California experienced at least two mass shootings yesterday. One in Monterey Park (near LA), the other in Half Moon Bay, not far from San Francisco. Both, it appears, were angry men using firearms (instead of therapy) to resolve their emotional issues. That’s a pretty regular part of many (if not most) mass shooting incidents – the part where a male in deep emotional pain explodes in violent rage at all the wrong people. The worst part of America’s gun problem is how easy it is to sidetrack us away from what we should be debating. The gun lobby and the NRA have completely bamboozled America. They’ve convinced us that not only is the Emperor clothed but he’s packing heat, too. Well, that’s bullshit. The Emperor is naked and he has no individual right to own a gun.
Here’s a fun game the whole family can play. Point to the word “own” in the Second Amendment. Good luck. It ain’t there. And it’ snot an accident.
Enter James Madison
Founder James Madison wrote the Second Amendment. He’d already helped write the rest of the Constitution. One of the big concepts our founders actively wrestled to the ground was “private property”. Americans were going to own things. Not “keep” or “bear”, but “own”. When Madison sat down to write the 2A, he was trying to solve a particular problem. The individual states feared that a hostile federal government could use armed forces against them. The amendment – framing the problem from the state militias’ perspective – frames the solution from their perspective, too. The states have the right to arm themselves – via their militias – against federal military overreach.
The circumstances that inspired the amendment no longer exist. The amendment no longer serves the arcane purpose for which it was created. Maybe that’s why the gun lobby hijacked it and convinced the rest of us that it says something it does not.
The Constitution isn’t written in “English” English, its written in contract English. You can’t set up a whole set of laws if the laws themselves are foggy and unclear. The Constitution aspires to precision. Words can’t mean a bunch of things – some contradictory – they must mean specific, set-in-iron things. This is why the Constitution is the basis for our contract law.
In contract law, “own” can never equal “keep” or “bear”. If I rent a car, the car doesn’t become mine just because I’m driving around in it. It belongs one hundred percent to the rental company. Per my rental contract, I can keep and bear the car (“drive it” around) during the term of the contract.
But, as soon as the rental car company demands I give back their car? I’m giving it back or their coming after me. Because I don’t own the car.
The Hell With Heller
Antonin Scalia – author of the Heller decision – pulled a fast one. Guess how many times the word “own” appears in Heller – where he cements “Heller” as the go to source for updated gun rights talking points. Zero!
Scalia doesn’t use the word “own” because he can’t. He’d first have to explain first why the word “own” isn’t in the Second Amendment – and that’s a total can of worms. Instead, Scalia uses a different word: “possess”. In one definition of “possess”, you will find the word “own”.
That tenuous connection has been driving the gun debate for almost as long as we’ve been having the debate.
Dribs Meet Drabs
America is not going to solve its gun problem by dribs and drabs. We can tell ourselves that we can live with the oppressive number of guns already out and about. No, we can’t. We keep seeing this problem from the gun’s point of view – as if getting rid of them was impossible because the guns would object.
We need to remove the guns from the equation in whatever way we can. There is no individual right to own a gun. Not in the Constitution and not in the 2A.
Our whole gun debate is ludicrous and – by design – entirely off topic. The gun lobby has us debating how many guns every American should have versus the actual conversation we should have had eons ago – the one where we admit that there is no right to individual gun ownership in the Constitution or the 2A.