The Complexity of the Response to Tragedy
We are again in the wake of another public tragedy. This latest horror, which claimed six innocent lives in southern California, has brought about the predictable calls for gun control and limitations upon the Second Amendment.
I, probably like you, find myself back in the same place, in the same unenviable position of defending the Second Amendment and trying to inject some thoughtful conversation into an emotionally charged situation.
President Barack Obama, after this tragedy, stated that he was “explicitly disappointed in the failure of Congress to take action on a measure that was entirely consistent with Second Amendment rights that he supports.”
Presumably, he is referring to the gun control proposals he set forth not long after the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012. From the White House web site, these are the points he wants instituted and how they would not have prevented the shooting:
- Require background checks for all gun sales – this would not have prevented the three gun murders at UC Santa Barbara for two reasons. First, the killer went through background checksto get his guns and all were registered to him. Second, according to the Government Accountability Office report referenced in the White House site, California already conducts checks on all firearm transactions.
- Strengthen the background check system for gun sales – this would have done nothing as well. Increasing the mental health records available to the background check system is a large part of this point, but California already includes mental health provisions in their gun laws.
- Pass a new, stronger ban on assault weapons – their ridiculous and incorrect definition of “assault weapons” aside, the killer used a knife and a pistol, neither of which would be affected here.
- Limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds – again, this would have had no effect on the tragedy whatsoever.
- Finish the job of getting armor-piercing bullets off the streets – no effect whatsoever.
- Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime – no effect at all as the killer obtained his guns legally and used a knife to kill half of the victims.
- End the freeze on gun violence research – this is a moot point as well because President Obama, through executive order, directed the Center for Disease Control to study the causes of gun violence and even directed $10 million to them. This was on Jan. 16, 2013. Much of that research has actually countered many of the left’s claims about gun violence as well.
- Make our schools safer with new resource officers and counselors, better emergency response plans, and more nurturing school climates – The UCSB campus is fairly large and unless you are going to hire a veritable army, you will not have officers everywhere. Most of the victims were killed in a dorm or sorority house, and the killer was already seeing a therapist.
- Ensure quality coverage of mental health treatment, particularly for young people – once again, the killer was already seeing a therapist.
Nothing within the president’s proposal would have prevented this tragedy. His inclusion of Congressional inaction reveal the true nature of his interest – restricting the Second Amendment.
The father of one of the victims, Christopher Martinez, expressed his outrage and frustration over the senseless loss of his only son. Speaking to cameras he said this:
“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live?”
This statement, spoken out of a pain and grief I cannot comprehend, is nonetheless absurd. Why did his son die? Because the killer shot and killed him. Congress did not kill his son and the NRA did not kill his son. The decisions of one individual with clear mental problems did.
This is a very simple truth, but difficult for a man who needs an answer and needs to apportion blame to someone for his unimaginable loss.
While this father will simply call for more gun control and perhaps even a limitation to the NRA, a real solution is far more complicated. The truth is, trying to find rational explanations and come up with rational responses to an entirely irrational act is a very difficult thing.
Mental health is a place that many reasonable people will start, especially in regards to this tragedy, but that too is quite complex. Are we going to start banning anyone with a particular diagnosis or prescription from owning a gun? Perhaps we take that a step further because of Sandy Hook and say that any family member of someone with a certain diagnosis or prescription is banned from gun ownership.
Aside from the gross violations of the Second Amendment, what does this do to the doctor/patient relationship? Would that not constitute a complete violation of confidentiality? Would the doctor then be legally liable to report symptoms to the police? What would that do to the trust relationship between doctor and patient? What if the diagnosis was wrong?
Addressing details of such an act are just as difficult. What diagnoses are you going to profile? Which prescriptions do you target? What kind of legal push-back will you get from mental health advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies without a definitive link between certain illnesses and savage violence?
People could easily view therapy or mental health treatment as a risk to their Constitutionally protected rights and eschew treatment because of the possible consequences rather than seek it for the possible rewards.
Would we seriously consider removing the rights of someone for doing nothing wrong? This effectively would be punishing someone for a future crime that they might commit.
These are difficult and complicated questions and yes, it is a hard issue to tackle. Too many times we find ourselves hearing the easy and expedient “solution,” though it is no such thing, of simply removing a tool of violence rather than helping the person who may use it.
To those who react with calls for serious gun control, I ask you this: What is the difference between the First and Second Amendment? Aside from the specific right it protects, the wording is nearly identical.
The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”
The Second is the same, stating that “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The First prohibits abridging, the Second prohibits infringement. The wording and prohibitions to the power of government are the same.
Why then is it perfectly acceptable to put numerous restrictions on the Second Amendment that would seem ridiculous if applied to free speech?
Imagine a law requiring background checks for an email account, or a 45 second maximum time limit on YouTube videos, or a license to obtain a Twitter account. These ideas are absurd and would never fly, yet they are the very restrictions placed on an equally protected right in the same Constitution.
If the Second Amendment, whether you exercise it or believe in it or not, is allowed to be infringed and changed without a constitutional amendment, do you really believe all the other amendments are so sacred and respected that they too could not be changed or restricted?