Antiq Hennis was shot to death last month in Brooklyn. He didn't do anything wrong. He was not a gang member or a drug dealer. He wasn't involved in a drunken argument over which New York football team is worse. He was not the victim of mistaken identity or a tragic hunting accident. He was sitting outside his apartment complex on a warm September afternoon watching a neighbor's dog. And, the bullet hit him in the face. He died instantly.
He was 16 months old.
My first thought, after seeing the story buried 20 minutes into the nightly news, was to grab the remote and rewind the DVR. I couldn't believe my eyes. "I know that prosecutor!" I told my wife, excitedly. I then launched into a memory from my days as an Assistant District Attorney. She quickly fell asleep. Neither of us offered Antiq a second thought.
We are now a society where one dead child is insufficient to muster more than a disinterested shrug. Hell, 20 dead kindergartners only boils our blood for a few weeks. Then, we move on the much more important matters. Like the latest iPhone. We can expect approximately one mass killing per year. Then, we can check them off like a shopping list. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook, Killeen, Aurora, Columbine, Foot Hood, Red Lake, and on and on. It is much easier to remember the venue than the victims. And, when the dust settles, what do we do to avoid the next chapter? Exactly nothing.
Why? Because 10,000 gun murders each year is merely collateral damage to our freedom and liberty. We have an inalienable constitutional right to bear arms. But, here is the unspoken truth: we are literally the stupidest society in history. Is there another culture that would defend its miserable failure to protect our children from violence because of an imaginary right to carry weapons? Twenty children died in Sandy Hook. Eighty percent of Americans supported a complete overhaul of gun laws. Nothing was done. Nothing changed.
So, let me set the record straight. We have the right to free speech and assembly. The Bill of Rights offered no limitation on those fundamental manifestations of freedom. But, even those unambiguous rights were circumscribed by the Courts to ensure the safety of its citizens. You know why you cannot yell "fire" in a movie theater? Because someone might get hurt. If any idiot dared demand the right to yell "fire" in a movie theater, you would lock him up, because this is someone who presents a clear and present danger to the rest of us. In our upside down conscious, a man in a crowded dark movie theater is more dangerous with his words (unconstitutional) then the guy carrying an assault rifle into that same theater (constitutional).
And, yet, our founding fathers did not offer the same blanket endorsement of guns. Unlike any other fundamental right, the right to bear arms has a restriction that seems to have been omitted from the NRA charter. Here is what the Bill of Rights says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." No right to assault weapons. No right to hunt. Nothing about defending your home or women. The right to bear arms is specifically limited to the formation of a militia necessary to the security of the State. That's it. Ironically, if you tried to form an armed militia, you would be promptly arrested and prosecuted -- and, yet, that is the limit of the constitutional right to bear arms. It is the one thing the constitution permits, and it is probably the only thing our current law prohibits.
Does anyone really think that Thomas Jefferson intended to guarantee every American (white, male), the inalienable right to carry an AK-47, but not the right to food, water, or medicine? You do not have any constitutional right to eat or receive medical attention. You have no right to work or have children. But, you definitely have the right to walk around with a rifle in your jacket.
Therein lies the fundamental mistake (or fraud) perpetrated by the gun lobby. The right to bear arms is not a personal right. It was a communal measure designed to protect society as a whole.
200 years ago, guns were single shot muskets and blacks were considered 3/5ths of their white neighbors. Subsequent leaders and judges recognized that the ancient wisdom relating to blacks was misguided, unfair, and dangerous. And, they changed it for the betterment of our society. We did that even though blacks had not actually changed at all. It was our perspective and wisdom that expanded. Any argument that the constitution is unassailable -- even in the face of 200 years of improvements in weapons, and the mass murder they cause -- is not being intellectually honest.
Don't tell me guns save lives. That's another lie. The United States, with our right to bear arms, suffers 2.97 gun murders per population of 100,000. Japan, where guns are illegal, sees .01 gun death per 100,000 citizens. France, .06. England, .07. We have 42 times more gun deaths than England -- where guns are illegal. We have has many gun death per capita as the Gaza Strip - - where everyone has a gun. Take a look at the statistics: Countries with the least gun control suffer the highest rates of gun violence.
But, the NRA will assure us that the only defense to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. You know who they are talking about? George Zimmerman. They will never admit it, but a guy patrolling the neighborhood armed with a firearm, seeking out ne'er do wells, is a "good guy with a gun." Yet, since killing an unarmed black teenager, George Zimmerman has been arrested three times for threatening someone with his gun. When he finally kills an innocent man, no one will be particularly surprised. Because he is a good guy with a gun. And, anyone with a gun is bound to shoot it. And, when a gun gets shot, someone might get killed. This is not what our brilliant, racist, elitist founding fathers wanted to protect, along with life and liberty. It has no basis in the bible or the Hammurabi code. No person in history was granted the unfettered right to carry a weapon with no purpose other than to injure other living things.
We are victims of a fraud. People like to carry guns. People like to shoot guns. They will rely upon any justification they can find. But it is a canard. It has no basis in the constitution. It is a right that serves no one but the nuts with small guns who feel that carrying a weapon somehow makes them a man. This will never change. It is too controversial, too misunderstood to justify a change. Meanwhile, thousands of children will be killed in the cross fire. It is a huge price to pay and should be rejected by all civilized persons who understand that we are defending the very existence of our society.
Ari Weisbrot's popular and record-breaking blog can be found at ariweisbrot.com