Columns » Ernest Dumas

Gun rights: A loaded issue

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News about school shootings has become passé, even if the shootings themselves are multiplying. People are tired of hearing about them, and they left the public agenda some time ago because it is just too politically risky to even talk about a solution.

So far in February there have been four campus shooting sprees, including the Valentine's Day massacre at Northern Illinois University, where a disturbed graduate student killed five students and wounded 16 other people in a lecture hall before shooting himself. Across the state on the same day another shooting may have been averted when police arrested a student who had threatened an ROTC sergeant on his Facebook page and brought an arsenal of weapons onto a Southern Illinois University campus.

A day earlier, a 14-year-old boy walked into a class at Oxnard, Calif., and shot a classmate in the head after the youngster had announced that he was gay.

Any public or private gathering is a potential killing field. Also on Valentine's Day, a man toting two guns slew five people at a Kirkwood, Mo., City Council meeting before police killed him.

When the pace of mass slaughters and individual school slayings picked up a dozen years ago, they provoked a lively debate about gun control, youth gun obsessions and the easy availability of firearms. Nothing was done but now it is a subject to be avoided altogether.

The presidential candidates expressed mild concern after the Northern Illinois slayings and lest someone get upset they quickly reiterated their support for the universal and almost unfettered right of gun possession. That included the Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

One presidential candidate has dared to propose a solution. Mike Huckabee said the solution to kids shooting kids and teachers in school was to put even more guns in the hands of students and teachers. After the massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech University in April last year Huckabee said the slaughters could be reduced if students and teachers were armed and could fire back. He bragged that he and his wife had been carrying concealed weapons for years and joked that she was the more deadeye. He claims to be the first governor to carry heat.

After the shootings at a Jonesboro school in 1998, then-Governor Huckabee rushed out a book in which he supplied a cause and implied a solution. He said school shootings were the inevitable product of the government and social institutions supporting environmentalists, homosexuals, drug dealers, AIDS, pornography and necrophiliacs (people with an erotic obsession with dead bodies). In other words, the boy who said he was gay and the school that did not expel him for it were responsible for his death.

Huckabee also makes it a point wherever he goes to emphasize his stand on guns. He would block the reauthorization of the ban on people buying assault weapons, he opposes mandatory trigger locks on handguns to make them safer for children, and he opposes any cooling-off period for people to buy guns of any kind. And still the National Rifle Association won't endorse him.

But more disturbing than Huckabee's foolishness were the statements of Clinton and Obama after the Illinois shootings. While they said more needed to be done to end gun violence and to regulate gun possession, they went out of their way to announce their belief that the Constitution granted an individual right to carry guns.

That is a loaded issue. You cannot have it both ways, measured regulation and unfettered individual gun rights.

The issue is before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has never held that the second amendment conferred individual rights as opposed to a collective right to bear arms for military purposes. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” the Constitution says, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Eleven of the 13 appellate courts held that the first clause of the amendment must carry meaning and that it conferred a collective right for states to have militias, but the District of Columbia Court of Appeals said it was an individual right as well en route to striking down the District of Columbia's handgun ban. The new majority on the Supreme Court is apt to hold the same way, depending once again upon how Justice Anthony Kennedy reads the political tea leaves. And then what?

It will be hard to maintain any regulation of the sale and possession of firearms of any kind. Every kind of weapons regulation will be null. If every person on American soil — and it would have to apply to all aliens and citizens alike under the 14th amendment —has an individual right to bear arms, that includes people with criminal records, the mentally ill and children of any age, and it extends to any kind of weapon and to the workplace, bars, the public streets and school hallways. Wild, Wild West here we come.

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