How Do You Spell Leadership?
We are in the midst of a great debate about whether the United States should be retreating from its traditional role, at least since the end of the Second World War, as not only the leader of the Free World, but as the sole superpower in both military and economic might. However that debate comes out, there is one area where we remain the unquestioned leader, and that is as the country where more mass shootings occur than anyplace else on earth. And it is unlikely that we will concede this title anytime soon. There are a lot of reasons for this dubious distinction, but at least part of the blame has to be on a gun lobby that refuses to concede that the easy availability of military-style weapons has made the commission of mass killings more efficacious if not necessarily more numerous in their occurrence.
After each of these tragic events, in Newtown, Orlando, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Parkland among others, we collectively beat our breasts and vow to do better. And, yes, the motivations behind these tragedies vary, from bigotry to false religious fervor to plain and simple mental illness. Yet they all have a common element: the shooter was able to quickly and efficiently dispatch obscene numbers of victims through his handy assault rifle, usually obtained in a perfectly legal way. Despite the initial public outcry, the legislative reaction to each event is to (excuse the pun) shoot down every effort to pass sensible gun laws, including universal background checks and “red flag” laws that would temporarily deprive proven violence-prone individuals of any right they may have to possess a weapon.
Politicians live in fear of the NRA and more radical members of the gun lobby who argue that the Second Amendment allows virtually no exceptions to the God-given right of every man, woman and child in this country to own an assault weapon. This view contrasts with interpretations of all of the other enumerated parts of the Bill of Rights, including Freedom of Speech, which are not regarded as absolute, but subject to reasonable limitations.
But at least there is one world leader who is willing to lead the way to snuffing out the canard that ordinary citizens should have a right to own weapons that are better fit for battling ISIS or Nigerian rebels and not for any other reasonable purpose in a civilized society. In the wake of the killing of 50 people and the injuring of dozens more in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlawed the ownership of most semi-automatic weapons and guided a more permanent ban through her country’s Parliament yesterday. In addition to her courageous leadership on the issue, Ms. Ardern actually demonstrated genuine human compassion in the wake of the tragedy, donning a head scarf in sympathy with the victims’ religious beliefs while actually visiting the surviving members in their hospitals. Can you imagine that a political leader actually views her job to include expressing empathy for the victims of a tragic occurrence?
Meanwhile, in this country, mostly we do nothing. We fiddle with a fairly lame ban on bump stocks that can convert an ordinary rifle into a semi, while Congress lets stand a law that comforts the gun manufacturers by relieving them from any liability for the use of their product as intended. Even the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has abandoned any hope of banning assault weapons. But there are some signs of life. The Connecticut Supreme Court has offered some hope to the parents of the Newtown victims to proceed against Remington over their advertising practices, which, they claim, appealed exactly to the type of young deranged man who took away their precious six year olds in their first-grade classroom. And the fervor of the Parkland high school students carries on, pressing the Florida legislature to pass gun control measures that were once unthinkable in their gun-happy state.
The politicians who receive gun lobby largess for their re-election campaigns preach that we should do more to treat mental illness to prevent these senseless shootings. By all means, do so. But that does not preclude other solutions. To those who say that someone intent on killing will always find a way to acquire the necessary means, even if it is illegal, I say, true, but why are we so inclined to make it as easy as possible for them to do so? And to the Original Intent interpreters of the Constitution, I say that the Second Amendment was meant to protect the right of the nation’s new citizens to carry a one-shot musket for their own protection, not an AR-15.