Sunday, January 10, 2016

Handguns and Other Household Appliances

The door of this refrigerator is regulated. The handgun is not.

Sometimes, a meme sums things up beautifully. Here's one I saw on Facebook, originating with Occupy Democrats:


Just to be sure I've got the facts right, I Googled "refrigerator safety regulation," and got the text for the Refrigerator Safety Act of 1956. I was unable to find any reporting on how the appliance industry reacted to this legislation, or how long it took to get it through Congress, but I think it's important not to rush to any generalizations about corporations having more common sense than other collectives of people: think for a moment about how many decades it took for the automobile industry to take steps to improve gas mileage, or to install airbags and other safety devices.

With that disclaimer out of the way, though, I am quite ready to jump to an explanation of why the refrigerator lobby made little or no effort to resist the imposition of safety regulations by Congress: there's no Constitutional right to making or owning an unsafe appliance.

And that's where we hit a major road block to sensible gun regulation. The founders of the American republic enshrined an ambiguous right to bearing arms (and by the way, it doesn't say "firearms," let alone guns, so for all we know, they could've been referring to shillelaghs), apparently for the sake of being able to hastily put together a citizens' militia in the event of invasion by Redcoats. The political conditions that made this sound like a good idea ceased to exist the moment the United States decided to maintain a sizable standing army, but the problematic language was left in place.

Times change, and sane citizens and legislators amend the Constitution accordingly. This nation has arrived at a place when millions of Americans own deadly weapons that can kill children far more easily than an abandoned refrigerator, yet even the prospect of the President ordering the most common sense of regulations--regulations that have been proposed by the gun lobby itself--are met with hysterical screams of fascism from the owners of guns.

There are more guns in the USA than there are people. Guns kill 30,000 Americans a year--the same number as motor vehicle accidents. And yet, the Center for Disease Control is forbidden by Congress to research gun-related deaths. The state of Florida recently imposed a gag order on physicians, prohibiting them from discussing gun safety with their patients. Yes, you read that correctly: a Florida doctor can counsel patients to avoid heart disease through exercise and diet, but not to lock up guns to prevent their children from winding up in the emergency room or the morgue.

I blog frequently about guns. I don't like them. They scare me. Mother Jones magazine published an excellent (and well-referenced) primer to the reasons why, countering ten myths the gun lobby has used to convince legislators to keep American gun laws lax. Of the ten, the most striking to me had to do with women who carry guns to defend themselves against attackers: they are five times more likely to die of gun violence then women who carry either non-lethal weapons, or simply do without. Having a gun in the house instantly increases the likelihood that someone in that house will die of gun violence, whether it's an "accident" (I'm of the opinion that an adult leaving a gun where a child can get at it is guilty of negligent homicide), a suicide, or mistaking a family member for a home invader. I don't want them in my house, I don't want them in my neighbors' houses, and I'd be very happy if the state just moved in and, as so many gun enthusiasts fear, took the damn things away.

But that's not going to happen. The freedom to kill is more precious to Congress, the NRA, and the gun nuts screaming "fascism!" than the lives of the thousands of children sacrificed every year to that freedom.

I wrote a piece about a month ago in which I called for repealing the Second Amendment. This led some of my readers to caution me that amending the Constitution is a serious thing, and we ought not be cavalier about surrendering rights. To these Constitutional fundamentalists, I offer this number: 3/5. Or, more specifically, this:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
That's Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States. Or, rather, it was Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3, until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, superseding the 3/5 rule to require that every human being would be counted--though still only half of them could vote, as women had to wait until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 finally granted them this right.

One could argue that conditions changed over the decades, rendering slavery-related legislation irrelevant; and further, that the increasing presence of women in the workplace made it far more difficult to argue that they should be treated as less than fully adult, and capable of voting as sensibly as their husbands.

One could also simply assert that the founders were wrong.

In either case, the original wording and/or intent of the Constitution was seen to be problematic, and in need of amendment. And before you suggest that the nation was united on the need for amendment, as it certainly is not with regard to gun rights (though the regulation wishes of the majority of Americans, including gun owners, are being repeatedly trampled by the hysterical minority who think any regulation is fascism), I refer you to the Civil War.

The founders were wrong about slavery. They were wrong about women. And even if they meant what the gun lobby says they meant when they passed the Second Amendment (which is extremely unlikely), they were wrong on that count, too. One thing they were absolutely right about was making sure the Constitution should not be treated as an immutable set of rules. They understood that times change, that hard hearts soften, and that the words they had written would, from time to time, need to be altered to accommodate those changes.

With the largest, best equipped standing security force in the world, we've got our well-armed militia, and then some. 30,000 people a year are being sacrificed to the Second Amendment. I'm not going to suggest that, if the founders knew what an abomination the right to bear arms would become, they'd have left it out--these were, after all, snuff-snorting white men who believed in phrenology, among other things--but considering how pragmatic they were about so many other things, I have to think they'd at least have second thoughts about how it was worded. In our current climate, it boggles my mind that there's still so much opposition to even the tame regulations the President is putting in place. Looking at the numbers, listening to the voices of the victims, and their families, it's painfully, bloodily clear: the right to bear arms is as obsolete as the 3/5 clause. It's past time to cut the damn thing out of the Constitution, the gun lobby the door, and send these lethal toys to the same place as the locking refrigerators of 1956.

No comments:

Post a Comment