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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“These tragedies must end”

The question is how
By Will Collette

On Sunday night, I listened to President Obama speak to the people of Newtown, CT who had gathered together in an interfaith ceremony. The President’s words were moving and I hope they brought some comfort to the families of the victims and the Newtown community.

The President spoke broadly about the need to take action to ensure “these tragedies must end.” Perhaps fittingly, given the setting, he did not define what he meant other than to point out the obvious: mass shootings and gun violence occur much too often and we must do something to curb their poisonous effect on our communities and our culture.

The next time President Obama speaks on this subject, I hope it will be soon and I hope he makes it clear that he is not only saddened but angry. Angry that we have allowed our culture to be so dominated by firearms that we must regularly endure these horrors. I am longing to hear the President speak in Old Testament terms about the need to finally strike back at this evil.

As a nation, we seem to care more about the rights of the killer’s mother to pursue her apparent obsession with collecting firearms than we do about the rights of those children to be safe from her murderous son. She taught this homicidal maniac how to kill, and the first person he killed was her. That a citizen’s own guns should be turned against her or him occurs so often that it is a virtual cliché.

As President Obama pointed out, this is the fourth time he has personally participated in the ceremonies following mass shootings. He noted that gun violence and murder is a regular, daily occurrence throughout the country. Most nations of the civilized world think the United States is deranged to make it so easy for this to happen.

Of course, we have the Second Amendment to the Constitution and, yes, the US Supreme Court has interpreted the quirky wording[1] of the Amendment in the broadest terms. And, yes, under our Constitutional form of government, we accept the principle that the Constitution says what the Supreme Court says it means[2].

But that is not the end of the line for sanity. While the current conservative Supreme Court interprets the Second Amendment broadly, it does not interpret gun ownership as an unlimited right. Congress and the states may enact legislation that could help, at least a little, within the parameters set by the Court.

It is also possible to see either a change in the Supreme Court’s position – with a change of membership or a major shift in public norms – or an amendment to the Constitution. The original Constitution has been amended a total of twenty-five times. Indeed, the Second Amendment is one of those changes.

Amendments to the Constitution can be repealed – prohibition, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment.

We have amended the Constitution to end slavery and give women the right to vote. The Supreme Court has changed its mind and reversed previous decisions to, for example, outlaw segregation and overturn laws against birth control.

None of these approaches are easy or quick. It’s not supposed to be quick or easy. But every struggle for justice begins when people decide it is time.

We need the President’s leadership at this critical time. We need President Obama to say that it is time that we stop letting the gun lobby control this nation’s public health and safety policy.

I hope the many good and decent gun owners will join in this struggle. They too must be dismayed at the terrible slaughter of the children in Newtown by a maniac wielding his mother’s Bushmaster. If they're not, shame on them.

All across this nation, we need to figure out how to get this done. We need honest and serious debate not so much over whether we should take action, but how.

[1] In its exact wording it reads, “Amendment II, Right to Bear Arms: 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.”

[2] The basis for this principle is the 1803 Marbury v. Madison Supreme Court decision.