In the aftermath of the slaughter of children in Sandy Point, the gun industry immediately began insisting that guns were not the difficulty; the problem was allowing the mentally ill to possess guns. It was not up to the industry, its spokesman said, to control the product it was making; it was up to state and Federal governments.
Both the gun industry and many gun owners keep pointing to the Second Amendment, which they claim gives Americans the right to own such guns as they want. Indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own a huge variety of weapons. I am not, certainly, the first person to point out that to a far greater extent than exists elsewhere, our society by reflex places “rights” over “responsibilities.” Nowhere else in the industrial nations is anyone with the money allowed to walk into a sporting goods shop and buy whatever kind of weapon is sold there. Everywhere else there are far greater controls than we have here. One major consequence is that murder rates in other countries are far lower than they are in the United States – in some cases by a factor of ten.
A major part of the problem is our tolerance of violence. My grandchildren, like most American kids, spend an inordinate amount of time shooting imitation guns at imitation people in the violent games they are almost all allowed to have. They are also permitted to see the movies and television shows produced by a vicious media industry which are largely built around violence. Endlessly they see automobiles, tires squealing, slewing into other cars; police and evil-doers in shoot-outs with machine guns and assault rifles; armed gangs in open warfare on city streets.
Much of this is permitted in the name of the Second Amendment, which the gun industry drops by reflex when anyone dares mention gun control. I have spent some time studying and writing about the Constitution. It is abundantly clear, to begin with, that the Founding Fathers never intended the enumerated rights to apply to children. Nor do the rights that parents have in their children allow them to permit the child to break the law. That is, a parent cannot permit an under-age child to drive a car in the face of the law. For another, the Founders never intended, for example, that the right to free speech should allow manufacturers of breakfast food and soft drinks to expose children to images of violence in order to sell them junk food. One of the major functions of adults is to protect, nurture, and educate children so they can function in the social system. If we had been doing this job better, those children in Sandy Hook might be alive today.
Many people have been saying that Sandy Hook was the fault of President Obama, who they believe did not take a strong enough stand against guns – among other things, never facing down the National Rifle Association. They are right. However, Obama was hardly the only one. Where was the Congress? Where were hundreds of officials in state and local governments? Where were the rest of us?
Even as I write, the gun industry is mounting a campaign against any sort of gun
controls. If it is allowed to win, I will guarantee that within another two or three years there will be yet one more mass murder like the several we have seen in the past couple of decades. Furthermore, those murders, whenever they come, and how many they are, will be the direct responsibility of those of us, in government and out, who do not speak out now.