Sunday, January 23, 2011

Assassination and the 2nd Amendment

In March, 1968, I turned 18 barely a month after the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Within 3 days I reported to my draft board and registered, otherwise a deputy Sheriff would have come to my high school to escort me to the bus station and a free trip to Ft. Benning, Georgia, but I digress. At my recently desegregated high school, I enjoyed my deferment. The only times I remember thinking about such violence was after watching the nightly news.

By 1968, with no Internet, laptops or cell phones, television had become the dominant news medium, following from the live televised assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald five years earlier. Night after night at supper time, anchors Bob Young (ABC), Walter Cronkite (CBS) and the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (NBC) reported the carnage of the Vietnam War and the outrage surrounding the Civil Rights movement. Sound on film replayed the gunfire and the violence.

I had seen Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on television. Of him I heard mostly vile things, since I lived in the rural South where the idea of “separate but equal” still held and the term “African-American” was unknown. I recall thinking at the time that he and other leaders of the civil rights movement were sure putting themselves in harm’s way by their exposure like targets, especially Dr. King who was all over television leading marches and being interviewed.

April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray shouldered a Remington.30-06-caliber rifle with a Redfield 2x7 scope and pulled the trigger.

My hero and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy broke the news of Dr. King’s assassination to a crowd in Indianapolis. Kennedy spoke of King's dedication to "love and to justice between fellow human beings," adding that "he died in the cause of that effort." Rioting broke out in Memphis and 4,000 guardsmen were called out. Other cities burned, but Indianapolis did not. "I had a member of my family killed,” Kennedy said, “but he was killed by a white man."

June 5th, 1968, Sirhan Sirhan pulled out a .22 caliber revolver and fired eight shots.

I do not remember hearing calls for any kind of gun control, though, until after the failed Reagan assassination attempt, March 1981, when John Hinckley fired a .22 caliber Röhm RG-14 revolver six times and wounded both the President and his Press Secretary James Brady. It made the nightly news after it appeared within minutes on CNN. Subsequently, after a seven-year battle, President Clinton signed into law the Brady Bill, which requires a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun purchases.

If you love data, and who doesn’t, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a graphic on its home page that updates how many people are shot in America so far this year and so far today. As I originally posted this article with Blogcritics, the numbers reported 5000 people shot to date, 175 today.

In the aftermath of the Giffords’ shooting, you may or may not know that Arizona has virtually no restrictions on guns and recently became the third state to allow people to carry concealed weapons in public places without a permit. The state also recently allowed concealed weapon carriers to take their guns into bars and just last year became the third state to make it legal for adults to carry a concealed weapon without getting training and a background check.

Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams is one of 61 Republicans making up two-thirds of the 90-member Legislature. According to AP, Adams said last year's bill to legalize carrying concealed weapons without a permit wasn't a mistake. "Arizona remains a place that is respectful and adamant about our Second Amendment rights, and I think the people of Arizona support that," Adams said. The state ranks 5th in the nation in gun deaths, behind Wyoming, Louisiana, Alaska and the District of Columbia.

What a contrast exists between 5th ranked Arizona and 1st ranked Washington, D.C. on so many levels. But I want to stick with gun possession and get to the 2nd Amendment. The District of Columbia banned the possession of handguns, making it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm and the registration of handguns illegal. Ultimately, the D.C. handgun ban went to the Supreme Court in District Of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned the ban.

Justice Antonin Scalia is the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court and wrote the Court’s opinion in Heller. “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” He continued, “Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Judge Scalia further wrote, “Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Let me point out that the founders wrote the 2nd Amendment to protect citizens from Congress, not from home invaders. The whole idea dates back to the 17th century when the Catholic Stuart Kings, Charles II and James II, sought to protect themselves from overthrow by disarming insurgent Protestant militias. By the time of the founding, an English subjects’ right to have arms was understood to be an individual right protecting against both public and private violence.

By the way, how many shootings happen in home defense? I cannot find the data. But, again, I digress. As Justice Scalia wrote in Heller, “…we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose.”

Assassins shot and killed both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F.Kennedy in 1968. An assassination attempt on Representative Gabriel Giffords killed Judge John Roll and 5 other people in 2011. Laws and public policy cannot prevent assassinations. Public figures, such as John Lennon, will always be vulnerable. The only things that have changed in this regard, since I was in high school, are how quickly we find out about such tragedies, how many more shooting deaths occur each year, and how public opinion on the 2nd Amendment has become politicized.

Article originally published as Assassination and the 2nd Amendment on Blogcritics.

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