Fighting the gun world

By Alan Brinkley
May 8, 2013

Customers view display at a gun shop in Los Angeles, California December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

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

 

 

12 comments

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You want to know why it’s so hard to pass gun legislation?

http://truth-out.org/news/item/13890-the -second-amendment-was-ratified-to-preser ve-slavery

Because the Heller majority didn’t pay any attention to this.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

It’s difficult because there are sufficient numbers of people willing to vote (and provide money) against efforts for the Federal Government to control firearms to overwhelm the anti-gun push. The media has generally been pretty lax in their analysis of the “why’s” of the anti’s failure and this article is another fine example of that. The existence of the second amendment is not the _cause_ of the difficulty, Prof. Brinkley. I give this article a “D”.

Posted by logjam | Report as abusive

OP used the “well regulated Militia,” fallacious argument from DailyKos, dang why did you just not say that you are an idiot.

the term at the time meant properly functioning.

I also notice that the OP completely omits the 1968 Gun Control Act that did occur because of a Kenendy’s death. there are over 22 thousand gun control laws in the US. nothing actually proposed since Sandy hook would have prevented that massacre

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

I don’t mind people owning guns – - I just think gun ownership should be highly regulated. My car ownership is highly regulated via licensing, titling, and required insurance. Why can’t gun ownership require the same level of regulation? Right wingers keep playing the so-called freedom card. Why don’t right wingers put the same passion behind unregulated car ownership?

Posted by explorer08 | Report as abusive

Because historically a people of a country were never subjugated after registering their car. They never had their cars taken after they registered them. However, history has shown that is exactly what happens after a government forces the society to registers guns. You may want to read up on your history. Now for other forms of regulation…I assume you read the posts above? 22 thousand gun laws in this country seem to be plenty of regulation to me. But law enforcement needs to enforce those laws for them to have any effect. There is no money in it for them so they continue to bust drug possession and write speeding tickets. And when the Justice department does try to catch the licensed dealers selling under the table to Mexican Cartels it blows up in their face. That is a big Thank You Republicans! And that is sarcasm!

Posted by 2B.Free | Report as abusive

I presume that those who are pro-gun would argue that any type of regulation or control constitutes ‘infringement’. Is their position, therefore, that since any such laws are unconstitutional, and since laws do not deter criminals, we should have no regulation or control of any kind? I’ve been trying to get someone to stake out a position on this one for years, and there are no takers.

Posted by mandrog | Report as abusive

@2B.Free, you seem informed. You wrote:

“However, history has shown that is exactly what happens after a government forces the society to registers guns. You may want to read up on your history.”

Whose history, 2B? Would you mind naming two or three governments so you give us a place to start our research?

Do you think our vast American Military would support Obama if he chose to toss out the Constitution and enforce confiscating guns and subjugating American Citizens? Or do you think he’d walk door to door, confiscating guns all by himself?

Your argument is based on paranoid fear. You are a conspiracy theorist.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Americans have a “streak of independence” that some choose to describe as “exceptionalism”. More than anywhere else, we resist to a greater degree the idea and very mind set that “one size fits all”. We literally wrap ourselves in our individualism. Like most things, there is a “good news/bad news aspect to this.

Our less intelligent/less educated that grow up essentially without effective parental and social “good example” embrace “values” that necessitate killing another because they were “dissed” (disrespected…you define that term as you wish). You want to change THAT, have at it. We’ll watch and giggle.

It takes a lot of effort to become a good boxer, or better than average in any of the martial arts. Physical size and strength has a decided advantage. There is considerable risk in becoming a good knife fighter. People don’t “settle differences” with swords any more.

Yes, in America, guns are easily available, legal and illegal, that require little skill to “deal death” they get used. Basically, point it, pull the trigger, someone dies. Even those bigger and stronger than you. Very empowering. Anyone here can also walk into any store and buy matches.

Fire is also a powerful and destructive force when misused. It destroys huge swaths of our forests, many homes and many lives every year and much of this destruction is the “work” of arsonists, devilishly difficult to “catch in the act” or prosecute. But no one has ever proposed more government regulation of matches. We trust ourselves to be substantially “responsible” and accept the “collateral damage” when people aren’t. You do the best you can.

Why are guns any different? Some might say we “need” fire but we don’t “need” guns. What it really comes down to is Ammericans don’t easily accept the concept of “our” government deciding for us what we “need” and what we don’t. The German, if not European mind set is that is something is not specifically permitted by the law it is illegal (verboten). The American moond set is that if it is not specifically prohibited, it is llegal. Big difference just in our basic “frame of reference. One size does NOT fit all.

