The 2nd that is.
If there was ever anything that cried out for a cost-benefit analysis it is surely the more recent Supreme Court interpretations of our ‘Second Amendment Rights’.
On The Benefit Side:
The right to protect our family and selves at all times and in all places from all dangers both real and imagined with deadly force.
The right to experience any pleasure one might get from firing automatic and semi-automatic weapons whenever and wherever.
The right to experience any pleasure one might receive from killing or intimidating other living things.
The right to experience the pleasure one might receive from the shooting, shooting up, of inanimate things.
The right to experience the pleasure one might receive from being accorded notice for carrying around guns and ammunition in public.
The right to enjoy any social status that might be accorded those who own a lot of guns.
The right of access to an efficient means of suicide.
The right of the ability to exact definitive revenge for whatever slight we might perceive.
The right to intimidate others, including: voters, other drivers, our neighbors, political candidates, elected officials, government employees, … with deadly weapons.
The right to act out childlike man-child fantasies of being a cowboy or warrior.
The right to invest significant sums in guns and ammunition.
The right to provide economic stimulus by purchasing guns and ammunition.
The benefit of economic stimulus from the manufacture and sale of metal detectors, and hardened door and windows for schools from the hiring of armed security.
On The Costs to Society Side:
The loss of more than 44,000 American lives in 2022 alone.
The trauma experienced by the survivors of gun violence.
The pain and suffering of the friends and love ones of the casualties of gun violence.
The repeated societal trauma and unease brought on by the all too frequent gun violence and gun deaths.
The familial deprivations resultant income diverted to the purchase of guns and ammunition.
Money spent on guns and ammunition that could have been better spent on schools and recreational facilities.
The cost to a community, the nation, of fortifying and ‘hardening’ our schools.
The trauma for children living in constant fear of gun violence.
The threat posed to free and fair elections; to democracy itself.
The intimidation of the general public by those bearing arms.
The fear of deadly revenge for any perceived slight or wrong.
The deadly mixture of male rage and guns.
That of being subject to tyranny by a minority due to the NRA’s inordinate influence on our political and judicial system.
That of being tyrannized by armed militia groups.
Fear that someone might accidentally or intentionally shoot you, or someone you know.
Fear of another driver might act out their road rage by shooting you, someone in your vehicle, or anyone.
The tarnishment of our national image.
The long standing pre-Heller interpretation was about the security of the state. Scalia’s interpretation gave individuals the right to arm themselves in most any manner for any reason. The benefits therefrom accrue to a very few. The costs to society have proven to be too many, too great. Plainly, the costs of Heller have been too high. It’s not even close. The Americans populace is paying a terrible price for the expense of according a few their ‘Second Amendment Right’. The right they are claiming is much about their insecurities, phobias, prejudices, bigotries, and misunderstanding of history. Their ‘Second Amendment Right’ has proven to be one that we the people cannot afford.
We hear said that America has a gun culture. Given that Webster defines culture as being ‘the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group’; gun culture doesn’t seem right.
No doubt, in the nation’s early days, at times men carried a rifle or pistol. It is hard to imagine that an 18th-century frontiersman enjoyed toting a heavy gun. Harder still to imagine him strutting around with multiple guns and lots of ammunition. He probably only took his gun with him when he expected that he might need it to shoot game or to defend himself from dangerous animals or Native Americans. Hard to imagine his believing in a gun. His gun was more tool than it was a belief, form, or trait. Seems unlikely that carrying his gun was either a cultural, political, or fashion statement; that it had anything to do with his being a member of a race, religion, or social group.
There was a pretty wild wild west with guns aplenty from about 1865 to 1895 in a handful of western states. It existed bigger and wilder long after then in novels written by writers not from the west. Movies came along and made it bigger and wilder than ever. TV, too, took a hand at this enhancement. Some not so wild wild west shows even made it to Broadway.
Novels, movies, TV, and Broadway also romanticized war, crime – gun violence itself. Cowboys couldn’t. Men who have known war are notoriously reticent to talk about, write about, the experience. Hollywood glorified war as it had the wild, wild west. Generations of American boys grew up ‘playing Cowboys and Indians’, and ‘war’ games based on movies they had watched. Both games were played with toy and imagined guns that were based on these same movies. It was the movies that made them want a replica of a gun; think that shooting bad guys and Indians was fun; that war was glorious.
