Fifty years ago, my dad, a police officer, answered a call and as a result was murdered doing routine police work. His assailant purchased the murder weapon just days before. My dad lived long enough to wound his assailant who spent the rest of his life in prison.
A few days ago, a person living near Boulder, Colo., bought a gun and within days used it to murder another police officer and nine bystanders in a grocery store. These events, separated by 50 years, underscore what has changed in 50 years.
Some things have not changed. Both assailants had criminal records of violent behaviors. Common sense would say they should both have been denied the right to buy a gun. That has not changed.
Legislators and the courts have made it even easier to purchase a gun, removing virtually every restriction on who can have a one. What you can buy at a gun store or show today is a military-grade weapon many times more lethal and capable of killing tens of people in less than a minute. Because these weapons are designed to kill people, death comes swiftly, and few people ever survive this kind of assault. Such weapons were not available just 50 years ago.
Does protecting personal liberty mean a right to purchase a lethal weapon capable of mass murder? Does personal liberty grant people motivated by hate and/or fear the right to murder people at random?
The Founders were concerned about the potential evils of factions — factions made of special interest minorities seeking political power for the privileges they can unfairly gain at the expense of everyone else. They also feared factions of majorities, populists, willing to take away the liberty of minorities. History is full of examples of both types of factions destroying democracies.
The Second Amendment is an amalgam response to both types of factions. The Founders wanted to prevent a dictatorial executive from taking total power by suppressing the majority with an army the executive controls. In lieu of a national army, they added the Second Amendment. Slave owners feared a majority would take away the tool that sustained their economic prosperity — guns. A majority restricting gun ownership might otherwise take away the guns slavemasters required to keep people in bondage.
The War of 1812 revealed the folly of a citizen’s militia as a safeguard of any liberty, individual or collective. Slavery ended with the Civil War, but guns were still required for Jim Crow to succeed.
John Adams, the author of the Massachusetts Constitution and architect of the federal Constitution, believed that a balance of powers in government might be able to check the selfish urges of factions of populists or of oligarchs. The constitution he created, and that the Constitution is modeled after, balanced a legislative body (a bicameral legislature) with a powerful federal executive granted the power to veto legislation. These two branches of federal government were balanced against an independent judiciary designed to protect the liberty of minorities through a rule of laws.
In recent years, we have seen a powerful Senate leader packing not just one court but the entire judicial system with like-minded judges. Court rulings favoring special interests over common interests have weakened voter protections, unleashed the power of dark money to influence elections, and given the Second Amendment a new and terrible meaning. Nixon-era Chief Justice Warren Burger referred to the claim that the Second Amendment was intended to enable everyone to own or carry a gun as “a fraud on the American public.”
The Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in D.C. v Heller overturned 200 years of constitutional law. It has enabled an armed band of insurrectionists to storm the Capitol to overturn an election of a president they opposed. It has provided the means for the mass murders that plague America today.
A failure of common sense, a citizenry lacking virtue and abandoning collective values, exactly what Adams feared, is well on its way to vanishing liberty and democracy in America.
It does not have to be this way. Do not vote for anyone who does not favor gun regulation. Ask your friends and relatives across America to do the same. Gun violence is a scourge on the American soul; sensible gun regulation is not incompatible with liberty, both individual and collective.
Jim Larimer lives in Miramar.