Aurora and the Rejection of Small Steps In the aftermath of the tragedy at the Aurora, CO movie theater, the pundits, politicians and lobbyists were at it again with all of the typical arguments about gun control in full force. Both sides of the issue dusted off the same statements they’ve used following the shooting of Gaby Giffords, and the massacres at Fort Hood, Binghamton, Virginia Tech, Columbine and on and on. We weep, we mourn, we do it again.
At the core is the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America (ratified in 1791): 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.
One the one side:
- The Second Amendment has been ridiculously over-interpreted. (The Fox show Family Guy took a satirical jab at the subject.)
- We need to limit the number and type of guns available for sale to the public, especially those designed for combat.
- We must ensure that those who own them do so legally after appropriate background checks and registration.
- Ammunition that is designed to inflict maximal damage and penetrate body armor should be banned, as should high capacity magazines.
On the other side:
- Our freedom is threatened and the country is undermined if the individual right to bear arms is in any way curtailed.
- The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm whether or not it’s used in connection with service in a militia.
- If we lived in a more moral society, we would not see people misusing guns.
- Gun laws won’t stop the insane from finding ways to kill people.
Personally, I have a difficult time with the last four points but the last is particularly irksome – the rationale that inaction is the best option. The line is that stricter gun laws won’t cut down on violence. It might cut down on gun violence but the violent will find other ways to fulfill their intent.
It’s the same line of reasoning used to say that we shouldn’t invest in solar or wind energy because it would only be drop in the bucket compared to our overall energy needs. Opponents to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) want it replaced or repealed; there’s nothing to negotiate. Or, it could be taxes and the deficit. The so-called millionaire’s tax can’t get any traction because, the logic goes, it would do so little to cut into our national debt.
Enough! We have to start someplace. We’d like to get to the goal line in one play but we can’t. It’s not happening. “Whatever axiom you want to use – half a loaf is better than none or Voltaire’s “The perfect is the enemy of the good” (originally, Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien) – incrementalism is hard to accept but equally hard to forswear.” That’s what I wrote in my book, Camelot, Inc., and it seems appropriate to repeat it here.
We should remember that our country is nothing but a timeline of incremental advances. Many of the Founding Fathers wanted to abolish slavery, while others insisted that it remain. So, the Declaration of Independence was a compromise. It was a step. We had to wait nearly a hundred years for the Emancipation Proclamation and then another hundred for the Civil Rights Act.
Of course we must cherish our individual rights but we are one nation. Those who love the Constitution should think deeply about its first line: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Please note the words “We” and “general welfare.” And notice also “union,” “Justice” and “domestic Tranquility.” The Founding Fathers would be in tears if they could see how we’ve misused and abused their words, and became one of the most violent societies on earth.
Compromise and incremental success may not seem satisfying, but it’s the way most things operate and succeed. Baby steps can sometimes add up to a completed marathon.
Congress and state legislatures across the country should take note. Indeed, we need to elect leaders with the courage and conviction to move the country forward. We need to reject the all-or-nothing mentality and reward the smaller but still important measures. We need to learn from the past, not live in it.