the intentions of the Constitution, we must be sure to consider the whole of the amendment and not just the portions that are convenient to one side or the other.
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That being said, I received several thoughtful responses to last week’s column on NRA logic, and I’d like to thank the great majority for their civility, even in disagreement.
They touched on a variety of issues, but a few common themes recurred, some of which I still don’t agree with, and others I’m considering more carefully. Without further ado …
The use of kids
Many readers pointed out that’s it’s hardly fair to criticize the NRA for singling out President Obama’s girls in its ad when the president surrounded himself with kids during the announcement of his gun control proposals.
On its face, this is a valid point, except that the manner in which the kids were used is significantly different. The four youngsters reached out to Obama and personally joined the national debate over a tragedy that touched children uniquely.
The Obama girls did no such thing and have about as much control over their security as the president himself, which is to say, very little.
They are not more valuable than any other American children, but they are in more danger. By no choice of their own, the president’s daughters face daily risks that we will never experience.
A more suitable parallel to Obama’s announcement might be an NRA ad that features youngsters who have been educated in responsible gun usage.
Ideally, we should keep kids out of politics as much as possible, but if they are going to be involved, it must be in responsible ways.
The role that mental illness plays in mass killings cannot be denied.
Something has gone wrong in the brains of these people, and we are not doing enough to identify or prevent it.
Along those same lines, multiple readers questioned what role the growing use of psychotropic medication may have in exacerbating already troubled minds, especially young ones.
This is an excellent point and one that deserves more study.
At the same time, though, we must not discount the benefits these drugs provide for many, many people. It very well may be that these medications reduce the risk of violence or suicide in the majority of cases, while enhancing the chaos for a rare few.
If that is true, it’s a judgment call. Do the benefits outweigh the risks, and if so, what are we doing to identify those unusual but supremely dangerous cases?
America in decline
Perhaps the most common worry expressed by the gun rights supporters who wrote to me is that our society as a whole is in deterioration and the day will come when they will need their guns to restore the republic.
More than one quoted historical sources, theories about the longevity of democracy as a form of government and past examples of people rising up to unseat unjust rulers.
The problem I have with this line of argument is that it exhibits almost no faith in both the strength of the American system and the goodness of our people as a whole.
Ironically, I would guess many of the same people who have these fears are also among the most ardent patriots, people who believe in American exceptionalism, that this country was built on more solid foundations than any that have come before.
I believe that. And so I have no fear that we will devolve into anarchy or that enough people would ever succumb to anti-American ideals such that armed rebellion would be the only effective answer.
By far the most notable case of this occurring in our history is the Civil War, in which the South instigated great bloodshed in defense of some of the most un-American ideals we may ever see.
If you raise arms against what you perceive to be a tyrannical government, you had better be sure your cause is just and a majority view, as opposed to a treasonous overthrow of our democracy.
We are not and never will be Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan. We are not and never will be
Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.
And if by some outlandish course of events we grew even remotely similar to any of those states, it would be our ideals, not armed insurrection, that wins the day.
In other words, the pen would be mightier than the sword.
We will effect far more influence by changing minds than silencing them.
I want to thank everyone again for taking the time to write and for contributing to a mature debate.
As a final note, I’d like to point out that across the range of topics, many are calling for more resources to help stop the violence, whether it’s more guards in our schools, more federal oversight of prescription drugs, or more local monitoring of mental health.
That is fine, but those things cost money.
Realize you are talking about government-sponsored social programs, the likes of which have been vilified mercilessly in recent years.
Realize also that when given the opportunity to research gun violence and the motivations behind mayhem, the NRA single-handedly blocked such efforts by our federal health agencies.
How will we have hope of solving this problem if we don’t even know what the problem is?
If the NRA truly has any interest in contributing to this cause, it could start there.