I understand that ours is a gun culture, both in myth and in historical reality dating back to the Revolutionary War, including our westward expansion dependent on guns for hunting and protection. Having lived in the rural “West,” I also understand that guns for hunting, sport, and image are an integral part of that culture which is not going to change. I’ve also lived in urban Chicago, where there is also a gun culture among gang subcultures. This urban dependence upon guns is every bit as deeply ingrained as it is in rural communities.
Attachment to gun ownership and the Second Amendment (as a rationalization) can in no way justify the use of military-style assault weapons with 100 bullet magazines by civilians to massacre other civilians, including children. These are weapons of war designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. You don’t need an assault weapon (or a hundred bullets) to hunt a deer, or, for that matter, to defend your home. Assault weapons, in the hands of domestic terrorists and just plain crazy people, this year alone have killed 112 people, about one death every other day.
It’s obvious that in this time of Trump and Mitch McConnell, we will not see a federal reinstituting of the assault weapons ban passed in 1994 (expired in 2004). However, the NRA gave us the road map for again banning these weapons (and for gun control in general). For about two hundred years, generations of Supreme Court opinion held that the Second Amendment did not confer a constitutional right on individuals “to keep and bear Arms.” Then the NRA, in the seventies, began a state-by-state campaign to change the meaning of the Second Amendment culminating in 2008, when the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, rewrote the Second Amendment. The Court concluded that the Framers of the Constitution had, after all, intended the Amendment to confer an individual right to bear arms.
So, here’s the road map: Continue the state by state campaign to ban these weapons.
To date, seven states (California, Connecticut, Hawai‘i, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York) and the District of Columbia have assault weapon bans. During the previous federal ban, several constitutional challenges were filed. All of them were rejected. The Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to own military-style assault weapons.
The campaign part of this strategy requires the Democratic candidates for president to beat the drum for a ban throughout the campaign. They need to: constantly remind voters of the needless slaughter inflicted by these guns; point out that under Democratic control there was a federal ban; stress that possession is not protected by the Second Amendment; and reiterate that eight jurisdictions have already banned them.
This will not be an easy fight. In addition to pressuring the candidates to keep the issue alive, those of us committed to seeing this happen will have to become involved in campaigning against Republican senators up for reelection in 2020, with particular emphasis on Mitch McConnell. This focus on the senate is twofold: Flip the body to the Democrats and begin the process of ensuring that there will be a 5-4 pro-ban majority on the Supreme Court.
It’s become obvious that the Supreme Court is now politicized along “conservative/liberal” ideologies. Regardless of a successful state strategy, the issue of a renewed assault weapons ban will eventually end up in the Supreme Court to resolve the discrepancies in the respective state bans.
The current “thoughts and prayers” approach to gun massacres is not going to change until we, the voters, change it by our participation in the political process. This is not a mental health problem. It’s a hate problem with ready access to military style weapons. Guns are not going to disappear from American culture. However, the ongoing mass slaughters inflicted by weapons of war can be confronted, reduced, and even stopped if we have the political will to do so.