The Newtown shooting tragedy has sparked a renewed debate about gun control in the U.S., highlighting just how divided this country is on so many important issues. While the conversation has been most constructive, some of our gun-loving neighbors are doing their best to drag the discussion through the mud.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and President Barack Obama are proposing a new gun control bill, which calls for universal background checks, renewing a ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. Some members of the conservative media and Republican Party are reacting to these proposed statements with statements like:
“Our liberty is under threat,” “Obama is tearing down the constitution,” “Obama wants to disarm America,” “Government is coming for your guns,” “Americans will not be able to defend themselves,” and so on.
Based on the declared intent of the President, coupled with the interpretation of the second amendment by conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, these statements are factually incorrect and antagonize any meaningful discussion on this subject.
President Obama has announced multiple times that he supports the second amendment right of the American people to keep and bear arms. These include handguns, shotguns and hunting rifles. In his 2008 ruling on the Washington, D.C., handgun ban, Scalia, who is believed to be a staunch conservative abider of the constitution, ruled that the second amendment leaves room for federal gun control on certain weapons. He wrote, “We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” In line with this judgment, military-style, fully automatic assault weapons are already banned in the U.S.
This means neither President Obama wants to disarm America, nor do Americans have the right to bear any dangerous weapons they like, under the constitution. And based on this Supreme Court ruling by Scalia, Obama is neither tearing down the constitution nor snatching anyone’s liberties. Additionally, under the new gun control bill, written by Diane Feinstein, Americans will be able to own more than 2,200 different types of guns. To a common man outside the U.S., where the gun crime rate is much lower per capita, this flexibility and choice goes way beyond liberty.
Former General Stanley McChrystal, who led the war in Afghanistan, was asked about the availability of AR-15, the semi-automatic assault rifle, which was responsible for the last three mass shootings in America. McChrystal explained, “That’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America.” A similar opinion was echoed by General Colin Powell. The majority of police chiefs as well are against armor piercing bullets. All these opinions are pointing to only one conclusion — certain types of dangerous weapons don’t belong in civil society.
Even if most of the semi-automatic assault rifle owners are law-abiding citizens, a single incident like that of Newtown should be enough for U.S. citizens to think seriously about why any civil society needs to be armed with military-style assault weapons.
Conservatives have given sainthood to Ronald Reagan, but when they use factually-incorrect statements to describe the new assault weapons ban, written by Feinstein, they conveniently ignore Reagan’s support for the assault weapons ban. Just the way they ignore that in Great Britain, where guns are banned, there were 27 murders in 2010 due to gun violence, compared to 11,000 in the U.S.
Finally, assault weapon advocates have to keep the following incidence in mind. Newtown shooter Adam Lanza’s mother, a passionate second amendment supporter, had six guns at her home out of which four were assault rifles. She could not defend herself from her own son when it came to exercising her own second amendment rights. And neither could Chris Kyle, an American hero, despite being trained and one of the most skilled Navy Seals at a Texas gun range.
Commentary by Shantanu Kamat, author of America’s Internal Enemy: The Dividers.