Last quarter I left the United States to study abroad in Paris. To my surprise, this experience taught me as much about our red, white, and blue as it did about theirs, pâté de foie gras notwithstanding. Traveling creates distance, and distance creates perspective. Viewed from afar, America’s hustle and bustle appears remote; only her greatest excesses cause a loud enough outcry to echo across the ocean. The news that reaches the ex-pat is the Big News; the events that unsettle their nostalgia must be enormous.
So what was the news from home? It was bad news. More specifically, it was murder.
The first thunderclap was the killing of our own Amadou Cisse on November 19.
Then, one week later, came the slaying of Sean Taylor, the 24-year-old football star of the Washington Redskins.
One more week, eight more murders: 19-year-old Robert Hawkins opened fire on holiday shoppers in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska.
Four more days, four more deaths: Matthew Murray, 24-years-old, attacked two Christian organizations in Colorado.
America, as this rapid-fire succession of shootings made clear, is a place where people are killed. Although still in mourning for Virginia Tech—and its 32 fatalities—we were at it again. Bang, bang, bang.
It has become tragically apparent that America suffers from a serious gun problem. With appalling frequency, we turn our most lethal weapons against each other, committing dreadful crimes that amount to societal suicide. First, the gun lobby loads the bullets, then angry young men pull the trigger. The government, meanwhile, fails to provide sufficient regulation, preferring to preserve and protect gun companies like Smith & Wesson.
Until recently, no federal court in the history of the United States, including the Supreme Court, had ever overturned a gun-control law based on the Second Amendment. Time and again, the courts had decided that the founding fathers saw gun ownership strictly as a “collective right,” necessary solely for the maintenance of a “well regulated militia.” The individual “right” to own a gun did not exist.
Last year, however, this enlightened precedent went by the wayside. In a highly controversial 2–1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a local law banning handguns violated the Second Amendment. It was wrong, the Court declared, for the city popularly known as the “murder capital” (and with a basketball team formerly named the Bullets) to deprive its citizens of handguns. Downright un-American. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a lethal weapon.
Now prepare to raise the stakes. On November 20—the day after Amadou’s murder—the Supreme Court agreed to hear the D.C. case. If the Roberts Court affirms the earlier decision, it will fire a second shot heard round the world, a call to arms in many of the most crime-ridden communities in the United States. And the gun control movement, already overmatched by the monetary might of the National Rifle Association, will endure the loss of its most significant legal position.
Here’s the problem: The wording of the Second Amendment is so ambiguous that it is all but impossible to determine the founding fathers’ actual intent on the gun issue. Arguments and evidence abound in either direction, and though it pains me to admit it, a cogent case can be made in favor of the individual right to bear arms.
So what should the Court do? Respect D.C.’s right to decide for itself. When locally elected representatives determine that their streets have seen enough shooting, the federal government should not step in and second-guess. Beyond being a startlingly responsible decision, such a ruling would prove that the Constitution is indeed a living document. The genius of the Second Amendment is its vagueness, its adaptability to the needs and conditions of different times. And times have changed. The age of state militias is over. The age of anxious young assassins is here. We used muskets to defeat the British; we must not use handguns to defeat ourselves.
Each day in the United States an average of 32 people die due to gun violence. That’s equivalent to the massacre at Virginia Tech, every day. This burden of blood is simply too much to bear.
The District of Columbia’s ban on handguns should be copied, not killed, and then expanded, enhanced, and enforced. If modern times afford us the technology to track and license weaponry, modern society should put this possibility into practice.
We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to each other, and we owe it to Amadou.