Immediately on the heels of the tragic shooting in the Clackamas Town Center Mall in Oregon, where two people were killed by a gunman with a semi automatic rifle, has come the biggest tragedy in US history. As of my writing this piece, 27 people are confirmed dead in an elementary school shooting in Connecticut, 20 of them children.
Before we even think about the causes of this horrific attack, let us stop for a moment to consider just what an atrocity today's incident is. It is not an act of war, it is not a crime of passion, and it is not a motivated killing of enemies. The shooting in Connecticut is a crime against humanity. If the gunman, who has been identified as 20 year old Adam Lanza (whose mother was a teacher at the school and one of those murdered), was affiliated with Al Qaeda, the authorities would label it terrorism. So it is not enough for our political leaders to just issue words of condolence and provide relief to victim's families. They must provide justice. In this case, since the gunman himself is dead, the justice must come in the form of meaningful progress on the contentious issue of gun control.
For decades, America has struggled to balance the rights of law abiding gun owners and the integrity of the Second Amendment against the need to stem the proliferation of deadly weapons in our society, not to mention discourage a culture that glorifies gun ownership. But every time the subject comes up, usually in the aftermath of yet another tragedy, the advocates of gun rights are quick to respond with charges of overreaction while the supporters of gun control play ineffective defense. It's time that dynamic came to an end and more importantly, it's time that the gun control issue was pegged for what it really is - a moral issue.
As a civilized nation, America has a greater moral responsibility to protect its citizens, and particularly its children, than it does to adhere to the Second Amendment.
The Constitution of the United States is actually a complex document. It is a great blueprint for our society but for those who know our history, the very creation of this wonderful document was in some ways a betrayal of the Declaration of Independence (which came a decade earlier) in that it took away some freedoms from individual states and codified the federal government as an economic, legal, and military super-entity that could run a vast nation with many different constituencies and interests. In other words, the Declaration of Independence was a highly idealistic document that stressed absolute freedom from control whereas the Constitution was a document that imposed an intelligent framework of control to give our newly created union a sense of cohesive direction.
This is something that the blind followers of the Second Amendment refuse to understand. The Constitution itself was born out of pragmatism and to promote the best interests of its citizens. It also included, in a genius and very telling move by our Founding Fathers, a built-in system to be amended to suit the changing needs of American society. Visionaries like Ben Franklin, who fought valiantly against slavery a half century before it was actually abolished, clearly recognized that times would change and with them the values of the people that the Constitution was meant to serve.
Had the Founding Fathers been alive today, it is reasonable to assume that they themselves would have questioned the validity of the Second Amendment in its original form for the hyper-violent society we live in today. In fact, I believe they would have demanded it.
I mentioned morality because that is what gun control is all about in the end. It is about the moral imperative that our government has to create a society that is free of the type of atrocity that occurred today. I realize that restricting guns alone will not do it, and that societal factors such as media violence and poor mental healthcare all contribute to violence, but guns are an important part of that equation and so their role in the mayhem should not be ignored.
To be crystal clear, I am not advocating the removal of all guns from America, but a stronger system to track and monitor gun sales, to restrict the availability of high capacity weapons, and to make it harder for citizens who have no business carrying guns being able to obtain them through dealers or online. This includes the possible need for a new Assault Weapons Ban (the previous one expired in 2004), more robust background checks, better tracking of and stiff punishment for dealers (including online) who sell weapons and ammunition to straw men and other non-qualified buyers, and finally, to make it easier for victims of gun violence to file lawsuits against gun manufacturers. I know that this last recommendation will raise some hackles and invite objections but it was precisely the factor that eventually brought the tobacco industry in line and has forced them to act more responsibly with their products.
America's definition of morality may change over time (after all, at one time homosexuality was considered "immoral"), but for all of that, we are a highly moral country. We decry torture, we decry discrimination, we decry exploitation, and we decry political suppression wherever in the world it occurs. Then why should we not decry the terror of gun violence? Real patriotism is not in ignoring our moral obligation in order to preserve the sanctity of the Second Amendment, but in challenging it for the sake of the nation's security as well as for the future of our children.
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks and at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of a thriller titled "Merger", which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit www.sanghoee.com for more details.