Friday, December 28, 2012

Speak up to the NRA

The Holy Innocents

In the Christian Calendar it is Holy Innocents Day. It is a day that recognizes the time when a paranoid Herod ordered the execution of children under the age of two years old in the vicinity of Bethlehem. That was a long time ago. More recently, more and more guns have been getting into the hands of more and more deranged persons. Increasingly the American public asks what can be done. The NRA recommends more guns. Many of us question the wisdom of that position.

Holy Innocents Day seems like a fitting occasion to support a campaign to respond to the intransigence of the gun lobby. The voices of the little ones at Sandy Hook cry out for a voice to speak up on their behalf. We must be their voice now. 

It's not just Sandy Hook, but Columbine, and the Firemen ambushed on Christmas Eve and the thousands upon thousands of other who are taken from us every year. Assault rifles are especially a threat to those of us who gather peaceably in our schools, our churches, shopping centers, and movie theaters.

The ban on assault rifles has expired. There is no mandate for background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows, mail order or by private parties. 

Anybody can get a gun. It is said that this is because of the sacred place of the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

True enough. 

But the Declaration of Independence speaks more convincingly of those "Inalienable Rights" for all American citizens; that among them are the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". 

Those who defend the second amendment, gloss over the much more basic right to life.

In comparing the two, I will declare this; the right of those children in Sandy Hook to life trumps the right of the rest of us to bear arms, without some kind of regulation.

The way out of our dilemma is in the Second Amendment itself. The operative phrase in the Amendment is this; "A well regulated militia".

The full text of the Second Amendment is this; 

"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."

The more basic right is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence itself; 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Most nations regulate weapons possession, and in western civilizations these regulations manage to keep violent deaths down into the hundreds. Here in the United States the rate is much higher and the death toll much dearer. Imagine, more than 10,000 per year! Is there nothing we can do?

Given the intransigence and uncompromising nature of the folks at the NRA and many who are members of the gun lobby, we must get up the gumption, and work up the courage to speak up to them in sufficient numbers, and with a sustained and well organized, well funded effort to counter the veto power they seem to carry, much like the weapons they bear.

It will be a very difficult battle.
We have no such weapons, except social media.
But as we have seen in the Arab Spring and in the recent elections, social media can play a decisive role in the development of social policy.

Some efforts have begun. The Brady Campaign and Mayors Against Illegal Guns among them. Pick one. Join one. More efforts like this will need to combine to match the vast power and enormous financing of the NRA and the gun manufacturers. 

But this time we must not roll over and play dead. We must not be tepid in our advocacy. The voices of those children in Newtown scream out for us to protect them. These precious Holy Innocents shall not have died in vain. Good, peaceable, decent citizens, must speak up.

I do not recommend a ban on weapons. Given the Second Amendment, none of us can. Rather I would approach the problem much like we approach the challenge all other security matters present to us. We must have birth certificates to establish our place in any organized society. International accord requires us to carry passports to travel from country to country. In order to drive a car or fly in a plane, there must be a license to drive and a picture ID, and the cars we drive must be registered. Pilots and planes must also undergo strict regulation.

It is from the presence of the automobile that we can take our inspiration to defend the public against illegal gun possession. In the 1970's there were as many as 70,000 deaths a year on the nation's highways. Be began to "buckle down" on driving behaviors and regulations. We required people to wear seat belts. There was resistance, but eventually there was compliance. We instituted crash tests, installed air bags and cracked down on drunk driving. The net result of these and other efforts have resulted in reducing highway fatalities to around 30,000 per year. Will we ever eliminate the death toll on the highways? Not likely. But we can and have saved thousands upon thousands of lives. Can we make the streets safer? Obviously we can. 

Similarly with firearms. 

I do not argue to eliminate the right of my fellow citizens to own weapons. We have the right to defend ourselves and hunt and enjoy the sport of shooting. Few of my fellow citizens would argue that we should disarm the population. That is not the issue. The issue is the operative phrase in the Second Amendment. 


Such regulation should include
  •  a license for all gun owners. Felons, and those deemed a danger to themselves, their families and others shall be denied a license until a court of law shall rule that the danger is passed and proper safeguards have been instituted. 
  • registration of all weapons with a ballistics ID for each firearm
  • a national database for the above information in order to provide law enforcement with the tools that would assist in the prompt apprehension of offenders.
  • strict enforcement of gun laws already present
  • buy back and amnesty programs to get illegal guns off the streets

Some firearms are too dangerous for public possession. Assault rifles should be banned outright or given only to those with a license to possess them. This license should be of a much higher level and an ordinary one. Much like a CDL is given only to certain drivers who operate large trucks, those who have heavier weapons much persuade the courts and law enforcement that they should have such weapons.

Obviously the debate on gun control will rage on. These are just a few thoughts from a parish priest who has seen too much to let another day go by without speaking up.

Too many of my fellow citizens have paid too high a price. I can be silent no longer. Neither can you. 

It is my hope and prayer that sufficient numbers of American Citizens will speak up to their elected representatives to move ahead expeditiously and intelligently to effective gun control

This time we have no choice. 
We must speak up.
We must go head to head with the NRA.

Let your voice be heard.

Call your elected representatives now.

Peace, someday, Peace,

Fr. Paul

No comments: