Paul on October 5th, 2015

Benjamin WheelerAnother needless slaughter of innocent citizens has happened once again, this time in a sleepy little Oregon community that had the misfortune of hosting a school filled with young people in search of a meaningful life.  Our response to this is the usual, well-practiced mourning trappings: candles, tears and action-free statements of remorse and outrage.  Embedded in the sadness are the charges that it was the Second Amendment, or the N.R.A. or the failure of Congress to act.  But none of that is the issue.  It is an apology for inaction.  WE are the issue.

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution were written to convince a wary citizenry that the new central government that while stronger than the one created by the Articles of Confederation, would not mark a return to the bad old days of British rule.  Hence, the Bill of Rights contained a clear array of things Congress could not do.  It limited the power of Congress to infringe upon the freedom of speech, religion, press and other things like the right to bear arms.  Congress could not without cause place limits on those activities.  Much of the detail was left to the states and to the people as reserved powers under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.  Thus, states could raise militias and set the rules regarding the rights of people to possess firearms.  Nowhere is there an explicit or even implied power that says states may not control the ownership and the bearing of arms.  They may grant that right or they may limit that right in any way the citizens of the state or any entity within its borders may choose if the state is silent about it or unless the state explicitly guarantees unfettered use and ownership of arms within its borders.  In the absence of state regulation, it is a power reserved to the people who may choose to control arms in any way they like.  In effect, Congress is out of the non-military arms loop except for its power to regulate the kinds of arms and ammunition that may be manufactured and shipped through its interstate commerce powers.

If the people of Texas or any other entity elects to have a free-fire zone in their state or the ability to carry weapons in full view, that is and should be entirely their choice.  Similarly, if the State of California or any other state is silent on the issue then the people of any municipality within that state can regulate arms in any way they choose including eliminating them altogether.

Imagine this as the “large print” lead to a local ordinance:

“The City and Country of (fill in the blank with your town or city) hereby:

Prohibits the use, ownership, possession, transport, sale or in any way the distribution of any firearm, ammunition, magazines or clips within its jurisdiction.  Certified collectors of firearms must register the firearm and must render the weapon inoperative by disabling and securely storing the firing mechanism.

The sale, transportation and possession of ammunition within this jurisdiction is prohibited.

The penalty for violation of this ordinance is a minimum fine of $1,000 and any person or business that knowingly aids, abets such violation or is a party to any violation of this ordinance may be subject to the same or more severe penalties……”

Have your local council pass that and if you are in a large city watch the violent crime rate plummet and the death rate at the hands of firearms virtually disappear within any jurisdiction that passes and actually enforces the ordinance.

Surely, not every jurisdiction will want to follow this course and it is their right to choose their own direction on this issue.  Gun enthusiasts in a restrictive jurisdiction can always go to a less restrictive place to hunt or otherwise play with guns.  There are certain to be many nearby options.  But for those who want to live in a gun-free community, they too deserve the right to fearlessly walk the streets and to send their kids to school without the knowledge that the morning “good-bye” could be the last words they will ever say to their precious child.

This is not rocket science and there is something for everyone.  If you are against big government, this takes big government out of the loop except for its oversight on the kinds of weapons that are manufactured and shipped between states.  If you are pro-life in its truest sense, surely this is an easy choice.  If you are a free-market aficionado, this proposal will allow it to work in that the elimination of firearms within a jurisdiction will affect the economy of the entity in a measurable way, one that could serve as a model of the financial outcomes associated with the elimination of firearms within a known, defined community.

At some point following a local ban on firearms in any community, free-market forces are likely to take hold in the form of reduced violent crime, lower costs of police protection, lower insurance costs across the board for businesses, homeowners and citizens, higher property values, lower costs of doing business and lower costs associated with the effects of anxiety and fear. High crime and high anxiety are linked and expensive.  Once the benefits of the free market are felt ownership and possession of firearms will lose its swagger and its value to the public and like other “marginal essentials” will slowly fade in the nation’s rear view mirror.

This nation has danced around an issue that was spawned at a time when guns were a necessity; where hunting for food was for many, yesterday’s version of a Safeway market; where borders were dangerous with displaced, indigenous people chafing under the expulsion from their tribal homelands and when the vast majority of weapons were muzzle-loaded, single-shot muskets and pistols of sketchy accuracy and a zero potential for mass murder.  That is a bygone world and yet we as a nation and as a people have somehow managed to pretend it is still with us in 2015.  OMG!

John Locke was on to something when he suggested that in some instances, limiting absolute freedom can create even greater liberty.  In this case, it would be freedom from fear and an enhanced possibility of living out one’s full life expectancy.

One can only imagine what the world might be like if when looking for a new house a young couple had two possibilities, one in a community that was free of firearms and another without arms restrictions.  Which would they choose?  Which would you?  Either way, you would have a choice.  Imagine as you enter a town or city a sign that looks like this:

                                  Welcome to (Insert the name of your town or city)
                                                  A firearms-free community

We live in an era when Congress is utterly dysfunctional; where a small minority somehow cows the timid majority into becoming a twisted congregation trumpeting invective and senseless, childish sound bites.  It is like a school playground in both tone and substance.  If “contempt of Congress” had a broader scope beyond a hearing room, about 90% of us would be languishing in jail.  The Congress of the United States is a shameful embarrassment to the citizens of this nation and an insult to the work and memory of our Founding Fathers and the many Americans who have sacrificed so much to ensure the continued viability of this great democracy.  So in the absence of any Congressional action, let us as citizens use our substantial powers to do what needs to be done.  If we do it town by town, city by city, county by county and state by state there will be sufficient room for everyone to deal with the arms issue as they choose.  If some jurisdictions want to permit guns, let them do so but others who wish to banish them should also have the right to create a gun-free environment for themselves and their families.  This is, after all, a democracy.

In the end, Congress doesn’t have to do anything which is to say, it can continue “doing business as usual”.  State governments can also sit on their hands if they choose to do so.  The operative imperative is that we the people are sovereign so we can take on the gun issue from here on in any way we choose in communities from Ft. Kent, Maine to the Garden Isle of Kauai.  We can make our own choices guided by our own interpretations of doing what is best in pursuit of the common good.

Over the years, we have joined hands in placing limits on many things.  There are few absolute freedoms in any democracy.  We have limits of religion, press, speech and assembly because when any freedom creates harm to another independently viable human being the injury can and must be avoided.  In our communities we have placed such restrictions on smoking cigarettes in public places because of the potential for damage by second-hand smoke and the possible impact on the smoker himself.  Even smokers seem to understand that approach even though they may not like it.  Now it is time to deal with another more instantly lethal and demonstrably more dangerous form of smoke…the kind that comes from the barrel of a gun.


Note:  The image in this piece is that of Benjamin Wheeler, 6 years old.  This beautiful little boy attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.



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