How a child’s tragic death destroys one of the NRA’s biggest gun myths

Ryan Busse

As Americans, there is little that is more important to us than freedom — but we must never forget that our democracy, and the freedoms it protects, relies on responsibility. Perhaps nowhere is this ideological collaboration more evident than with guns and the Second Amendment. But this all-important balance has been stretched to the breaking point in state after state, most recently in Texas.

In mid-February in Houston, an armed robbery turned into a tragedy of the worst kind. The victim of an armed robbery turned around and became the perpetrator, accidentally killing a 9-year-old girl as he fired at his fleeing attacker. The child died after being shot in the back seat of her family’s pickup truck; the robbery suspect got away. Meanwhile in Utah, a four-year-old got hold of his father’s gun and shot at police during an argument at a McDonald’s. The father was arrested.

For years, irresponsible lobbyists and politicians have told us that freedom is all that matters, and that having a gun is a simple way to stop crime in its tracks: “Shoot first and ask questions later.”

As National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre is fond of saying, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But the truth is that in the heat of a chaotic situation, nothing is simple. Chaos and tragedy too often win out.

I know this, because I’ve been a gun owner for decades. My father taught me how to take care of a firearm, how to shoot, and how to handle the responsibility that comes with having a gun. Most gun owners understand this responsibility, because they never forget that their gun can end a life in an instant.

But in a country where the NRA and the gun industry have whipped so many into a frenzy of fear and faux-patriotism, driving profits instead of responsible gun ownership, tragedies like what happened in Houston are becoming our new normal. And contrary to the claims of the NRA, there’s nothing patriotic about any of it.

Despite what the NRA wants you to believe, people very rarely use guns for self-defense. Research shows that guns are far more likely to be used for suicide or homicide than they are for self-defense. In 2018, there were 34 gun homicides, 82 gun suicides, and two unintentional gun deaths, for every one instance of a justifiable homicide. That’s hundreds of families forever changed by gun violence for every rightful discharge of a weapon.

Like most gun owners, I am an advocate for our rights, but I am also deeply alarmed by these statistics. Like the recent tragedy in Texas illustrates, adding guns to stressful situations often result in unexpected and disastrous outcomes. The story gets even worse when permitting and training is not required. In Texas today, thanks to a 2021 law, almost anyone over the age of 21 can carry a handgun.

Under current law, Americans are entitled to gun ownership, but we must balance that right with responsibility. The past few years have seen a concerted effort to destroy that critical balance. Responsible gun owners know the Second Amendment does not preclude proper training and they do not support armed vigilantes who use their weapons to threaten, intimidate, and chill free speech.

It’s time to stop degrading our system of laws, developed by earlier generations who understood that encouraging gunfights to sort out bad guys and good guys is not the stuff of democracy. It’s time for responsible gun owners to take back the conversation from extremists and right-wing conspiracy theorists.

We know that strong gun safety laws don’t infringe on our right to carry a weapon, but they do make our country safer. We need to stand up for laws such as safe storage, child access prevention, and universal background checks to make sure that guns don’t end up in the wrong hands.

This is about facts, not fear and lies. And the fact is that well-crafted gun laws aren’t designed to take guns away, but rather to ensure that lives are saved while rights are protected.

Millions of gun owners already understand that freedom means nothing if not balanced with responsibility, because none of us is truly safe in a country that is pro-gun and anti-responsibility.

– edited from NBC News, February 22, 2022
PeaceMeal, March/April 2022

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Canada bans assault-style weapons

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on May 1 announced a ban on assault-style rifles, including those used in a recent mass shooting that left nearly two dozen dead. “These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest amount of people in the shortest amount of time,” he said. “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada. Effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport and import or use military-grade assault weapons in this country.”

The announcement came nearly two weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in Canada’s history. On the weekend of April 18, Gabriel Wortman shot and killed 22 people across six cities. Authorities said the 51-year-old gunman, who disguised himself as law enforcement, was targeting his former partner in the shooting spree. It claimed the lives of Royal Mounted Police Constable Heidi Stevenson as well as others killed randomly.

Trudeau noted measures strengthening gun control were prepared ahead of the deadly shooting and before parliament was suspended on March 13 due to the coronvirus pandemic. “It’s something on which there is a large consensus by Canadians who want to see less violence and fewer deaths from gun violence in this country,” he said.

According to Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail, the ban will cover the Ruger Mini-14 and the AR-15, a weapon often used in mass shootings in the United States. The CZ Scorpion, the Swiss Arms Classic Green, the Beretta Cx4 Storm, the Robinson Armament XCR and the Sig Sauer SIG MC are several other firearms included in the ban.

