Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Few Thoughts On The U.S. Bill Of Rights 2nd Amendment Discussion

   OK...I've thought about this quite a bit and admit after the latest slaying of school children and the mass media onslaught of coverage I, like everyone else, am a bit tired of even hearing about  gun's not really the answer entirely as mental health issues are likely more on point... however can we really justify the numbers of these killings merely for the convenience of  gun owners having easy access to guns?....I have nothing but admiration for the U.S. constitution however you also need to consider the time, when they spoke of these militias, it was because there was no plan whatsoever for a standing army. Also it was written in the 1780s, when this was an agrarian nation, people truly used firearms to acquire meat, or defend themselves from marauding bears, assorted carnivorous cats (very plentiful back then) etc.

And yet again, any inquiry into the history shows us that the model for amendment 2 is The English Bill of Rights (in 1689) which stated "Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defense". This was caused by the reign of James II , the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Members of Britain's political and religious elite increasingly opposed him eventually leading to the "glorious revolution" which outed James, who was best known for his belief in the Divine Right of Kings and his attempts to create "religious liberty" for English Roman Catholics through the persecution of the Presbyterian Covenanters, taking away their arms. So at the root of the US 2nd amendment is historically religion (Surprise!), and another case of the conservative notion that there are rulers and the ruled, as opposed to the democratic notion that all people are equal under the law. Kings generally wanted their subjects armed in case of needing them for defense of the realm. But James took weapons from his enemies....leading to this legislation once he was booted from the commonwealth.

   Historically, the original application of the 2nd amendment was quite different than it's interpretations since the 1930s. The founders and their first few generations of predecessors applied the Second Amendment only to the federal government, and not to the states, and this persisted for much of the nation's history. If you look into it, it was sustained in United States v. Cruikshank (1876) to support disarming African-Americans holding arms in self-defense from Klansmen in Louisiana. The Supreme Court held at that time , that citizens must "look for their protection against any violation by their fellow-citizens from the state, rather than the national, government."
Clearly, originally regulating firearms was left to local law. (think of the old cowboy stories, rooted in history...Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson etc.- towns had local ordinances banning firearms within their jurisdiction...before these places became states, when they were they became states the validity of Kansas city banning firearms was left to the state to decide...not the federal government interestingly)
Federal protection of an individual interfering with the state’s right to disarm any of its citizens came up again in the SCOTUS in Presser v. Illinois (1886). They ruled the citizens were members of the federal militia, as were "all citizens capable of bearing arms." A state cannot "disable the people from performing their duty to the General Government". The Court was harking back to the language establishing a federal militia in 1792. This was the first change in function of the amendment...taking the right away from states to decide. It is a century after Madison penned the document in question. The next big change, occurred in 1939, when once again, the Supreme Court returned to a consideration of militia. In U.S. v. Miller, the Court addressed the enforceability of the National Firearms Act of 1934 prohibiting a short-barreled shotgun. (in the days of Bonnie and Clyde, this ruling referenced units of well equipped, drilled militia, the Founders "trainbands", (what became the modern military Reserves). It did not address the tradition of an unorganized militia. Our Twentieth century views about this are obviously different than the original implementation and interpretation of the 2nd amendment. It does say that citizens have the right to own and bear arms however (under federal law...) and it seems to me, consistency requires giving the Second Amendment the same dignity of the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth...if we hope to preserve those. In the 21st century we are certainly pushing the boundaries of this document... however does it mean citizens can own howitzers? Atomic missiles?
Biological weaponry?

   Jefferson alluded to an armed citizenry needing to overthrow entrenched government every few generations...true, he did. However by even the end of the 19th century, a band of citizens could not take on the U.S. military and it became frankly foolish to consider such a the citizens would need their own nukes, bio weapons, drones, automatic machine guns, various grenades, bombs and James Bond type devices, --- arsenals of every description to perform such a it or not...this is reality. You are not going to stand down a tank with a shotgun...or 2...(you are not going to "win" at least). Today, our view of this amendment, skewed as it is may be by various legal views of it taken over time, needs to adapt to the reality of the 21st century... I'm not pleased to say this, as messing with one aspect of the bill of rights opens the door to messing with the others.

However, in conclusion, let us consider that by 1816 Jefferson wrote that "some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched." But he saw imperfections and imagined that potentially, there could be others, believing as he did that "institutions must advance also". Yet on the other hand, I submit that the USA is a unique sort of place in that it is a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, hodgepodge of divergent people and is frankly held together by a political orthodoxy created by our constitution, in contrast with a nation state of people having more "natural" ties. It is a difficult path to tread, yet obviously the writers of the document did not intend for it to be "sacred", that it may need some tweaks in a future their agrarian culture could not possibly have foreseen.

Ultimately here are my conclusions...
after each sad incident ,the victims will be mourned, the suspect studied, and the incident relegated to our criminal justice system and milked to the point of distraction in the media. However,  can we not see gun violence a public health problem.  It affects people, it causes death, injury and disability, and it can be addressed with environmental, legal, and behavioral interventions.   A classic paper examining violence in a public health frame was published in a 1993 issue of the journal Health Affairs.  J.A. Mercy and colleagues described the methods and models used in public health, including a heavy emphasis on interdisciplinary leadership.  More recently, David Hemenway, PhD, a professor of health policy at Harvard School of Public Health published Private Guns, Public Health in which he makes the compelling case that gun violence can be prevented, just like we’ve tackled other public health challenges.

Gun violence is uniquely an American problem compared to other industrialized countries.  The rate of gun-related deaths per 100,000 individuals in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom is 0.1, 0.5, and 0.03, respectively.  In the U.S., the overall rate is 2.98.   And that overall rate doesn’t tell the full story.  In some cities, the rates are five to ten times that number.  The fatality rate in Los Angeles is 9.2, in Miami it’s 23.7 and in Detroit, Michigan the rate is a staggering 35.9 deaths per 100,000 residents.  According to data assembled by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIJP), about 85 people in the U.S. are killed every day in firearm-related incidents.   The most recent available NCIJP data (2007) identified more than 31,000 firearm-related deaths in the U.S., including 17,000 from suicide and 13,000 from homicide/police involvement.

The number of deaths are striking enough, but even more so when compared to the firearm-related fatality rates in other countries.  Data from the University of Sydney School of Public Health’s gun policy program to create the above table.  It shows gun-related fatality rates for the Group of Twelve countries.  The U.S. is a striking outlier on both the rate of homicides by guns and rate of unintentional gun fatalities.

  Don't take my word for it, use the University of Sydney School of Public Health’s gun facts by country to make your own comparisons.  I bet the results will not exactly make you swell with pride.
What I believe is this...gun violence is a national health issue...I believe strongly that scientific approaches used by public health experts are the answer in curbing this epidemic. They will likely include sensible gun controls along with other measures. But certainly, it is immoral by any measure of the concept and a menace to public health to continue to do nothing.

Edited by Barbi Harris :)

1 comment:

d said...

Tyranny happens. Some communities have to buy and use guns to protect themselves and their civil rights. I don't like guns and would rejoice if most guns were destroyed but I don't like governments having a monopoly of all power. If all guns must be abandoned many societies will be at the mercy of governments without mercy. I agree with the need to see gun use as a public health issue. It is also a constitutional issue. Having lived in a violent and largely lawless one party state for decades I have reservations about governments having the sole right to bear arms.