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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/25/21

The Mass Murder Problem --- Again

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"Either this nation will kill racism, or racism will kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

Ruger-SR556-Rifle. A converted pistol, actually. The weapon --- a non-mounted machine gun --- used by the recent mass-murderer in Boulder, CO.
Ruger-SR556-Rifle. A converted pistol, actually. The weapon --- a non-mounted machine gun --- used by the recent mass-murderer in Boulder, CO.
(Image by Wikipedia (, Author: Sturm, Ruger & Co. Firearms)
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Introductory note to the reader: Regular readers of my columns will know that I write on this subject on a fairly regular basis (see the note at the end of the column for a couple of examples), just as I do on racism. That is because just as this country is inflicted with institutional racism and has been since its beginnings, it has also been inflicted with gun violence for much of its existence. In its modern form, gun violence is underwritten for profit by the gun industry and its various components, and is politically protected by the Republican Party. In modern times there has been an ongoing epidemic of gun violence which, for example, resulted in a total of close to 40,000 deaths per year in 2018. Just under 60% of those deaths were suicides; the rest homicides. But of course the reason that I am going with this column again, updated a bit, is of course because of the two recent mass murders (and I do wish that they would be called "mass murders," not "mass shootings") that occurred just one week apart, in Atlanta, GA, and Boulder, CO.

The political responses to these tragedies have been sadly predictable. Ted Cruz' (you know who he is, I'm sure) most quoted comment at a Senate hearing is that "they" (meaning those awful Democrats) "just want to take your guns away." Nothing about the tragedies themselves, possible causes, possible remedies. Using the well-honed other Republican line of attack on even the mildest proposals to do something about the periodic slaughters, Sen. John Kennedy (LA) turned quickly to to changing the subject, this time around to drunk driving (about which there happens to be quite a bit of law, civil and criminal, which of course has no relationship to mass murder. But we shall leave that discussion for another time).

The Democrats, in the Senate at least, have been reduced to calling for "closing the background check loopholes" to cover private and gun show sales as well as reinstating the ban on assault rifles. Actually, in the Boulder case the weapon was apparently an assault pistol, made into a military-style assault rifle, the Ruger 556 (see the illustration above. Why anyone would need a weapon like that to hunt anything other than humans is a question for another time. As is the question of just how their manufacturers and sellers --- all to make a profit --- sleep at night.)

As every reader of OpEdNews knows we as a nation have been here before, over and over again. And as long as the Repubs. have their trigger fingers on at least one branch of the Federal government, nothing happens. There are several points that can be made in regard of both why the Repubs. do this and what could actually be done about the problem, of mass shootings at least. But we will leave that for another day.

Here let's first let's deal with the matter of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which, of course is always at the center of the Constitutional argument, in re "My/their 2nd Amendment Rights." The Amendment actually reads, to wit:

"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."

So, in comparison to what Republicans from Cruz to Boebert say it says --- "the right of gun ownership of any gun, by anyone of any capacity, mental or otherwise, in any context and for any use, human or animal hunting or otherwise, is to be totally unregulated and totally beyond the reach of the law, and is to require no evidence of instruction in use, maintenance, and gun safety, unless a gun owner just happens to wound or kill another person, (unless of course they can claim self-defense or, as in the Trayvon Martin case, the target was thought by the shooter to be "suspicious")" --- what does the 2nd really say?

For most of its history the Supreme Court has interpreted it to mean that it does NOT grant to every citizen an unlimited right to own one or more weapons of unspecified types. In fact, Former Chief Justice Burger, no weak-kneed radical he, had the following to say about the matter: "The idea that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of an individual to own a gun is a 'fraud.'"

It was Justice Scalia, in "Heller," writing for a 5-4 majority, who opened the door to the "unregulated private gun ownership" argument. Now it happens that "Heller" refers to guns in the home. But the gun industry front (more on that below), aided by the Repubs. who the NRA and the Gun Industry fund in massive amounts, just ran away with what Scalia said. Further, both Scalia and the Repubs. of course ignored the first two phrases of the 2nd, and pretend that its text begins with the words "the right."

Now, along with the late Justice Scalia, you might be surprised to know, I happen to be a big fan of strict constructionism when interpreting the Constitution. Thus, just as Chief Justice Burger did, in reading the 2nd's plain language, when taken as a whole, it is quite obvious that it can mean only one of two things. First, it provides a right to the people, in the protection of the free state, to form well-regulated militias. Or second, it provides to individuals the right to bear arms, in a well-regulated system for the protection of the free state.

But the NRA and its Republican front-people (e.g. guns-on-the-mantle-Rep.-Boebert of CO) have of course not read it in either of those two ways and have spent a good deal of time and money making sure that many folks in both public and the media don't read it that way either. Thus so far, with the Repubs. having had substantial control of the Federal government, in one way or another, for many years now nothing has happened in the way of promoting gun safety and gun-ownership/control. But in constructing some kind of long-range political-legal program to deal with this deadly matter (there have been 5-10 mass murders per year for the last 15 years or so) here are several thoughts on what else might be added to the standard arguments for gun-control legislation that could actually work to reduce gun deaths.

Even with Scalia's opinion in "Heller," which applied to the regulation of gun ownership in the home, the door was opened wide to interpreting the 2nd Amendment as sanctioning unlimited gun-ownership rights only by a mass advertising campaign run by the NRA and supported by countless Repub. politicians. Regardless, neither the 2nd nor "Heller" says that. This should be emphasized.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a "Trusted Author," he is a Senior Editor, (more...)
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