Let’s start with the fact that there are enough guns in this country so that every man, woman and child could have one. Add to that a couple of Supreme Court decisions that enshrine gun ownership alongside freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as constitutionally hallowed rights. On top of that is the fact that even such modest efforts at the state level to limiting access to guns to people deemed dangerous to themselves have proved ineffective. No better example of this is the fact that the Indiana “red flag” law designed to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people only temporarily delayed the killer of eight people in Indianapolis from getting his hands on the weapon used to take their lives. Gun control advocacy stands high in the ranks of lost causes and futile campaigns alongside legitimating polygamy and scrapping the national anthem for something more singable.
The brief flicker of hope that somehow the financial problems of the National Rifle Association, and the profligate spending of members’ dues by one its top executives, might stifle the effectiveness of the opposition to even the most modest efforts to control firearms or reduce their lethality became an iridescent dream — and seemed to prove that the organization itself was never much of a factor in blocking gun-control legislation.
What kills such efforts in Congress, even in the wake of the unspeakable slaughter of the innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, is the recognition in the minds of politicians that there are voters in their states and districts who are Second Amendment absolutists, whether they be the kind of people who shoot at targets for practice or those who might shoot at people because of malice or derangement.
States’ gun laws
So strong is the constituency for firearms ownership in Congress that a law is on the books immunizing gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits arising out of the use of their products for mass shootings and mayhem on smaller scale. It is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that became effective in 2005.
The response of the gun industry has been, from a business standpoint, quite rational: Sellers give the consumers what they demand. The only limit is that they cannot manufacture or sell fully automatic machine guns.
As we have seen in the case of Indiana’s modest efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, enforcement is easily circumvented, and even the strictest state laws are at the mercy of the lax or nonexistent limits on gun ownership in adjacent states.
My own state of New Jersey with some of the strictest gun ownership laws in the nation is located adjacent to Pennsylvania, a state with few limits on who can get access to a gun. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that Interstate 95 runs up the spine of the state and has been referred to as “the iron highway” for the brisk traffic in guns being brought into New Jersey from states to the south.
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The once plausible argument that gun ownership was somehow connected to membership in state militias was cast aside by a Supreme Court dominated by “originalists” who developed historical amnesia about the Founding Fathers’ dread of standing armies and preference for “a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and declared that the only operative phrase in the Second Amendment was “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.
No way to stop it
This interpretation of the amendment might, to some extent, be influencing the longest shot of all: the enlargement of the Supreme Court to redress the imbalance in the number of justices that endows conservatives with a solid voting majority. Congress can indeed enlarge the court, but that would take a statute that would require a supermajority of 60 votes, which is not currently available. It is doubtful, moreover, that even all 50 Democratic and independent senators would approve the enlargement.
And this is where things stand: Daily, weekly, monthly massacres of sizable numbers of victims enabled by a patchwork of ineffective, indifferently enforced state laws, and the awesomely destructive firepower of many of the weapons used in these assaults.
Unbalanced, vengeful or politically motivated assailants armed, in many cases, with charismatic weapons patterned on those used by the military will continue to inflict death and grievous injury on innocent people. There is, effectively, no way to stop it.
Ross K. Baker is a distinguished professor of political science at Rutgers University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @Rosbake1
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