The shooting of a congresswoman, massacres at Columbine High School, Chardon High School, Virginia Tech, and Oikos University, and the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, should have sparked a national conversation about gun control. After all, without guns, every single one of those tragedies -- along with the deaths and wounds endured by 100,000 people annually due to guns -- could have been prevented.
Instead, Congress has remained completely silent on this issue. And that's mainly because one relentless organization, the National Rifle Association, has done everything in its power to keep the status quo.
Largely due to the NRA's efforts, the Untied States is home to nearly 300 million privately owned guns, which notches the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world (next is Yemen, with only half that of the Untied States); 25 states have adopted some form of Stand Your Ground laws, which have widened the scope for justifiable murders and handcuffed law enforcement; and every state, except Illinois, allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their home.
To make matters worse, the NRA viciously pushed for the infamous "gun show loophole," which currently makes it possible for criminals and fugitives to purchase guns without a background check. Despite widespread support, even among gun owners, to close the loophole, the NRA has refused to stand down.
And don't bother asking the NRA what they think about the unprecedented amount of deaths due to guns, because, according to their president, David Keene, it is not their policy to comment on a shooting. Isn't that convenient.
It wasn't always this way. The NRA supported the 1934 National Firearms Act, which taxed the ownership of automatic weapons, and the 1938 Federal Firearms Act, which created a licensing system for dealers. And the NRA was not alone in its logical support of gun control. The governor of Texas -- yes, Texas -- said in 1893, that the "mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder."
What happened? Jill Lepore writes in "Battleground America" that the gun debate as we know it began with the murder of President John F. Kennedy. When the news broke that Kennedy's murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald, ordered his gun from a magazine and received it in the mail, Congress started to get tough on guns. The Gun Control Act was passed, which barred so-called "high-risk" people from buying guns. The NRA supported it, but they felt the threat coming.
Over the next few decades, the NRA began arguing that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects an individual's right to own a gun, and the Supreme Court agreed. However, as Chief Justice Warren Burger said of this interpretation, it is "one of the greatest pieces of fraud ... by special interests groups I have ever seen in my lifetime."
The Second Amendment was added by James Madison to relax the fears of Anti-Federalists, who worried that the federal government would have supreme control over the military and would create a standing army. Thus, he allowed for the people to form a "well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state."
The argument being made by the NRA and others is that guns are necessary for protection -- an argument never made by those who supported the amendment's creation. Perhaps they neglect the historical justification because the need for the militia that Madison was talking about is essentially gone. Since the Bill of Rights was written, states have been granted their own National Guards, a perfect example of the "well-regulated militia" Madison mentioned. Many local law enforcement officers are now armed as well, increasing the kind of state power the Second Amendment was meant to protect.
Moreover, the Anti-Federalist opposition to a standing army that led to the Second Amendment is no longer a popular belief. I am yet to hear a gun owner argue that he or she ought to have a gun because they do not believe in the existence of the United States military. In fact, conservatives who argue strongly for "gun rights" are often the most fervent supporters of the military, making guns unnecessary.
As for the argument that guns make us safer, it is reasonable to ask why the United States still has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Moreover, both the Supreme Court and the NRA have yet to explain how, say, a man in Texas owning a gun qualifies as membership in a "well-regulated militia."
The Second Amendment was written for a reason, and the efforts by the NRA and others to divert our attention is a dangerous, unacceptable abuse of history. To neglect the intention of the Constitution is to diminish it to words on a page. Instead of hijacking the political process by propping up politicians who support this faulty interpretation, the NRA should be leading an effort to promote sound gun regulation that allows for recreational use.
James Madison never intended to create this bloody nation, where murder is just a pull of the trigger away. What the NRA intends, on the other hand, in the midst of their code of silence, still remains unknown.
Follow Jess Coleman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jesskcoleman