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.
Despite the reality that President Obama took no action during his first term to advance gun safety or sensible gun control measures, gun enthusiasts convinced themselves, with the help of right-wing pundits, that the president is not only a socialist but a budding tyrant preparing to confiscate gun owners’ arsenals from coast to coast. And this caricature has been a boon for gun manufacturers and sellers.
Over the weekend, The New York Timesreported sales of guns, “which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election,” have “soared” since the mass-shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the high-profile discussion of enacting gun safety regulations. An Iowa “independent gun dealer” told the newspaper, “If I had 1,000 AR-15s I could sell them in a week.”
The National Rifle Association has been predictable and lame. The group blamed the arts, such as movies, for spurring gun violence and argued that more guns are the solution. In late December, the group’s Vice President Wayne LaPierre, said armed guards should be placed in the nation’s schools. James Yeager of a Tennessee company that apparently trains people to use weapons said in a YouTube video that if the president issued an executive order promoting gun safety that he would “start killing people.” Other chuckleheads have taken to the airwaves to threaten violence if the government were to take any action to curb gun violence.
What this period of discussion about the nation’s obsession with guns and how to take some measured steps to curb gun violence has exposed, in part, is that the gun lobby is growing tired and extremists are jumping into the fray. Many of these gun lovers believe that the Second Amendment is absolute. First, very few things in life are absolute and certainly there are very few if any rights provided by the Constitution that are absolute. For instance, the First Amendment does not protect all speech and expression. Political speech is provided more protection than commercial speech, speech advocating illegal conduct is not wholly protected under the First Amendment. What about the Fourth Amendment. We know that not all government searches are illegal. Indeed the Fourth Amendment has a lot of exceptions for police officers, acting in good faith and under certain circumstances, to conduct searches and seize property that many would argue are unconstitutional.
I could go on, but the point is that the Second Amendment does not forbid the regulation of guns. It is likely too much to ask of many of the rabid gun enthusiasts to read D.C. v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that held an individual does have the right to “keep and bear arms.”