A Sensible Gun Rights Debate Requires Honest Sensible Debate
By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
“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.” 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, Ratified 1789
The most recent school shootings, one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL (17 dead and numerous wounded) and another at Great Mills High School in Lexington Park, MD (1 dead and 1 wounded) have re-ignited the so-called gun debate in America. Hundreds of thousands of people recently rallied in Washington, D.C. and across the country in support of the March for Our Lives protest.
The prevailing narrative from those in support of gun reform legislation is student safety and the reduction in the incidence of attacks on our nation’s schools and public arenas by assailants wielding assault-style weapons. The rebuttal from the NRA is that passing any serious gun control legislation starts the country down the “slippery slope” of eliminating the 2nd Amendment and an individual’s right to own a gun, otherwise known as “the camel’s nose under the tent” theory.
Part of the problem with this debate is how these arguments are framed. The focus should not be the reduction of gun violence in American schools. The issue is how do Americans reduce the amount of gun violence, of which school shootings is a subset? According to Business Insider.com, gun violence is one of the leading causes of death in America. “Assaults by firearm kill about 13,000 people in the US each year, which translates to a roughly 1-in-315 lifetime chance of death from gun violence. That's about 56% more likely than the lifetime risk of dying while riding inside a car, truck, or van.”
From the gun rights perspective, there is a difference between the right to own a firearm and the argument that the “right” is protected by the 2nd Amendment. White males have owned guns in North America since the arrival of the colonists in Jamestown in 1607. Much to the dismay and at the expense of the lives of Native Americans, America was founded at the barrel of the gun. Contrary to the fear-mongering perpetuated by the NRA, the probability of a white, male-dominated Congress passing legislation that takes away the right to own a gun is zero.
The NRA infers that the 2nd Amendment has always been interpreted as the Constitutional protection of the right of individuals to own firearms. This could not be further from the truth. According to the brilliant analysis of the Honorable Reggie W. Walton’s opinion in Seegars v. Ashcroft ( 297 F.Supp.2d 201 (2004)), “For more than sixty years following the Supreme Court's decision in Miller (1939), there was little judicial debate regarding the scope of the Second Amendment, as almost every circuit court interpreted Miller as rejecting the notion that the Second Amendment provided individuals a constitutional right to possess firearms.”
Staying with Judge Walton’s “Seegars” analysis, let’s examine the controlling language of the 2nd Amendment which opens with ““A Well Regulated Militia…”. Walton explains, “the Emerson Court concluded that “ ‘a well-regulated militia’ refers not to a special or select subset or group taken out of the militia as a whole ....”, Walton continued, “…the term “militia,” as used in the Second Amendment, is clearly referencing a state military body.”
Judge Walton also explains the context of, “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms…” Walton cites the Ninth Circuit, “…the Court finds it “highly significant ... that the second clause does not purport to protect the right to ‘possess' or ‘own’ arms, but rather to ‘keep and bear’ arms. This choice of words is important because the phrase ‘bear arms' is a phrase that customarily relates to a military function.”
It is important to remember that in 1789 when the 2nd Amendment was ratified “America” was still functioning (in the minds of many Americans) as 13 colonies, not one cohesive nation. In order for the colonies to protect themselves it was important that militias be maintained. It was not until Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863 that the concept of America as a “nation” truly took hold. In 2018, with the existence of the National Guard, militias are obsolete. Actually, with this fact, the 2nd Amendment has become obsolete and should go the way of the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Fugitive Slave Provision.
President Trump supports the idea of arming teachers as a defense against school shootings. According to CNN, the president opined, "If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly…" This position fails on a number of levels, two of which are deterrent and response. Trump believes that “hardening targets” with armed teachers will frighten away potential shooters. "Gun-free zone to a maniac -- because they're all cowards -- a gun-free zone is 'let's go in and let's attack because bullets aren't coming back at us. " Wrong!
Even though Trump refers to shooters as “maniacs”, he’s using “rational actor” logic. A person who is inclined to attack a school with a semi-automatic weapon will be more inclined to meet anticipated force with greater force because that person is not a rational actor.
Thinking that arming teachers is a logical response to school shooting follows the often chanted but seriously flawed mantra, “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”. You will only wind up with more dead and injured students. Even if a “trained” teacher is able to hit a target at a range and successfully pass simulation tests, this does not prepare them for “live-fire” situations. Imagine hundreds of students in crowded hallways and classrooms, running for cover as an assailant fires rounds at them from a semi-automatic weapon. In most instances to date, had teachers been armed with handguns they would have easily been outgunned. You address this with highly trained school resource officers who are dedicated police officers not “trained” teachers with guns.
At Great Mills High School in Lexington Park, MD, school resource officer, Deputy Blaine Gaskill, confronted Austin Wyatt Rollins shortly after Rollins had shot Jaelynn Willey and another student. Deputy Gaskill was able engage Rollins and fire one round. It is still unclear if that round hit Rollins or if Rollins killed himself. Two points here, Deputy Gaskill is a highly trained school resource officer and SWAT team member, not a “trained” teacher with a gun. Also, Rollins was armed with a Glock semiautomatic handgun not an assault style rifle. Deputy Gaskill was not outgunned.
While the students at Great Mills High were fortunate to have Deputy Gaskill as their resource officer, there have been other incidents where school resource officer’s actions were totally unacceptable. Have we forgotten Officer Ben Fields, the South Carolina resource officer that violently threw a young female student across a classroom? When increased levels of force are implemented as solutions to problems, African Americans tend to be disproportionately victimized by it.
There is no place for semi-automatic weapons that are based on military designs on our streets. There’s a reason why machine guns are illegal in America. A person should be 21 years of age before they can legally purchase any firearm in America. An extensive background check should be performed for all sales in all venues (even personal sales) and a 3-5 business day waiting period should be imposed. The police should be able to temporarily seize weapons from individuals found to be mentally unfit.
These are just a few common-sense ideas that should be implemented. Will they put an end to school shootings in America? Possibly. Will they assist in lowering the number of deaths by firearm in this country? Definitely!
And that’s the point.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com
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