Saturday, January 19, 2013


Without one of these, above, the object below is just an unwieldy club incapable of mass murder.

Most of us have heard a paraphrase of the famous Oliver Wendell Holmes quote in a 1919 Supreme Court decision upholding the conviction of Charles Schenck, a printer who helped create pamphlets urging men not to register for the draft in World War I. Holmes' opinion, upholding the conviction, included the rationale that freedom of speech under the First Amendment "would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic." My question is: why should the Second Amendment give modern day criminals the means to use high velocity ammunition in large magazines to "fire in a crowded theater," killing 12 people, injuring 58, and, yes, causing a panic. The point may seem facetious, but when President Obama and Congress take up the issue of gun control, they may be missing the point: solutions exist which will greatly reduce the number of deaths and the amount of mayhem caused by firearms without infringing one iota on the literal terms of the Second Amendment. That amendment, one of the famous 10 which comprise the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791 as a fulfilled promise to the States which ratified the Constitution of 1787, reads as follows:

"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."

Nothing in there about magazines containing 30 rounds or rifled weapons capable of firing metal coated bullets at an initial velocity of 4,000 feet per second with a range of over a mile. In fact, in that era, most firearms were front end muzzle loading single shot muskets which fired a ball with an effective range of under 100 yards. A proficient reloader might fire two or three shots in a minute. Nothing in there about a firearm owner being allowed to sell or transfer his gun, or to allow small children easy access to it.

So why not attack the problem in a creative way? We can pass laws that don't infringe on the right to "keep" and "bear" Arms, but protect the sane and responsible among us from the mayhem that the arms industry and NRA have inflicted on this country. Recently I suggested to a college intern in my office that we could have guns that required the fingerprint of the registered owner before they would fire, only to be informed that this was a technological plot device in the new Bond movie, Skyfall. (I claim first ownership of the idea, as I proposed it as a campaign idea to a friend of mine back in 1994 when he was a liberal running for Congress in a deep South state. He didn't use my suggestion, and he lost- no cause and effect between the two statements, I'm sure).

As for ammunition: why not take the lethality out of it by reducing three things: caliber, composition of the bullet, and muzzle velocity. My idea is that ammunition be no more than .22 caliber (that's 22 hundredths of an inch, just under half the diameter and probably a quarter of the overall size of a .45), that it be composed of nonlethal substances like rubber (rubber bullets have long since been used by riot police in some civilized countries) and that muzzle velocity be about 100 feet per second (air powered bb guns have a velocity of about 175 feet per second to a high of about 400 feet per second). Congress could pass a law tomorrow mandating that all ammunition manufactured or sold in the U.S. have those characteristics without doing any harm to the Second Amendment rights of individuals who want to "keep and bear Arms."

I salivate at the thought of watching a talking head debate with an NRA fanatic who would be forced to defend gun owners being allowed to continue to possess guns that can be easily used by a thief or a small child. I want him to explain how the Second Amendment gives him the unfettered right to buy and use ammunition that could put a hole in an elephant versus being restricted to buying ammunition that might deter or scare off a mugger or home invader without doing lethal harm. He would still get to keep his cherished toys and assert his manhood with a really big gun. He just wouldn't be able to fanatically protect a toxic hobby that causes thousands of deaths annually.