Monday, December 17, 2012
Thoughts on Sandy Hook Elementary, Part One.
When I heard Friday's news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary I sort of put it out of my mind because the news report I heard said that all the children had been evacuated to the safety of a nearby fire station. I had errands to run and people to see. It was only later when I returned home that the extent of the devastation wrought by the lone gunman became known and the enormity of the tragedy hit home. Later that day I posted something of my grief and my frustration on one of the social media sites. It was a true feeling of impotence and all I could do, all I could think to do was to not turn on my holiday lights and I lit a single votive light in a blue holder in the window and wept for the children, for their martyred teachers and for my countrymen. I could not think of anything else I could do even though my heart was breaking in sorrow. Since then I have pretty much been alone with myself wondering what I should do and what we should do as a society to attempt somehow to prevent these insane massacres by obviously insane and angry people.
My first thought was that we should repeal the Second Amendment, that it was no longer necessary because we no longer have citizen militias. We have moved beyond the need for groups of armed citizens called to training with their flintlocks. I played with idea for awhile and while playing with it I re-read Antonin Scalia's opinion in District of Columbia vs Heller in which Justice Scalia the intellectual leader of the Four Horsemen of the Court in which he attempted in tortured prose and logic to explain how the Second Amendment prefaced with prefatory language that a “well regulated militia” is essential to the security of a free state somehow protects a citizen's right to own a weapon for personal protection and the protection of that citizen's property. Scalia is one of the proponents of a nonsensical theory of constitutional interpretation known as Originalism which holds that the Constitution must be interpreted according to intent of the drafters of it. Or as Scalia said recently in one his public speeches touting his book, that the Constitution is “dead, dead, dead.”
Logically according to Originalism it would seem that since the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791 that it should mean that every citizen is entitled constitutionally to own and possess a flintlock, a bowie-type knife and perhaps even a primitive cannon. Scalia didn't discuss that in his opinion for the Court in the Heller case. I was thinking that the amendment should be repealed so that we could as a society make 'war' on firearms and destroy as many of them as we can. I have since abandoned that position as not very practical and as not very effective and as destructive of other constitutional rights. Now my position is that we should keep the amendment and limit it to flintlocks and bowie knives and small cannons of the like hauled around by Washington's rag tag army during the Revolutionary War.
A better read is the dissenting opinion of Justice Stevens in the Heller case. In his opinion Stevens points out that the Second Amendment grew out of the constitutional convention dispute over allowing the Congress to organize a standing army and the fear that the states had that such standing armies were a threat to the very existence of the rights of the states to maintain, arm and train their own militias and even possibly to the sovereignty of those constituent states at the time of the Nation's birth. The amendment was an 18th century solution to an 18th century constitutional problem. We no longer have state militias as they were in the 18th century. We fight wars in far away places like Afghanistan and Pakistan with their successors, national guard troops that have been federalized and brought into the service of the Nation. We no longer have 18th century problems. We have 21st century problems, great big 21st century problems like wing nut crazies such as Adam Lanza who murdered 26 people on Friday for reasons known only to himself.
The real issue is that we are a warlike people. We make war in faraway places and we make war at home. We even make up reasons to go to war, reasons that are untrue. We are enamored of violent solutions to all sorts of problems. We carry on a love affair with things like capital punishment. We make war on all sorts of things from drugs to poverty. Violence and violent imagery are a way of life to us. We play violent games both privately on computers and publicly in huge arenas and on television. I was shocked at the violent and racist reactions last night of some people to a network's preemption of the first quarter of Sunday's football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots to televise President Obama's speech at the Sandy Hook memorial. American football is nothing more than a violent fight to acquire the opposing team's land.
This orientation toward violence is what has to change. There can be no doubt about that. The big question is how do we change it? We need to have a really big, really serious national conversation among honest and serious people. We need to talk it out and figure out how we change the violence that is a cancer on our Nation. Let us reason together in good faith and solve that issue for ourselves and for our posterity.