Fighting the gun world
In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Washington Post began a series of editorials calling for an end to unregulated guns. Those editorials continued every day for months. After a while, the editor gave up, and gun control eventually was forgotten – as it has been over and over again.
Now, almost five months after the killing of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut, riveted the nation, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is talking about trying to resurrect his bill on gun background checks that was defeated in the Senate last month.
Why is it so difficult to regulate guns in America? Part of it is a result of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Many Americans now believe that the Second Amendment means only using arms for regulated militias. But many people outside of big cities believe that keeping unregulated guns is part of what America means.
Most of the Founding Fathers indeed thought guns were important. James Madison said the Second Amendment meant protecting arms for the whole nation. (The one exception was the prohibition for slaves holding arms.) Later, Chief Justice Roger Taney, like almost all other justices, believed that the Constitution laid out the right to carry arms as a right of citizenship, whether or not as part of a militia.
By the early 20th century, the Supreme Court passed one of its few gun laws after the Second Amendment. It determined that the states, not the nation, should decide whether or not to regulate holding arms. So far, only a few states have decided to regulate guns significantly: California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York. Most of the other 44 states have few, and mostly weak, regulations.
In recent years we have seen the Virginia Polytechnic Institute shootings; the shooting of then-Representative Gabriel Giffords and others in Tucson, Arizona; the shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and the massacre in Newtown. In the aftermath, President Barack Obama made gun control one of his most important efforts. He used his State of the Union to support it, and he brought many men, women and children to stand with him to support victims and their families. He called for background checks in gun sales online or in gun shows, and he called for stopping people with mental illness from carrying guns. He lost the gun bill in the Senate 54-46, needing six more senators to end the GOP filibuster. Another effort – banning assault weapons – went down 40-60.
After this withering failure, the president called it a “pretty shameful day.” (The failed bill followed almost immediately after the bombings and shootings in Boston.)
It is hard for Americans in many parts of the nation to understand how so many people could carry guns without regulation. But many millions of Americans are always ready to fight against gun control, helped by the National Rifle Association and its many supporters. Because there is so much anger from the president, Americans who consider guns part of their lives likely fear that he might confiscate them.
The effort to stop guns in such a powerful way is likely to backlash and make gun regulation even more difficult.
The gun lobby and their allies willfully lied about this bill,” said a furious Obama. “This effort is not over,” he promised.
But after a battle like this, despite what Obama and Manchin are saying, one thing seems sure – this effort is likely to be over for a long time, as it has again and again.
PHOTO (Insert): Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in Washington April 10, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron