Where is our nation's common sense? And what has happened to democracy?

Where is our nation’s common sense? And what has happened to democracy?

I’m angry.

Yesterday the Senate defeated a measure that would require our nation to run background checks on people who purchase guns at gun shows and on the Internet.

The Senate did this despite the fact that 80-90% of Americans support the measure, which would have eliminated a loophole in the current law. Right now, anyone who purchases a gun at a store already has to go through this exact same background check, so the measure that the Senate abandoned would merely have made the law universal and eliminated the possibility that someone with a mental illness or history of felonious behavior would be able to buy a gun online or at a convention.

There are two major problems going on here. First, of course, is that our nation’s love affair with guns seems to have no end. Where is our common sense? In our rush to defend the Second Amendment, we easily forget that the framers of our Constitution had no earthly idea about weapons that could be purchased by individual citizens for mass destruction of human life. No one who wrote our Constitution could have foreseen ordinary Americans being able to purchase military-grade semiautomatic weapons. (As well, the actual wording of the Second Amendment is about protecting the rights of society to bear arms to form militias, as you can see here.)

Most gun control advocates in this country don’t have an issue with individuals owning rifles, handguns, pistols, or other small-scale weapons for self-defense or hunting. That’s not the question here. This is about weapons that have been used in mass tragedies such as the Newtown school shooting, weapons that do not fit that small-scale profile.

How many tragedies will it take before our country realizes there must be reasonable limits to our Second Amendment rights, just as there are reasonable limits to our First Amendment rights? I have free speech, but not if my words present a “clear and present danger” to society; I have freedom of religion, but not if its exercise requires using peyote or being married to more than one person; I have freedom of the press, but not if I hijack this blog to call for violent acts.

There are always reasonable limits to our freedoms in order to protect the safety of others — and keeping assault weapons out of the hands of criminals and those who have been diagnosed with mental illness is one such reasonable limit.

StopThe second issue is a larger question about the state of our democracy. Yesterday on Facebook, one of my acquaintances noted that he had been using guns since the age of 12. He has been a member of the NRA for much of his life, though he chastised the organization today for bearing about as much resemblance to the NRA of his adolescence as the Republican Party today bears to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. I cannot speak to the truth of this comparison, since I have never been a member of the NRA. But his larger point was this: if our United States Senate can ignore the will of 80-90% of Americans and bow to the monied interests of powerful political lobbies such as the NRA, then our very democracy is a sham.

In a passionate New York Times editorial last night, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords agreed.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

. . . They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

Like many people in our country, today I will come to terms with what to do next, aside from letting Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio know how disappointed I am in him (despite my admiration for his contributions to Cincinnati, his research on Shaker history in Ohio, and his recent public support of gay marriage).

As President Obama said last night, in a speech as angry as any I’ve ever seen from him, yesterday was a pretty shameful day for Washington. How strange that I live in a country where a convicted felon can never cast another vote in a public election, but can easily purchase a gun on the Internet — a gun that could murder hundreds of people in a public place.

Our Senate has made sure that in this way at least, a criminal’s “rights” are well protected.

 

The images of the gun with the flag and the “stop” hand are used with permission of Shutterstock.com.

8 Comments

  1. All internet gun sales MUST be delivered to a Federally licensed firearms dealer and do require a background check. It’s not like ordering a book from Amazon.

  2. While I agree with your disappointment over yesterdays results in the Senate, one comment made in this post I disagree with. It seems like a very common tool people use to argue against the constitution that the original framers could not have “foreseen” semi-automatic weapons, when of course they could not have foreseen a myriad of things.

    What matters is the intent of Second Amendment. It is not to arm felons with AR-17′s. It was to insure that the people could form militia’s to protect themselves from a heavily armed government. Or essentially, insure that the people could defend themselves with equal arms. While the framers of the constitution could not have foreseen changes in weapons and technology, they could foresee the very real potential and tyranny of an armed government and an unarmed people. In our day, the government carries semi-automatic rifles. If the people are to have a reasonable expectation of protecting themselves from a corrupt government, they would need more than handguns and .22′s. That we are equal (or as close as can be since I don’t plan on keeping a Blackhawk and a tank in my backyard) in power is the point.

    Anywho’s, again, bad choice on the Senate’s part. Background checks should be required universally and I don’t intend to derail into a tangent or singular aspect of this post (even though that’s what I seem to be doing). Nobody wants felons and the mentally unstable to carry guns. The lack of magical foresight into the future on the part of the forefathers is a tired argument. Of course they couldn’t spell out with obnoxious detail how to thrive in a world of cyber development, weapons advances, medical research advances, invading technology, etc. All they could do was write as clearly (and aptly for the 1700′s) as they could. And one major intent was to protect people from abuse of power, which they had unfortunately experienced firsthand.

    Also, this wouldn’t be the first time the government has failed to vote according to popular opinion :) One time among many (unfortunately).

  3. The bill propsed yesterday would not have stopped the attack on Giffords or the attack in Newtown. If bills such as these are trying to prevent these types of attacks, they ought to look at the underlying connection between these two attacks and the majority of other mass attacks. That connection being mental illness of the shooter.

    • Very simple, Dan. It shouldn’t be harder to buy pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) than to buy a gun. It’s that simple. We require background checks for employment. I don’t get it. If we don’t want Felons and the Mentally Ill to have access to guns, the answer is easy:background checks.

  4. Amen, Jana. I am saddened that college students walk into gun shows at the Lake County Indiana fairgrounds then drive 35 miles to the south side of Chicago to sell those guns which are then used to kill again and again. Lake County can’t stop this as it’s legal.

  5. The Other Clark

    The point of the 2nd amendment isn’t to protect the right of society to have small scale weapons for hunting. To quote the author, “The actual wording of the Second Amendment is about protecting the rights of society to bear arms to form militias.”

    The citizenry of this country has a right to personally own the weapons needed to form a militia.

    Lexington and Concord wasn’t about tea. It was about a British attempt to seize the small arms of the colonists. Another few years and we will have come full circle, I suppose.

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