It is quite astonishing how some of the most radical and justice-based ideas of the last two-and-a-half centuries have elicited some of the most vitriolic responses imaginable. That no human beings should be treated as chattel, to be owned and sold, abused and dehumanized. That women should have the right to vote and participate in society as full citizens. And now, that private gun ownership should be prohibited apart from a few reasonable exceptions for hunting and certain sporting activities.
Each of these things sought to be overturned were previously enshrined in the Constitution of the United States: Slavery was legal; women could not vote; private citizens had the right to not have their ownership of firearms infringed. That last one is, of course, in order to keep a “well regulated militia” and the type of “arms” that were described muskets and not semi-automatic handguns, but that’s getting ahead of myself.
Last week the editors of America magazine published a bold editorial titled, “Repeal the Second Amendment.” In it they unmask a number of unsightly truths that gun-ownership advocates wish to ignore or deny. One is the (il)logic of popular constitutional and social perception, which leads to a circular sense of problem-solution responses summarized by the editors in the following way:
The culture of violence in America has spawned a deadly syllogism: Guns solve problems; we have problems; therefore, we need guns. Yet consider the tragedy in Aurora. Imagine if just 10 other people in that movie theater had been carrying guns. In the confusion of the onslaught, would fewer people or more people have died when those 10 other people opened fire in the dark? More important, is this really the kind of world we want to live in, a world in which lethal power can be unleashed at any moment at any corner, in any home, in any school?
They continue from this point, after already laying out other statistical evidence that begs our need to question the maintenance of outmoded and, frankly, dangerous right that I personally associated with the “right to own slave” and the “right of only men to vote.” Gun ownership made sense in a seventeenth-century milieu at a time when this fledgling colonial rebellion was reacting to threats that can never be the concern of the only imperial superpower currently present on this planet.
The editors summarize their proposal here:
Both Australia and Britain, for example, experienced gun massacres in 1996 and subsequently enacted stricter gun control laws. Their murder rates dropped. Yet in the United States, the birthplace of pragmatism, our fundamental law proscribes practical, potentially life-saving measures.
Americans must ask: Is it prudent to retain a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms when it compels our judges to strike down reasonable, popularly supported gun regulations? Is it moral to inhibit in this way the power of the country’s elected representatives to provide for the public safety? Does the threat of tyranny, a legitimate 18th-century concern but an increasingly remote, fanciful possibility in the contemporary United States, trump the grisly, daily reality of gun violence? The answer to each of these questions is no. It is time to face reality. If the American people are to confront this scourge in any meaningful way, then they must change. The Constitution must change. The American people should repeal the Second Amendment.
I agree entirely.
By way of full disclosure I should acknowledge that I am a staff columnist for America magazine, however I am not an editor nor on the editorial board, so I first read this editorial when everybody else had occasion to do so. Not everything expressed in the magazine’s editorials always reflect my personal opinion, just as not everything I write reflects that of the editorial board’s opinion. Nevertheless, on this point I’m in full agreement!
The editorial brings up very good points as far as constitutional law and the history of amendment and repeal are concerned. For example, the editors, having acknowledged the gravity of their proposition, explain:
The Bill of Rights enumerates our most cherished freedoms. Any proposal to change the nation’s fundamental law is a very serious matter. We do not propose this course of action in a desultory manner, nor for light or transient reasons. We also acknowledge that repeal faces serious, substantial political obstacles and will prove deeply unpopular with many Americans. Nevertheless, we believe that repeal is necessary and that it is worthy of serious consideration.
Our proposal is in keeping, moreover, with the spirit in which the Constitution was drafted. The Bill of Rights belongs to a document that was designed to be changed; indeed, it was part of the genius of our founders to allow for a process of amendment. The process is appropriately cumbersome, but it is not impossible. Since its adoption in 1787, the American people have chosen to amend the Constitution 27 times. A century ago, leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson raised serious questions about the Consti-tution. Amendments soon followed, including provisions for a federal income tax, the direct election of U.S. senators, women’s suffrage and the prohibition of alcohol. The 21st Amendment, which repealed prohibition, established the precedent for our proposal.
Yet, despite their absolutely legitimate point about the possibility of such repeal, albeit a far chance in our contemporary political and social climate, what I find most convincing is the truth that I have often times reflected on here on this very blog: Whether or not all people can agree in a pluralist democratic society to repeal the second amendment (or at least pass stricter gun-control laws), Christians have no choice in the matter — to be Christian is to be nonviolent and that Gospel commitment to nonviolence bears certain practical implications that we must peacefully pursue.
This is something that Roman Catholic bishops have reiterated time and again. The editors remind us that, “In the most comprehensive statement on gun violence to come from the U.S. bishops’ conference, in 1975, a committee identified ‘the easy availability of handguns in our society’ as a major threat to human life and called for ‘effective and courageous action to control handguns, leading to their eventual elimination from our society’ with ‘exceptions…for the police, military, security guards’ and sporting clubs.”
Furthermore, in recent times, prominent Catholic leaders have reiterated this point, as the America editors explain:
In a recent interview, Tommaso Di Ruzza, the expert on disarmament and arms control at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, explained that an individual does not possess an absolute natural right to own a lethal weapon: “There is a sort of natural right to defend the common interest and the common good” by the limited use of force, but this applies more to nations with an effective rule of law, not armed individuals. In the wake of Newtown, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said that “the fight for greater gun control in the country” is a pro-life position. “The unfettered access to assault weapons and handguns, along with the glorification of violence in our ‘entertainment’ industry…is really all part of a culture of death,” Cardinal Dolan said.
I can say a lot more and in the future I have no doubt that I will, here on DatingGod.org and elsewhere. For the time being, I wanted to officially go on the record to offer my support and explicit endorsement of this proposal. I, too, feel that the Second Amendment should be repealed. Those who have already leveled their uncharitable remarks at me for informal allusions to this proposal have, it seems, made the Constitution and the Second Amendment of that document into an idol. They have replaced the right of a nation-state to self-govern with the right to defend one’s self (from what exactly?) at any cost. They have replaced, as Stanley Hauerwas and other theologians have so keenly pointed out, the God of Jesus Christ with the “god of America.”
I worship the God of Jesus Christ, not the god of America. I recognize my baptismal vocation to follow in the footprints of Christ according to the Gospel, not defend outmoded “rights” that cause or world and society to be less-safe, more violent, and increasingly representative of a “culture of death.” I believe that Christians have no other choice but to support such a reasonable, if serious, measure. What Would Jesus Do?
Yes, repeal the Second Amendment.