Commerce, too, took a hand in shaping America’s affinity for guns. The gun and ammunition manufacturers had always depended on wars and the threat thereof for most of their sales. The period after the Vietnam War was a long dry spell for them. The future didn’t look any rosier. Bobby sang, “We, the people here, don’t want a war.”
After Vietnam, the manufacturers of guns and ammunition were desperately looking for new markets for their products. Meanwhile, marketing itself had come a long way. It had learned how to tap into consumers’ inner psyches, and how to make use of this knowledge. Marketing had become very good at making people want things. Around this same time, the National Rifle Association (NRA), had been taken over by gun rights zealots and had began getting involved in politics. Via very effective marketing, collaboratively, these two made a lot of people, mostly men, want to have a gun. In some circles; guns became a fashion statement. In collaboration, the gun manufacturers and the NRA made this new affinity for guns politically profitable. The politicians were simply being their craven selves; the buyers and the voters, their manipulable selves. The influencers had made it possible. The marketeers had made it happen. Commerce was the reason.
Ever since America has had a gun problem. A big problem mostly attributable the above listed. One greatly exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s Heller and McDonald decisions. Decisions on a par with their earlier Dred Scott and Plessy. Like Scott and Plessy; the egregious Heller and McDonald decisions will stand for a least another generation. Like Scott and Plessy; their Heller and McDonald, too, will live in infamy. History will not be kind to Justices Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy. In toto, theirs will make Taney’s, and such as Field’s, McReynolds’, Fuller’s, … look good.
What to do about our gun problem? Thoughts and prayers aren’t helping. Neither does getting really pissed off. What to do?
What, if anything, can be gleaned from similar past problems? The addictive properties of alcohol and drugs is what makes their solution so tough. Guns are not addictive. Cigarettes are addictive. Were politically well-connected at the height of the problem. Hollywood, marketing, and the US Military were responsible for a lot of people wanting to smoke; getting started, then becoming addicted (again, influencers, marketeers, and commerce). So many died from smoking as a consequence of Hollywood’s and the US Military’s influence. Many more suffered debilitating lung, vascular, and heart disease. Getting America off cigarettes wasn’t easy; it took an exceedingly long time. The costs of cigarette smoking far, far outweighed any benefits therefrom.
Given our success getting people off cigarettes; giving the more successful anti-smoking tactics a look is worthwhile. One was to present the true and debunk the false science about smoking. Doing so also exposed the lies being used to market cigarettes. Another was to make smoking less socially acceptable. Another was to make it very expensive to smoke. The big one was to sue the piss out of the tobacco companies.
The threat of lawsuits scared gun and ammunition makers; gun and ammunition suppliers (risk management was just taking off). It was no accident that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a law that gives gun manufacturers and sellers unprecedented immunity from lawsuits was passed in 20005. It was embarrassing then; still is.
The votes for the Act’s passage came from those congresspersons who took gun lobby and NRA money, from congresspersons intimidated by the NRA. Some of them were both bought and intimidated. The passage of the PLCAA wasn’t our finest hour. In the meantime, Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010) were in the works. The NRA and the gun and ammunition manufacturers were on a roll.
What to do, what to do? Borrowing from the war against cigarette smoking: Repeal the PLCAA and begin suing the piss out of the gun and ammo manufacturers and dealers for mass shootings, for any and all wrongful deaths by guns. Point out the cost to the nation of the current interpretation of the Second Amendment and current gun laws. Embarrass assault weapon owners for their immaturity, flawed reasoning, self centered lack of concern for their fellow citizens, screwed up sense of how democracy works, prejudices, bigotry — make owning an assault weapon socially unacceptable.
Prohibit the promotion of gun violence in movies, on TV, through marketing. Aggressively counter the gun lobby’s and the NRA propaganda with facts. Clean up campaign finance laws. Clean up election laws.
Make gun laws national. Require that gun owners have adequate training and a license attesting therefor for the operation of any firearm they possess or have access to. Require all firearms be registered and that their owners carry liability insurance for each one they own or have access to. Tax ammunition at a very high rate.
The racial, prejudicial, bigoted aspects of wanting to own an assault weapon are mental health and physiological issues of national scale. In the meantime, make it very difficult for those afflicted by these defugalties to own or access weapons of destruction. George Zimmerman and Kyle Rittenhouse saw their ‘Second Amendment Rights’ as a human hunting license. Many of the January 6th crowd did, too. Too many gun owners do.
If the US Constitution had have given individuals the right to possess and carry assault weapons, it would have be wrong. It doesn’t. Scalia did. Scalia was wrong.