You’ve really got to hand it to the National Rifle Association (NRA). For decades this organization has successfully defended “gun rights” by defining the issue and thereby limiting debate.
First, they established the context in which the issue was debated – the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If you want to dispute the original intent of our nation’s founders, then you’re as un-American as someone who refuses to salute our flag.
It follows that since Americans have the God-given right to bear arms, we must be exceedingly careful about abridging that right. Violating one of the first ten amendments – our Bill of Rights – is about as bad as disobeying one of the Ten Commandments. In passing, let me observe that two of the strongest supporters of these two judicial codes are Donald Trump and Roy Moore.
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Let’s look at the text of the Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be abridged.
Who should own a gun? NRA supports mentally ill gun-owners?
Let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Where in this text does it guarantee the right of all Americans – with the possible exception of the mentally ill – to bear arms: among which are the AR-15-style military assault rifles used to kill 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida?
Apparently, the Second Amendment is silent about the right of Americans to own this deadly weapon. But the NRA and its millions of supporters proclaim that this is a virtually a God-given right.
Now, let us begin the debate. Is it permissible to limit ownership of these and other deadly military assault weapons beyond the just mentally ill? In the last day or two, President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott – two very strong gun rights proponents – have actually opposed the N.R.A. on this issue.
Although both have enjoyed huge support from that organization, they have dared to suggest raising the legal age for buying an AR-15 rifle from 18 to 21. Since the shooter was 19, it seems quite possible that his 17 victims would still be alive today, and we would not even need to be having this debate.
But the NRA opposes this serious incursion on gun rights. After all, if you give these guys an inch, they’ll take a mile.
NRA and soft targets
But wait! There still is some hope! We can arm the teachers and other school employees. As the NRA – and now, even President Trump – have argued, schools are “soft targets” for madmen looking for victims.
There are, of course, schools with trained armed guards, who would be strong deterrents to these madmen. But the sheriff’s deputy stationed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was not only not much of deterrent: he apparently waited for four minutes outside the school while the killer was inside shooting people. Indeed, when police officers from nearby Coral Springs arrived, they found three additional Broward County deputies outside the school.
The officials of the NRA ask us to be realistic. We live in a violent world. We need to defend ourselves, and especially “soft targets” such as schools. So we need to debate how best to do that.
There is nothing wrong with that logic. The only problem is with its premise. Clearly, the violent world we live in is due to the NRA. The United States not only has one of the world’s highest murder rates per capita, but also one of the highest rates of gun ownership. Do you think that just maybe there may be some connection?
Some of us reason to possess guns – and even high-powered assault weapons among them – to defend ourselves. We need to defend ourselves against other Americans who are also armed.
NRA and its influence
And yet, most Americans strongly oppose the widespread ownership of high powered assault weapons. But the NRA has a vast amount of political power. Until now, it has successfully prevented any serious effort to ban them.
The NRA has controlled the terms of the national debate on gun violence. The students of Marjory Douglas are attempting to change these terms.
The NRA stipulates that our nation is a dangerous place because of all the heavily armed bad guys. But somehow, that’s not the fault of their organization. It’s just the world we live in.
But we can fight fire with fire. Law-abiding Americans have the God-given right to defend themselves. The bad guys will not dare attack them because they can defend themselves.
NRA defends the bad guys, and next steps
But this argument is utterly disingenuous and the students are calling them on it. Why do so many of the bad guys own assault weapons? Because the NRA has so strongly defended their right to own them.
The NRA has succeeded for so long largely by hiding behind the Second Amendment. We need to do one or two things to change this. First, we need to bring a case to the Supreme Court to determine if, indeed, the Second Amendment protects the right of nearly every adult to own high powered assault weapons.
If the Court concludes that the right to own an assault weapon is Constitutionally guaranteed, then we need to modify or abolish the Second Amendment.
About the Author
Steve Slavin has a PhD in economics from NYU, and taught for over thirty years at Brooklyn College, New York Institute of Technology, and New Jersey’s Union County College. He has written sixteen math and economics books including a widely used introductory economics textbook now in its eleventh edition (McGraw-Hill) and The Great American Economy (Prometheus Books) which was published in August.