Around 1 p.m. about 200 people walked into Times Square in New York and fell to the ground as if shot dead. People drew chalk around their bodies and then wrote the names of victims from the Newtown massacre. They were Broadway dancers and their dramatic, coordinated silent protest brought a chill over Times Square–just as Newtown, in an incomparably larger way, brought a chill over America.
This time is different. This tragedy has hung in the American consciousness longer and stronger and has inspired people to speak out as they never have before because they understand that guns are part of a public health epidemic and they know that this time is different.
The media coverage has lasted, the public attention has lingered, and the political will on the left is not dissipating. In Illinois Debbie Halvorson, a pro-gun rights Congresswoman, lost in a Democratic primary to State Rep Robin Kelly because Halvorson’s status as an NRA darling proved deadly.
We are inching toward substantive change that could help save lives. Universalizing background checks and criminalizing straw purchases and strengthening the ATF will help block the flow of guns into criminals’ hands. This will weaken the NRA’s ability to fearmonger about bad guys with guns in order to motivate good guys to buy guns (and social science has shown, “good guys” with guns are highly unlikely to ever face down a criminal and are far more likely to shoot a family member or a friend).
Year after year the National Crime Victimization survey shows firearm self defense is rare. The social science data is clear: guns in the home increase the likelihood of death for the people who live there. We don’t want to take away all the guns but we need a safer society and we can get there.
Once upon a time, cars and cigarettes killed many more people, and the industries behind them fought against regulation but now cars and roads are safer and traffic fatalities have fallen by 50% over the last few decades and our relationship with smoking has been transformed. We can also transform this nation’s obsession with guns and we can do so constitutionally.
Few issues have been more cluttered with disinformation than the second amendment but the law and the legal community are unequivocal: a letter signed by six former attorneys general says, “For more than 200 years the federal courts have unanimously determined the second amendment concerns only the arming of people in service to an organized state militia. It does not guarantee immediate access to guns for private purposes.”
In 1973 in Eckert v Philadelphia a federal appeals court ruled “Appellant’s theory is that by the second amendment he is entitled to bear arms. Appellant is completely wrong about that. The right to keep and bear arms is not a right given by the Constitution.”
In 1996, conservative legal icon Robert Bork wrote, “The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that there is no individual right to own a firearm.” The founders considered adding “the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves,” and decided against it.
When the NRA stands behind the second amendment they are lying. Gun control is constitutional, rational, reasonable, commonsense, widely popular and absolutely necessary. And if we keep pushing we will get the reform and the nation we deserve, just as the civil rights movement kept pushing when things looked bleak and the gay rights movement kept pushing when things looked bleak. Gun control is just as important and it is just as possible.