THE BLOG
12/14/2012 11:20 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

'Our Hearts Are Broken' and the Hearts of Children Shattered -- Time to Ban Handguns

Twenty-six dead, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The President expresses a nation's heartfelt sorrow.

Nevertheless, press secretary Jim Carney tells us it's not time to discuss gun-control legislation. He's right; it's way past time -- thousands of murdered children past the time. The entire nation joins with President Obama expressing our "enormous sympathy for families that are affected," but let's wise up: we are all affected, and for that expression of sympathy to be genuine we must turn us away from guns.

Of course, there are mothers and fathers who just minutes earlier had watched a child of six or seven or ten in winter coat bound from the car happily contemplating the holiday with appropriately child-sized concerns. These grieving parents and brothers and sisters must now endure the sadness of a child's absence. Likewise, the children who by serendipity survived the holocaust, but witnessed it, are marred forever by memories of horrific violence.

These memories are long-lasting. Twenty or so years ago, we lost a family member to handgun violence at a small book shop in Chicago. Our dear Michael was a father, brother, husband, friend and he was irreplaceable. No amount of NRA bumper-sticker rationalization that its people who kill people, not guns, satisfies this loss.

How did we become a nation of killers? How have we allowed a false conception of freedom to justify the unjustifiable?

Our culture has grown coarse with violence from television to video game. In part, this reflects a cheapening of life in the eyes of the law, and here there are polemics on both sides of the political spectrum. The cruelty of capital punishment persists, says the progressive voice; what about abortion, retorts the conservative? These are matters of importance.

But as deep as the disagreement over the death penalty and abortion are in our society, and we have been debating these matters for some decades if not longer, the legal approval for widespread gun rights is recent -- no more than two or three years old. The particular judicial activism that stands indicted as co-conspirator at the massacre at Aurora theater or the mass killings at Portland Mall, and Sandy Hook is far more direct. In each of these mass shootings, and far too many more, the shooter obtained weaponry and ammunition in a legal transaction; a legality that has only in the last few years been given constitutional stature by none other than the loudest decrier of manufactured right claims -- Justice Antonin Scalia himself.

While I was never a completely convinced disciple of "originalism," for some years I admired Justice Scalia's effort to locate the interpretation of the Constitution in an ascertainable original understanding. The methodology lacked dynamism -- keeping our basic document somewhat frozen in time -- but it had an alluring virtue -- separating the judge or justice's personal opinion from the legal one. The evidence of meaning was outside the individual justice; it was either in the contextual history of 1787 when the Constitution was drafted or it was not. Look it up, he would say.

That had a certain ring of veracity; until, that is what was true became what was desired.

Until that is came gun rights, and suddenly the advocates of paying close attention to text and historical context decided it was just fine to overlook textual references that were ill-fitting and thereby invent history, too. The Constitution of United States has no text conferring a right to keep and bear arms for anything other than service in an organized militia. Precedent after precedent established as much until Justice Scalia, the purveyor of the notion that his judicial role is one of humility and literalism,
immodestly led the Court to make it constitutionally impossible at federal or state level to do what other nations have done: ban the manufacture, possession and ownership of hand guns by private citizens.

And by what rationale did Justice Scalia blue-pencil from the Constitution the true militia-focus of the second amendment? Well, it seems that even though we no longer have state militias as we did when the Constitution was drafted, Justice Scalia thinks it personally a good idea to enforce the document as if we did. This turns out to be something of a lose-lose proposition. I will avoid paraphrase, since the tortured logic of Justice Scalia deserves to be heard as he wrote it: "There are many reasons," wrote Scalia, "why the militia was thought to be necessary to security of a free state. First, of course, it is useful to repelling invasions and suppressing insurrections. Second, it renders large standing armies unnecessary... Third, when able-bodied men of the nation are trained in arms and organize they are better able to resist tyranny."

Say what? People with handguns fighting off al Qaeda invasions? No standing army? Huh? Jeremy Bentham once called natural law "nonsense upon stilts," but Scalia's personal quest to find a gun right for an institution that no longer exists is nonsense that is so patent it cannot even find the stilts. There is not a wit of supporting evidence to believe that militias composed of private gun owners would have any success repelling an invasion of United States in 2012, and while General Petraeus may be missing, the U.S. Army is alive and well -- and one would think conceded by Justice Scalia to be much in need and relied upon.

And Justice Scalia's third justification: the relationship between guns in private hands and resisting tyranny is about three centuries out of date, or wishful thinking in the extreme, see Syria. No amount of small arms is useful against modern-day bombers and tanks; Scalia suggests in his speech making that private ownership of these would likely be out of bounds, but formally, he has kept his constitutional options open.

Jim Carney is right, we need a respectful period in which to bury our dead children, but in their memories, let's finally own up to a few unassailable facts; the kind of facts a transformative presidency must confront:

The United States is No. 1 -- of 178 countries in private gun ownership;
• the rate of death from firearms in United States is eight times higher than in comparable developed countries;
• "The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children younger than 15 years of age is nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined";
• more preschoolers are killed by guns in any given year than law enforcement officers in the line of duty;
• the United States has the highest rate of youth homicides and suicides among the 26th wealthiest, developed nations;
• the absolute numbers tell the same story: in recent years, there were 5 gun-related murders in New Zealand, 56 in Australia, 73 in England, 184 in Canada and 11,344 gun-murders in United States -- more than any other industrialized country. We have more than 9,000 murders;
• Harvard's empirical study confirms the obvious: more guns = more murders

The children taken from us on the 14th of December at Sandy Hook Elementary no longer have to worry about their lessons, but before the depth of this continuing tragedy slips again to the background of the daily news, let us learn two lessons of our own: it's time to ban handgun possession and ownership, except by fully-trained law enforcement personnel and there is not a single word in the U.S. Constitution that makes that impossible.

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