President Obama struck the right tone on Wednesday when he promised to make gun control a focus of his second term. Though not the only answer to incidents like last Friday’s massacre of 20 young children and seven adults in Connecticut, restrictions on the most high-powered weaponry are part of the answer — and would not be violations of the Second Amendment.
None of the rights in the Constitution is absolute. Freedom of the press does not allow this or any newspaper to slander people. The police need a search warrant to enter your house, but not if they believe a crime is in progress there. Those charged with crimes have the right to face their accusers, but not necessarily when it’s a rape case and the victim is testifying.
So too the right to bear arms does not mean that everyone can own every firearm ever conceived.
We find it perfectly reasonable to re-enact the Clinton-era assault weapons ban and limit the size of gun clips to cut down on the carnage caused by madmen such as Newton, Conn. shooter Adam Lanza. What defines an assault rifle is debatable, yes, but we can have that debate. We can also discuss and try to reach consensus on how many bullets private citizens should be allowed to have in one clip. But it’s only the most far-right ideologues who don’t believe some restrictions on gun ownership are warranted and constitutional. They’re right that the Second Amendment is, at its core, a crucial tool in ensuring the continuance of all the other Amendments, but seem to forget that when it was written, the world’s most advanced rifles fired one round at a time and took forever to reload. Things are different now.
Bans on military-style submachine guns and oversized clips are ideas to be discussed on the national level, between the president, Congress, citizens and advocacy groups, including even the dreaded National Rifle Association. In New York City, it may be time to discuss arming school security officers, who are, after all, members of the NYPD. Whether that’s a smart way to improve student safety is up for debate, but again, let’s have that debate. It may well be that we can better secure our schools through other methods, but it’s time to think outside the box.
New laws, however, are never going to prevent every act of violence dreamed up by those who have psychological problems or are just plain evil. The president also recognized this fact in his comments Wednesday, but, as he said, “The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing.”
What else can average citizens do? As far as we can tell, just live our lives in most upstanding way we can. Parents shouldn’t let their children go into the basement to play violent video games for hours on end, as Lanza reportedly did. Nor should they let them watch some of the brutal movies produced by Hollywood. Films like “Natural Born Killers,” however well made, desensitize vulnerable minds to violence.
Be neighborly. If the teenager down the street is getting really weird, don’t think it’s not your business to let his parents know. If you see something, say something. Society has taken the “none of your business” concept too far in recent decades as the “do your own thing” paradigm has advanced. Freedom and individuality are vital, but so is community. It’s not for nothing that old-timers fondly recall “the old days when everybody knew everybody.” Put down your iDevice and talk to the new people down the street. Hillary Clinton was right when she said it takes a village to raise a child. And you just may find that you like your new neighbors.
Publicly, it’s time for debate. Privately, it’s time to mourn, but also to renew the bonds that make a society whole.