Every American that knows much about history is aware that back in the twenties during Prohibition there was rampant lawlessness across America because a majority of citizens refused to comply with abstinence from liquor imposed by making it’s sale illegal. So huge profits were possible from low quality alcohol served in “speakeasys”, rum running, “moonshining” (unsanitary rural distillation), etc. People lost traditional respect for the police and there were frequent public gunfights as the “cartels” of the day competed for control of “turf”…those areas where ONLY THEY supplied the booze and reaped the profits.

This “made the papers, of course, but in general people didn’t really care much because all the injury and death was among the criminal element. A “civilian death” was a rarity. So it was “just fine” if “those people” were eliminating themselves. A “benefit to society” one could say.

Well today we have the same thing going on from America’s “war on drugs”. We have whole communities of dead-end school dropouts and truants with little legal income, no job and no future shuffling the streets with nothing to do but steal from themselves and others or kill themselves in disputes over “respect” or drug profits.

They do this every day. It runs up the “gun violence” rate in America, as does the necessary police response to armed robbery. But once again, for the most part they are smart enough to stay under their rocks and in the shadows of society so they get “left alone” to kill themselves. The perpetrators in New Orleans “broke the unwritten rule” and someone will definitely “pay a price”.

We may never really know it it’s the “right person or people”, but so long as it appears that “something is done” and one or more scapegoats found and publicly dealt with the general public will be satisfied. That’s how “human nature” works in American, and it isn’t going to change. OK?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@JL4,

“Do you think our vast American Military would support Obama if he chose to toss out the Constitution and enforce confiscating guns and subjugating American Citizens?”

Yes, I do. He is the duly constituted “Commander in Chief” of America’s armed forces. The purpose and very nature of any military make it a tool to be used.

Those belonging are expected to do as they are told, and can be shot for mutiny of they don’t. They are fully presumed subject to the Code of Military Justice.

The Nuremberg Trials following WW II were the first serious attempts to try those “in the military” for individual war “crimes against humanity”. For the first time responsibility was imposed to refuse an “illegal order”.

Problem remains…few soldiers are lawyers and when an order is given one can’t say “point of order”. They either do what they are told or they don’t. Each choice has immediate consequences, none necessarily good.

How has that worked out? Well, pretty well for the “victors”, as usual. Were many Americans servicemen or officers who committed war crimes in Europe or the Orient ever identified and/or prosecuted? No. Did some Americans later commit war crimes in Vietnam and Iraq? Yep. Were they prosecuted? Not to my knowledge.

So the American military remains, for all practical purposes, an essentially monolithic “machine” utterly predictable in action and reaction. It is perhaps the quintessential bureaucracy.

If it is told to “put down an insurrection” like the “bonus army” of past, it does it. And it will again.
Sure, units from Alabama will be sent to Oregon, and those from Oregon will be sent to Alabama to minimize empathy with those they must attack, but attack they will.

Only a female could exist as an adult and be this intellectually naive.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@OOTS, Only an old, misogynistic, white male long past his prime could be so demented as to go on paranoid rants, mistaking fantasies and irrational fears as fact.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

@JL4,

What I think and what you think doesn’t matter. What matters is what conclusion readers reach after reading all posts. It is what it is.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Yes, these writings get people riled. Both from the anxiety and fear. Obama’s song to the uninformed urban populace most of whom have been living under the dogma of Political Correctness. Who are urban and do not own guns have little knowledge of them.
Newtown more than anything else scared the helicopter middle class parent. This was not some Ghetto gang bangers who to tell the truth most would want terminated anyway. This was a “good” parent affluent and whose son was a bit off but had gone to Sandy Hook school. Notice that in the months following the media has been silent on motivation for the violent out burst, but clamoring for Obama’s gun control packages.
The assault rifle is very expensive running $1500 or much more only the affluent can afford such weapons. The poor in the ghetto are lucky to have a used revolver.
To the rural or far from center of the town citizen it is a different story. Police or sheriffs deputies won’t get there quickly. By the time police arrive in either case the crime has been done. But affluent city residents tend to discount that fact. Distances re far greater not only for the authorities to reach the victim but in the fact that criminals are not the only threat.
Wolves,bears,mountain lions,coyotes are seen as cuddly cute fuzzy critters no danger to humans by many people and the animal rights group. They think that it is just a bigger pet. Truth is they eat your livestock. They are easier prey than wild and wary creatures.
These are some of the reason why the disconnect between the two populaces. The republican form of government brings a way for the population poor rural people a way not to be railroaded By the urban majority.
Gun control is an important topic for differing reasons to differing populations.

Posted by vxx | Report as abusive