– edited from the Daily News (New York), May 1, 2020
PeaceMeal, July/August 2020

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


School safety and guns don’t mix

Ask school teachers if they want to be armed with a gun at school to protect their students and you are likely to get, “No way” in response. But despite opposition from educators, lawmakers continue to insist that arming teachers is an effective way to prevent gun violence at school. Since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, which claimed the lives of 17 people, lawmakers in state legislatures across the nation have introduced bills to arm school staff.

In May 2019, Florida passed a new law that would allow teachers to carry guns in their classrooms. The new law is a sore spot for educators, particularly those who survived the Parkland shooting in February 2018.

“When it got passed, we were obviously taken aback, as probably, I would say, 95 percent of the staff was against it,” says Jeff Foster, an AP government teacher at Marjory Stoneman High School. “Immediately, [our superintendent] and the school board voted to not allow teachers to do it.”

Students and families are anxious as well, and teacher organizations foresee that arming teachers would create outcomes the opposite of stated intentions — it would cause more harm.

Several studies show that most teachers don’t want to carry firearms at school. Last year, a national poll released by Teach Plus showed that 83 percent of teachers don’t believe educators should be armed at school. In a statement, Teach Plus noted that they are concerned proposals to arm educators “will militarize our schools” and potentially yield harmful effects.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García released a statement calling the arming of teachers “ill-conceived, preposterous and dangerous.” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wrote in a letter to President Trump that schools should be “safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses.”

Those who oppose arming teachers are quick to point out real-life situations that demonstrate the danger of having guns on school campuses. In the last five years, more than 70 incidents of guns being mishandled in schools have been reported, according to data compiled by the Giffords Law Center. The center shares examples from around the country.

In Alabama and California, for example, students were struck with bullet fragments after their teachers accidentally fired guns in class. In Missouri, a pair of middle school students stole the gun their teacher brought to school. And the mishandling isn’t just from educators. In Florida, a school resource officer accidentally fired a shot while leaning against a cafeteria wall.

We know that gun violence on campus has become a reality for some students today. According to The Washington Post’s data-base of school shootings, more than a quarter of a million students have been exposed to gun violence at school in the last 20 years.

In those two decades since the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, schools have become increasingly hardened with metal detectors, school resource officers, and locked gates. Lockdown and active shooter drills are everyday parts of children’s school experiences.

National PTA president Leslie Boggs says local PTAs can provide support and establish forums to listen to their students’ concerns and causes. “They want and need to be heard,” she says. “They are the ones living in the current environment in schools, and it is important that we learn from their experience and viewpoint.”

– edited from Teaching Tolerance, Fall 2019
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


How the NRA hijacked gun control history

Jennifer Tucker
The Washington Post, September 10, 2019

Recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio have raised our national debate about gun control to a fever pitch once more. As Congress returns to Washington after its summer recess, it will face mounting pressure to pass legislation to deter such attacks and other forms of firearms violence.

The last gun-control measure Congress passed was the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (which expired in 2004). Since then, the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down a D.C. law banning handguns, represents a potentially significant new barrier to passing gun-control legislation. For the first time, the court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm for self-defense, unconnected with militia service. Today, the Supreme Court, with an even stronger conservative majority, seems poised to extend this ruling to other aspects of gun ownership.

The Heller decision stemmed from a new interpretation of American history that emerged during the past 40 years as a result of concerted advocacy by gun rights supporters such as the National Rifle Association. This campaign — which rewrites our national history to fit a modern gun rights narrative — threatens to lead the Supreme Court further astray.

The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, ratified in September 1791, reads: “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.” For more than 200 years, most legal scholars and historians viewed this language as conferring a right “to keep and bear arms” only in the context of a “well-regulated militia.”

The Founders viewed the militia as a way to ensure civic participation in the security of the United States and to prevent the need for a permanent standing army that would create the risk of military despotism. They understood the militia as a well-trained, disciplined and government-sponsored bulwark of liberty — not a random group of armed citizens acting as vigilantes. Over time, however, the Founders’ vision of a militia proved too difficult to realize, and, by the 1840s, national defense began falling to paid volunteers funded by states.

