Progressive Views: A Time for Seriousness, Not Extremes

by Kathy Bandujo
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, September 13, 2019

Teenager leading marchers, carrying sign reading, "Am I Next?"
March For Our Lives, NYC by mathiaswasik is licensed under CC-BY-SA

I wrote the following article a year and a half ago. Nothing has changed, except there have been hundreds more people killed in more mass shootings, including two in the past month in Texas.  It’s time to break this cycle:

When my three grown children were younger, I had the usual parental worries when I sent them off to school each day.  Would they do well academically, would they get along with others, would they stay out of trouble?  But never, ever did I worry—the thought never even crossed my mind—that they would be killed at school and I would never see them again.  If things continue as they are, today’s parents may never know that peace of mind.

After the recent horrific murders at Douglas Stoneman High School, the gun control debate is raging again.  And as usual, many on the unlimited gun rights side of the issue are raising extremist points to try to blunt any meaningful discussion of realistic, practical changes which can be made to curb this epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings.  The most common refrain is “defending their Second Amendment rights.”

However, as is true of all rights contained in our Constitution, the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited.  Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – himself a staunch conservative and avid gun owner – recognized this fact.  Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 case that extended Second Amendment rights to private citizens (as opposed to protecting firearm possession only when connected to service in a militia).

In that majority opinion, Justice Scalia wrote: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”  It is not, he wrote, “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

And perhaps of greatest note: “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” 

In noting that this list is not exhaustive, Justice Scalia went on to state, “We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. (An earlier case) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’  We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’.”

So there you have it, straight from the highest court in the land and from one of the most conservative members ever to sit on its bench.  The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms can, in fact, be limited and regulated.

But how should it be limited and regulated?  It should be painfully obvious to everyone that continuing as we have been is untenable.  So now that we’ve established that the Second Amendment is not a wide-open free-for-all of weaponry, let’s address the other extreme: No one except the most radical fringe voices is advocating banning all guns and confiscating everyone’s weapons.  That’s an absurd notion and anyone suggesting such a thing is not a credible voice in the gun control debate. This is a time for serious discussion by serious people.  The extremes on both sides of the issue should be seen for exactly that—extremes not to be taken seriously.

As a society, we have become a people who deal in simplicity—soundbite slogans and microwave solutions.  But our epidemic of gun violence is a complex, multi-faceted situation with gun control, mental health, and societal components.  We need people willing to face the complexities and make the hard, practical decisions.  If those are not the people currently in office, then we need to vote them out.  We, the people, need to demand action, not thoughts and prayers.  It is literally a matter of life and death.

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