Dear President Trump,
Since the Parkland “March for Our Lives” students unveiled their A Peace Plan for a Safer America, NPR has run a bunch of stories about gun control They’ve provided dutifully “balanced” coverage with pretty much equal airtime afforded gun control advocates and opponents, which personally, feels about as sensible as giving climate change deniers the same amount of airtime as climate scientists as though their positions are equally valid. I suppose, though, that NPR is in a delicate position because if they tip too far towards the sensible and humane, someone in your administration is likely to get a bee in their bonnet and arrange for half their funding to be cut. But still, it is supremely shitty to have people arguing on a respected platform that assault weapons are hunky-dory for civilians to own and that requiring background checks and licenses is an unfair encroachment on individual rights.
One of the pieces I heard was largely more of same in terms of this sort of back and forth, but at the very end one of the people being interviewed (and I’m sorry, but I can’t find the piece on the NPR website so I can’t tell you who it was) said that although he doesn’t know what it should say, he thinks that we really ought to be discussing an overhaul of the 2nd Amendment so that it fits our modern (and foreseeable future) circumstances. This really isn’t an out-there idea – lots of people think this is needed. I decided, though, to go back and refamiliarize myself with the wording of the 2nd Amendment to have it squarely in mind when considering a possible overhaul:
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
I also found an overview of the history of how the 2nd Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court (Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute) and learned that in 1939 the SC made a collective rights ruling with regards to sawed-off shotguns. They determined that such shotguns have no “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated milita . . . .” and therefore it was not legal for individuals to own them. In other words, that group of SC justices focused on the right to bear arms within the confines of a well-regulated Militia as necessary for the security of a free State and had this interpretation stood, there likely wouldn’t be any discussion of overhauling the 2nd Amendment.
Well, that ruling stood for 70 years, but in 2008 Washington DC’s ban on handguns went to the SC and this time the justices focused on an individual’s right to bear arms (it apparently being ok to replace the well-regulated Militia with the well-oiled gun lobby), overturning the District’s ban and opening things up for a f*cking free for all.
Before I go on to give you a sketch of the ensuing f*cking free for all, I want to state the obvious, which is that if we went back to the very longstanding 1939 SC interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and scrapped the 2008 one, we wouldn’t need to do an overhaul – we could go back to being a reasonably civilized nation that values the collective and its citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness over an individual’s right to own the biggest, baddest weapon he can afford.
So what about the fallout from this 2008 SC decision? I’ve got way too many tabs open in service of my attempt to piece together how that decision has played out. One of the more interesting patterns I’m seeing is directly from a gun industry source (shootingindustry.com/u-s-firearms-industry-2018/). They have conveniently provided the number of guns manufactured each year in the US from 1997 through 2016. Between 1997 and 2007 the number bounces around between a low of 2,911,346 (2001) to 4,007,910 (1999, which may reflect fears that we were going to go over the temporal deep end as we went from 1999 to 2000). However, beginning in 2008 the numbers just climb and climb from 4,195,873 in that year to 10,664,318 in 2016. I’m not in a position to be able to look at trends and discontinuities in any sort of statistical way, but it’s a pretty striking pattern such that there are over three times as many guns with triggers to pull being manufactured annually than there were prior to the SC ruling in 2008.
There is a corresponding trend with regards to the NRA’s annual lobbying expenditures (www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000082&year=2002) such that things were pretty steady from 1998-2008 followed by a noticeable uptick in dollar amounts starting in 2009. And not surprisingly, those expenditures skyrocketed in 2017-2018. Ka-ching! for you, huh? No wonder you’re suddenly allergic to the idea of background checks and have no appetite at all for an assault weapon ban.
And how does all this relate to gun deaths? I’m sure if I were a gun violence expert I could find better sources, but the only one I could find that looks at gun deaths over a long enough period of time is the Wikipedia “Gun Violence in America” page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_States). At the very top is a graph showing the prevalence of gun-related suicides and homicides from 1999 to 2017. The slopes over time don’t map on to the other information perfectly because the uptick in suicides starts in 2007 rather than 2008 or 2009, but from there it just explodes. It’s awful. In 2006 about 17,000 people took their lives using guns (it was slightly less than 17,000 in 1999) and in 2017 just under 24,000 did so. This is a 41% increase in 11 years. The increase in gun-related homicides isn’t as dramatic, but it’s still heartbreaking – we’ve gone from about 12,500 in 2006 to 14,500 in 2017. There’s also been a rise in accidental shootings (generally involving children getting a hold of their parents’ weapons).
Data from the EveryTown website shows that in addition to the approximately 37,000 gun-related deaths per year in the US, there are over 100,000 gun-related injuries. Information from the Giffords Law Center shows that Blacks are at 10 times the risk of whites of dying by gun violence, abused women are 5 times more likely to be killed if their abuser owns a gun, and children are not spared either with over 1500 of them dying in gun-related incidents.
So you see, the exponential increase in access to guns is resulting in horrifically increased risk of violent death for those suffering from despair and hopelessness (via suicide) and those whose lives have historically mattered far less than those of white men – Black people, women, and children. And so much of this because of an ill-considered Supreme Court judgment that has enabled a few people to make ungodly amounts of money by convincing millions of Americans they have the right to their weapons of choice (along with no small measures of fear mongering and race baiting).
May we be as safe from guns and unscrupulous profiteers.
May we be willing to stand with youth and prioritize gun control when we vote.
May we stop the bloodshed and improve life expectancies, health, and well-being.
May we all make peace with a collective rights interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.