April is rapidly becoming the month of uncomfortable questions. The grotesque media feeding frenzy of angst that ensued over Don Imus says some mighty disquieting things about a society that for even one minute has to debate whether or not what he said was way past any reasonable standard of what is right and whether or not the right to free speech necessitates corporate sponsorship of such misogynist and racist diatribes.
And now the Virginia Tech killings will no doubt open another long-winded debate about the right to own guns. Before anyone even opens their mouths on this one, it might be instructive to actually revisit the wording of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which specifically states that, “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.” It would seem an obvious point that organizing militias and bearing arms for the purpose of carrying out individual vendettas are hardly equivalent.
As a publication from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) (http://www.csgv.org/document.cfm?documentID=203) documents,
“The Second Amendment does not grant an individual the right to unrestricted gun ownership. No gun control law brought before the Supreme Court or other federal court ever has been overturned on Second Amendment grounds, including several local statutes outlawing handguns. The Supreme Court decided in the 1939 case, U.S.v.Miller, 307 U.S.174,that possession of a firearm is not protected by the Second Amendment unless it has “some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” The Supreme Court has stated that today’s militia is the National Guard. Lower federal courts consistently follow the Miller decision .In U.S.v.Toner, 728 F.2d 115, 128 (2d Cir.1984), the court states that gun possession is “clearly not a fundamental right.” In U.S.v.Swinton, u521 F.2d 1255,1259,cert.denied, 424 U.S.918 (1976), the court states there is “no absolute constitutional right to possess a firearm.””
Yet in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Presidential candidate John McCain (http://www.mywesttexas.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18219792&BRD=2288&PAG=461&dept_id=475626&rfi=6), while expressing sympathy for the families of the victims proclaimed, “I do believe in the constitutional right that everyone has, in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, to carry a weapon.” Not one of the major candidates have offered an opinion about whether we need to revisit the issue of gun ownership in this country.
These contenders for the leadership of this country might do well to visit the NCHS website where they would find some staggering statistics that bring the issue sharply into indisputable focus:
–In the year 2000 alone, there were more than 10,000 homicides involving firearms in this country. (In sharp contrast, the AP reports (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070417/ap_on_re_eu/virgina_tech_world_view) that in Britain where handguns are illegal, there were only 46 homicides last year.)
–Americans own some 65 million handguns, that is more than one for every adult in this country.
–3365 people under the age of 19, in other words, children, were killed by gunfire in the year 2000. The number of children under 15 who are killed by guns every year is 12 times higher than the other 25 industrial nations combined.
–The annual economic cost of gun violence in this country is approximately $100 billion dollars.
As Jane Smiley (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-smiley/what-i-think-about-guns_b_46037.html) has elegantly and succinctly pointed out,
“(G)uns have no other purpose than killing someone or something. All the other murder weapons Americans use, from automobiles to blunt objects, exist for another purpose and sometimes are used to kill. But guns are manufactured and bought to kill.”
All this comes in the midst of an illegal, immoral and horribly damaging war where state sponsored torture and killing is committed with impunity, a war that we as Americans have not had the integrity or moral will to stop.
As in the Imus case, there should never even have to be a debate that these things are wrong. But unless truly pushed to the wall, we dole out moral get-out-of-jail-free cards and instead confine our conscience litmus test to idiotically impassioned spew about flag-burning, gay marriage, abstinence and the like. Clearly, this country is way overdue for a reality check of our moral compass.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Counterpunch, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams, In These Times and Information Clearinghouse. She also blogs at WIMN Online and writes a monthly column for the Louisville Eccentric Observer.