Although this understanding of the Second Amendment did not preclude citizens from owning and using guns for lawful purposes, there was a consensus throughout the 19th century that state and local governments maintained broad police powers to regulate the carrying of dangerous weapons in public. The Supreme Court applied the militia-centered (or collective) view of the right to bear arms well into the 20th century. It upheld the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1938 Gun Control Act, which imposed severe restrictions on machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers. In United States v. Miller (1939), the court found the Second Amendment protected the right to keep and bear firearms only for certain military purposes.

This ruling fit with the prevailing legal understanding of the Second Amendment as well. From 1900 to 1959, only 12 studies on the Second Amendment appeared in professional legal journals, each of them understanding the right as being linked to a well-regulated militia. In a 1955 internal report for the NRA, Jack Basil Jr. (who later became director of the NRA’s Legislative Service) acknowledged that “the Second Amendment appears to apply to a collective, not an individual, right to bear arms.”

Gun rights supporters, steered by the NRA, resisted this broad consensus, instead pushing an individual rights narrative in the courts and in public discourse. Although the NRA was best known to the public for its education and safety programs between the 1920s and the 1960s, behind the scenes it lobbied governments and organized at the grass-roots level to promote a view of firearm ownership and use as a badge of citizenship essential to public safety and national defense.

Nonetheless, the individual rights view was slow to gain wider traction. In 1968, Congress responded to the crime and assassinations of the 1960s by passing the Gun Control Act, which regulated interstate firearm sales and imposed new age and mental health restrictions on gun purchases. Even Charlton Heston — who decades later became famous for saying the government would have to pry his gun from his “cold, dead hands” — joined the public campaign in support of passing the act. The actor served five terms as president of the NRA.

Angered by the passage of this law, and by a 1971 incident in which an NRA member was shot and killed during a raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the NRA redoubled its efforts to promote an individual right reading of the Second Amendment.

This endeavor would prove far more successful in the following decades than it had been in the past because of legal and political changes. The Republican Party was growing increasingly conservative and taking a skeptical view of federal power. Politically, removing restrictions on donations to political parties created an imbalance that also influenced Republican sentiment, given that the NRA had a vastly larger megaphone than the victims of gun violence.

These political forces aligned with the rise of originalism as a constitutional methodology — focused on what the Constitution meant to its drafters — to create a receptiveness to the individual rights interpretation. That understanding seemed to be receiving expert endorsements, too. By the 1980s, a small group of lawyers — many affiliated with the NRA and other gun rights groups — started to publish a flood of studies in legal journals arguing that the original language of the Second Amendment was intended to protect hunters and sports shooters against any restrictions on their use of firearms.

History was an integral weapon in advancing this narrative. Through the NRA’s magazines, supported scholarship, sponsored films and a private museum network, the group tried to impose a unilateral reading of American history: what might be called “gunsplaining” for the masses. It convinced many people — including law professors and judges — that the individualist interpretation was the “standard model” of American gun history.

A key moment in this battle came in 1994, when historian Joyce Lee Malcolm published “To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right,” which argued that the individual right to carry arms can be traced back to the 1689 English Bill of Rights. Justice Antonin Scalia drew from Malcolm’s book when he wrote for the majority in Heller.

The problem with Scalia’s opinion, however, is that it rests on a false interpretation of the past. Based on archival evidence, historians have found no record in English common law of an untrammeled individual right to bear arms. On the contrary, common law in England and 18th-century America always recognized that personal security was best protected through a well-ordered society in which the public carrying of dangerous weapons was closely regulated.

The 1328 Statute of Northampton, for example, constrained the right to travel with dangerous weapons in public by limiting the public carriage of swords and other medieval weapons (firearms not yet having been invented). This statute was the prevailing rule of law in the American colonies through the late 18th century, with exceptions being made for people to carry arms for trade and repair, while traveling and for hunting.

Such laws of centuries past may seem disconnected from the mass shootings and everyday gun violence occurring nationwide today, but they are not. How the court understands this history may shape how the nation responds to the gun violence epidemic. For this reason, it is crucial that the court look beyond the distorted history presented by gun rights activists.

New scholarship is beginning to break the NRA’s efforts to monopolize the history of guns in America. Although the main historical tradition inherited from English common law emphasized the need to regulate firearms and weaponry more broadly in the interest of public safety. Contrary to the gun lobby’s view of an unlimited individual right to bear arms, American courts and public opinion have never been on the side of unregulated gun ownership.

The state’s duty to protect the peace and promote public safety is an enduring principle of common law that informed the framing of the Constitution. In light of this history — and in line with what the architects of the Second Amendment would have endorsed — the courts must allow lawmakers to make reasonable efforts to regulate the use of firearms.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)