Essay

We Can Do Better

By July 23, 2012 3 Comments
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In the aftermath of last Friday’s horrific events in Aurora, Colorado, I have heard several people describe the shooter as “pure evil” or “insane.”  No one seems to be asking if our society somehow shoulders any of the blame for creating him.  But tell the truth – were you really surprised when you heard the news Friday morning?  Shocked, yes, but surprised?  Don’t we endure a tragedy on this order every six months or so? 

Malcolm X famously said, “The chickens have come home to roost” after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  At the time he was excoriated for his remark, but in hindsight he was prophetic.  His observation about the violent nature of our society is even truer today.  We entertain ourselves with violent video games, violent sports and violent moviesShould we be surprised when violence begets violence?

For those hesitant to look in the mirror this way, I have another question.  Why do we allow our citizens access to unfathomable killing machines? 

When I saw the pictures of the weapons the shooter brought into the Colorado movie theater and read the reports of the amounts of ammunition he had recently purchased, I thought of Psalm 13 and asked, “How long?”  How long will our society tolerate assault weapons on our streets?  How long will we allow the gun lobby to prevent common sense from ruling?

The gun lobby would have you believe our citizens have a Constitutional right to assault weapons and that gun control laws are examples of the federal government trampling on individual liberty.  Colorado has now tasted the bitter results of that reasoning twice – in Littleton at Columbine High School and now 20 miles away in Aurora.

There is a dangerous anti-nominism afoot in the land these days.  I feel like I’m living in the South in 1859, because of the vitriolic anti-federal government talk I hear. I find my beliefs are out of step with many of my fellow citizens.  I don’t believe government is the enemy.  I believe our government can and does pass laws for our common good.  I believe our lives are improved by being governed.  In my state, the “individual liberty” forces have recently succeeded in repealing motorcycle helmet laws.  There has been a subsequent rise in motorcycle fatalities.  I don’t regard that as progress.  I regard that as stupid.  It’s wise to have seat belt laws and helmet laws and drug laws and murder laws.  We can have gun laws, too.  We can keep hunting rifles and ban assault weapons.  Why don’t we?

The chief argument the gun lobbyists use is the literal interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.  Isn’t it interesting how many parallels there are to how the Constitution of the United States is interpreted and how the Bible is interpreted?  Literal interpretations of both are problematic.  People needed guns in the frontier world of the 1780’s.  I can’t imagine being a pioneer without one.  Beside the threats from nature, our first citizens needed guns and militias so they could maintain the fledgling nation’s sovereignty: hence the “right to bear arms” in the Second Amendment.  But the framers could not have envisioned our world.  I believe James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and all the rest would say, “You have to be kidding” if we told them of the millions of dollars spent to influence our legislators to keep today’s high tech killing machines legal.  There is no legitimate argument for non-military or non-law enforcement people being able to arm themselves like war lords.  The only argument is “The Second Amendment protects that liberty, don’t let the government take our liberty away.”  I believe we can and should interpret the Constitution with more depth and nuance than that.  Or, if we are going to be literalists, let’s literally restrict our citizenry only to owning weapons that were known in the 1780’s.  There’s not much mass murder than can be done with a musket.

The simplistic interpretation of the Second Amendment keeps assault weapons legal.   It doesn’t have to be like this. We can do better.

How long, Lord, how long?

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is a retired minister in the Reformed Church in America. He resides in Holland, Michigan.

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