Remember, back in junior high school, when you read that classic of American literature, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson? In the story, a small town ritualistically draws straws each summer to see who among them will be stoned to death, to ensure a good harvest later that fall. (Goes the local proverb, “lottery in June, corn be heavy soon!”) As the lottery begins, the townspeople gather in the public square and begin to collect rocks. The head of each family draws a slip of paper from the box, hoping not to see an inky black dot. The family that draws the black dot advances to the next round, in which one member is selected for sacrifice the same way. Tessie Hutchinson, a wife and mother of young children, draws the condemning dot, and the story ends as the terrified woman is stoned by her neighbors while she frantically protests.
Now, looking around your own world, does this dystopian game of chance seem at all familiar? Thankfully not, you are probably thinking – but if we’re really being honest, it should. On the anniversary of the soul-wrenching Newtown shootings, it’s time to concede that we, too, are participants in a lottery of our own making – one so horrifying that we mostly choose not to see it. But let’s face the grim reality. We are all living in that same nightmare town, where innocents are mindlessly sacrificed in service to ideals that don’t require this kind of sacrifice. When it comes to gun violence in America, we play the nightmare lottery every time we send our children off to school, each time we visit a public place, walk the streets, and in some cases, live in our homes.
A year ago this week, twenty-six first graders and their teachers were gunned down at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Only days earlier, two people were killed and ten thousand terrorized by a gunman at a mall in Clackamas, Ore., where I live. A few months before that, a man walked into an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and opened fire on hundreds of people, shooting eighty-two and killing twelve. Just last week, hundreds of terrified teens were led out of a suburban Denver high school with hands on their heads after a fellow student shot two classmates and then killed himself while seeking revenge on a teacher. The mass shootings are particularly wrenching, but nearly 100 children under ten years old were killed by deliberate gunfire in 2012 alone, often by adults they knew.
For far too long the gun lobby has loudly proclaimed that the Constitution bars almost any kind of law aimed at curbing gun violence. But since a string of mass shootings last year culminating in the Newtown mass shooting that took the lives of 20 children, there’s been a growing chorus of voices pushing back against the gun lobby’s platitudes and simplistic, often misleading, interpretation of the Second Amendment.
More than 50 constitutional law scholars signed a letter explaining why the Second Amendment is not absolute or unlimited. Very few of rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution are absolute. One of the scholars who signed that letter is among the nation’s greatest constitutional law scholars -- Laurence H. Tribe, a distinguished Harvard Law School professor.
Hours before President Obama, a former student of Tribe’s, gave his State of the Union Address, Tribe testified before a Senate Judiciary committee examining ways to curb gun violence without trampling the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
In his oral and written testimony Tribe made it clear that efforts to reduce – not eliminate – gun violence through government action are not beyond reach because of the Second Amendment. In current Supreme Court rulings, such as D.C. v. Heller, Tribe explained the justices took certain policy choices off the table for consideration and “thereby cleared the path to reasonable regulations to be enacted without fear that those policy choices would ever open the door to unlimited government control or be imperiled by exaggerated interpretations of the Second Amendment.” (Click picture of Tribe for video of his opening remarks, or see here.)
Tribe noted that Justice Antonin Scalia author of the majority opinion in Heller noted that the court’s interpretation of the “Constitution leaves open a variety of regulatory tools to combating the problem of gun violence in this country.”
In his written testimony, Tribe put it this way: “Proposals to disarm the American people, to leave firearms solely in the hands of the military and the police, have been decisively taken off the table – if they were ever truly on the table – by the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions in 2008 and 2010 [Heller and McDonald v. Chicago respectively].”
The NRA is fighting for a law in Florida that would bar doctors from asking children whether there are guns in their homes. If doctors “unnecessarily [harass] a patient about firearm ownership during an examination,” they face a fine of up to $10,000 and risk losing their license to practice medicine.
A good place to start would be a succinct letter signed by some of the nation’s leading constitutional law scholars that notes the Supreme Court has acknowledged the “presumptive constitutionality of laws designed to prevent gun violence, including restrictions on who has access to firearms and what types of firearms that they may have ….”
Grassley’s comments about the president’s call for new gun control measures came during today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence. Grassley revealed his opposition to proposals to limit high-capacity ammunition magazines and suggested that violent video games are more responsible for mass shootings in the nation than easy access to military-style weapons.
Citing D.C. v. Heller, in which the high court found an individual right to own guns, the professors’ statement says in Heller Justice Antonin Scalia recognized that like other constitutional rights, “the Second Amendment is not absolute. The First Amendment, for example, provides that ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,’ but the Supreme Court has long and consistently held that some types of speech – for example, defamation, obscenity and threats – can be regulated; that some people – for example, public employees, members of the military, students and prisoners – are subject to greater restrictions on their speech than others; and that the government can reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of speech. As Justice Scalia explained in Heller, the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment are likewise subject to appropriate regulation in order to enhance public safety.”
The statement, available here, goes onto to argue that proposals like universal background checks, regulation of high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-style assault weapons are “clearly consistent with the Second Amendment.” The professors, add that they have “no view on the effectiveness or desirability of the policies reflected in the various proposals, but we all agree that none infringes on the core right identified in by the Court in Heller.”
So the path to new gun control measures must wend through far-right states, such as West Virginia, according to a front-page article in The New York Times. In other words, there’s unlikely to be a ban on military-style weapons coming out of the 113th Congress, thanks largely to the overblown and paranoid concerns of gun enthusiasts in a handful of states that the federal government is bent on trampling Second Amendment rights.
That discouraging news, however, did not stop U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein from introducing sweeping legislation aimed at banning the “sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of 157 military-style assault weapon,” and “high-capacity ammunition magazines.”
As noted here before the Second Amendment, like many constitutional rights, is not absolute. The U.S. Supreme Court in D.C. v. Hellerpointed that out. But the gun lobby and gun enthusiasts are adept at stirring fear – one measure to curb violence will lead to others, and so on.
Feinstein is aware of the difficulty she faces. “Getting this bill signed into law,” she said, “will be an uphill battle, and I recognize that – but it’s worth waging. We must balance the desire of a few to own military-style weapons with the growing threat to lives across America. If 20 dead children in Newtown wasn’t a wakeup call that these weapons of war don’t belong on the streets, I don’t know what is.”
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) were also co-sponsors of the bill, The Hillreports.
The measure, The Hill continued, “would also ban semi-automatic rifles and handguns that have fixed magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds and all semi-automatic shotguns that have folding or detachable stocks, pistol grips, forward grips, or fixed magazines with room for more than five rounds.”