In the wake of the Newtown massacre, polls show the great majority of Americans are now insisting that the ability to live free from the fear or threat of gun violence is a fundamental democratic right – one that far supercedes any so-called personal gun rights allegedly contained in the Second Amendment.
In fact, the right-wing extremists opposing all efforts to curb gun violence are the same forces that rallied behind Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, hoping to undermine every other democratic right as well as the living standards of workers and ordinary Americans. It is for that reason, as well as the need to protect public safety, that the same coalition of labor and its allies that worked so hard and effectively to re-elect President Barack Obama must now go all-out to back his common sense proposals for gun law reform.
As Obama has charged, the extremists recklessly “gin up fear” that the government is coming to take away hunting rifles and personal weapons owned for legitimate self-defense. Led by the hate-mongering leadership of the National Rifle Association, they use a totally fraudulent and only very recent interpretation of the Second Amendment which they falsely claim as necessary for protecting every other freedom contained in the Bill of Rights.
One of their unhinged spokesmen, Texas talk show host Alex Jones, launched a national petition drive to deport CNN commentator Piers Morgan for questioning the Second
Amendment. Jones said the amendment “isn’t there for duck hunting. It’s there to protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs,” and then went on to threaten insurrection “if you try to take our firearms.”
Actually, the Second Amendment wasn’t enacted with any of these things in mind. The amendment was adopted as a means to enable the new American republic, lacking a standing army or state national guards, to muster militia to put down domestic uprisings, including slave revolts, to repulse any attempted return by the British and to deal with clashes with Native Americans on the expanding frontier.
These issues vanished long ago. The Second Amendment is obsolete and now has been twisted to threaten the basic safety and security of all Americans. There is no basis for claiming this amendment was intended to permit unregulated personal acquisition of firearms, including amassing military weapons and private arsenals for “protection” from the government. No government, especially one that is new and fragile, has ever authorized citizens to arm themselves against it.
Until the Reagan administration, U.S. courts rejected any use of the Second Amendment to prevent rational gun control laws, which prevailed throughout the country for over 200 years.
It was only with the recent rise of right-wing extremism, including its 1977 takeover of the previously benign NRA, that a well-financed and aggressive effort was launched to undo all gun control laws These efforts culminated in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, written in 2008 by arch-right-wing Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia, that reversed two centuries of court decisions when it threw out a Washington, D.C., restriction on handgun ownership and asserted for the first time that the Second Amendment protected virtually unrestricted personal ownership of firearms.
The campaign leading to this decision was denounced in 1991 by the previous very conservative chief justice, Warren Burger, appointed by President Richard Nixon. Burger said the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word ‘fraud’ – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
As investigative reporter Steven Rosenfeld has pointed out in an important article, “How the Second Amendment was Hijacked by the NRA and Antonin Scalia,” before 1980 only five states allowed concealed weapons to be carried in public. Now it is 44.
Personal ownership of guns now has skyrocketed to 300 million, and 10 of the 12 deadliest mass shootings in American history have occurred since 1984, six within the last five years since the Scalia decision. It is also in this period that the delusional “militia” movement took off, leading directly to the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. According to an Alternet report there have been 65 mass shootings just since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2009. Guns now kill 30,000 Americans every year. That is 300 times as many as in nearly every other industrialized country, where the same mental health problems, films and video games exist but where guns are strictly regulated.
This is the blood and carnage that the NRA leadership, the right-wing extremist movement and Antonin Scalia have on their hands.
Having lost the 2012 election, these forces are now howling for utilizing “Second Amendment remedies” to get their way. They are goaded on, not only by the NRA, but by right-wing talk show hosts and Fox News, where commentators have responded to the president’s call to restore Clinton-era restrictions on assault weapons with calls for impeachment and warnings about “civil war” (Arthur Herman), declaring the country to be in a “pre-revolutionary condition” (Pat Caddell) and that states would be justified to secede if the “radicalized, abusive federal government” continues on its current path (Sean Hannity).
At his Jan. 16 press conference President Obama warned that winning the needed reforms will be difficult. “If Americans of every background stand up and say ‘enough!'” he said, ” only then change will come.”
It is not only, as Vice President Joe Biden said, “a moral obligation.” We must rally behind President Obama to protect our safety and security and our basic democratic rights.