The Second Amendment—Balancing Rights with Safety
The oath of office for a member of the U.S. Congress begins with the following statement:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”
Please note that THIS INCLUDES THE SECOND AMENDMENT.
Some members of Congress act like they can pick and choose which parts of the Constitution they support, and which parts they willfully ignore. Or—just as bad—they act like they can interpret the Constitution to mean whatever they deem it politically correct to mean.
Both of these stances are unethical, illegal, and violate the oath of office.
Let me make clear: If elected, I promise that I will support and defend the entire Constitution. Including the Second Amendment.
Having said that, the issue of school safety—and the broader issue of gun rights in America—still isn’t as simple as some would make it out to be. Not if we want to actually fix it, instead of just using it as a convenient talking point on the nightly news.
The one-sentence soundbite answers—from either side—are likely to miss the reality of this complex situation. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I do know that the solution starts with asking the right questions.
And the first question is: What’s changed?
I ask that question because we’re clearly missing something. School mass shootings of the size we’ve seen recently were rare occurrences until near the end of the 20th Century (Columbine happened in 1999). Yet purchasing a firearm (including high capacity semi-automatic carbines, erroneously called “assault rifles”) was less regulated in the 60’s/70’s/80’s than it is now. And gun ownership as a percentage of the U.S. population was at a higher level than it is now.
So if the issue were simply the availability of firearms, we would have fewer school shootings now than we did then. But the opposite is true. So again we must ask: What’s changed?
Sometimes the first step toward a solution is a clearer definition of the problem. Saying “we have more school shootings so the answer is to restrict guns” is ducking the issue. The real issue is that bringing a weapon to school and harming as many people as possible is now looked upon by a small percentage of the student population as an acceptable way to “get back” at other students or faculty if they feel they have been bullied, outcast, ignored, disenfranchised, or mistreated by them. It has the bonus of coming with instant fame for the shooter—both through the mainstream media and on social media.
The obvious example of this is the fact that the massive media coverage of Columbine inspired a large number of similar shootings. An ABC News report stated that “at least 17 attacks and another 36 alleged plots or serious threats against schools since the assault on Columbine can be tied to the 1999 massacre.” Many times the perpetrators of Columbine were explicitly referenced (by name) by the perpetrators of more recent school shootings. One of the worst legacies of Columbine is that many of us know the names of the two who committed this atrocity, yet almost none of us know the names of the victims. Such are the priorities of our media in the 21stCentury.
We, as a culture, must stop glorifying these criminals and stop plastering their names and faces all over the media—giving them national attention and making the act seem even more attractive to other mentally ill, disaffected youth.
And if we were to look for a commonality among the perpetrators of school shootings, it wouldn’t be an attraction to firearms as much as it would be mental illness. Reports show that Adam Lanza (massacred more than two dozen people in Newtown, Conn., in 2012) had Asperger Syndrome. Reports also state that Nikolas Cruz (recent Florida high school shooting that killed 17) struggled with depression and had problems developing social skills. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (killed 13 people and wounded 24 others with firearms and knives at Columbine) had been bullied and prescribed antidepressants and expressed anger toward the "popular" people in their high school. (According to a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times, at least 59% of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack.)
How will passing hastily drafted band-aid legislation address these mental health issues? It won’t. Currently our legislators want to focus more on controlling the procurement of guns than on looking to the root cause. History has shown us that preventing access to a firearm will not stop someone intent on committing harm. Until we address the real underlying issues of mental health, these types of atrocities will continue.
I support increased federal funding and increased mental health block grants for cities and states aimed at identifying, addressing and treating mental health issues. I also support legislation aimed at preventing criminals from acquiring weapons, along with more robust background checks to aid in this.
However, none of these actions alone will stop the problem. Back to our original question: What’s changed? The answer is that our culture has changed. And until we stop the pattern of neglect and the denial of basic humanity toward our neighbors, mass killings—with a firearm or any other weapon of the killer’s choice—will continue.