Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
See, the U.S. Constitution ordains it, or at least a substantial body of the American electorate now believes that it does, just as a substantial number of them — often the same ones — believe that the Constitution guarantees that a person's casual religious ideas trump the law of the land.
Kim Davis, the Kentucky marriage registrar, and her advocates share with gun-control foes the certitude that the Constitution is behind them. But until recently — the late 1970s in the case of gun rights and much more recently in the case of triumphant religious liberty — those ideas about the first two amendments, if they existed at all, were quaint rather than customary. Now the country is caught in a maelstrom over modern interpretations of religious and gun rights.
James Madison, who designed the First Amendment's prohibition against the government establishing religion or preventing people from exercising their particular ways of worship, meant to stop the government from ever favoring one religious sect like Anglicanism or disfavoring others, as his own state of Virginia was trying to do.
But Davis, backed by a couple of Republican presidential candidates and a large national following, takes the position that because her apostolic church says that homosexuality is ungodly she can use her station in government to deny same-sex couples' their lawful right to marry. This all started in 1990 with the now-famous peyote-smoking case, and it was the great constitutional originalist, Justice Antonin Scalia, who warned about such predicaments as Davis' if the First Amendment were ever interpreted as allowing people to disobey any law they thought collided with a spiritual belief.
Scalia's court ruled that a drug-control agency did not violate the religious freedom of two Native Americans by firing them from their drug-counseling jobs because they smoked the hallucinogen peyote in their church's services. Scalia suggested an array of violations of the public interest that could follow the two men's interpretation of religious freedom. Scalia, a good Catholic himself, could have speculated that such an interpretation might lead a good Catholic government official to refuse marriage licenses to people like Kim Davis because of her multiple divorces.
Congress moved to annul Scalia's decree by passing a law that strained to let people follow their conscience whenever possible in the face of general laws. Several states, including Arkansas, followed suit this year. But even it does not permit government officials to claim religious exemptions from following the law.
The religious-freedom furor is recent and momentary, a product of unpopular judicial and legislative acts recognizing the equality of gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities, and it will subside.
But gun worship, which is the essence of the national crisis, will not go away easily and no gun regulation that would spare some of the future slaughter will occur as long as it is a bedrock principle of the nation's dominant political party.
It was the glory of bearing arms against a sea of enemies that inspired Christopher Harper-Mercer to grab six of his 14 guns and kill nine people at his college. He admired others who had done it, including the religious and nationalist terrorists of the Irish Republican Army. His mother shared and taught him admiration of guns and gunplay. In an online forum she ridiculed states that regulated gun ownership, and she advocated open carry everywhere. She boasted of her son's and her own prowess with guns and she seemed almost eager to use them against a foe.
"I keep two full mags in my Glock case," she wrote. "And the ARs & AKs all have loaded mags. No one will be 'dropping' by my house uninvited without acknowledgment."
When a neighbor rushed upstairs to tell her that a nut was loose with guns at her son's school, she rushed to protect him, only to learn from lawmen that the nut was her son and that he was dead.
The youngster had a mental disorder, and it is argued again that mental illness, not guns, is the problem. Everyone who kills at random — at schools, workplaces, theaters or the streets — has his own unique mental disorder, but they all employ the same tool.
The Second Amendment was not always viewed as an unfettered right of citizenship, to own any and all weapons of one's choosing. Only in the past 35 years has regulation of firearms been viewed by anyone other than cranks as the first step toward the confiscation of guns and dictatorship, but that is now the fear engendered by the National Rifle Association, a strong advocate of gun control until a coup in 1977 engineered by the arms industry and Harlon Carter, who turned the NRA into a lobbying powerhouse that transformed bearing arms into the nation's most basic freedom.
The Second Amendment, which actually requires the government to regulate guns, was included in the Bill of Rights to assuage many states' fears that the new federalist government would abolish militias, which the states needed to quell slave rebellions, insurrections and Indian uprisings. Until 2008, courts held that the Second Amendment meant that the federal government could not inhibit militias, although states and local entities could do so. In 1939, the Supreme Court ruled that government could limit any kind of weapon that did not have a "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia."
Until the 1977 coup, the NRA and libertarians like Gov. Ronald Reagan had championed tough gun laws. Reagan supported a Republican bill that prohibited anyone but lawmen from carrying a loaded weapon in any California city. It was aimed at the Black Panthers, the first advocates of open carry.
Now Hillary Clinton says that as president she might use executive power to curb access to weapons of mass slaughter. For the gun lobby, she becomes the specter of the nation's first dictator, which Barack Obama proved not to be, but nothing more.