On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018 a lone gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and shot and killed seventeen people. Seventeen additional people were shot and wounded. While there have been multiple school shootings for many years, this one seems different. The difference could be the student’s reactions, their voices and their demonstrations. While others have voiced concerns in previous school shootings – this time seems different.
Every time we have an “active shooter” or a “mass shooting” (where four or more people are killed in one event), we hear from grieving family members, we hear from the talking heads and we hear from politicians yet nothing seems to change. What we also hear is that we should have better mental health treatments, better background checks and even limit the purchases of some types of weapons. We also hear that we should arm the teachers and that if the teachers were armed, potential active shooters would be deterred. What needs to be done is something that would reduce the frequency and lethality of the events. What would reduce the frequency – should be the question.
On March 24 there was a nationwide march for our lives, sponsored by school children from around the country. The NRA’s response to the march was, “Stand and Fight for our Kids’ Safety by Joining NRA,” “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”
In full disclosure I am an NRA member and the NRA’s response was pitiful and demeaning. Demeaning school children for expressing their views, a right they have under the first amendment, was extremely poor. The NRA’s comments were akin to bullying.
The NRA was not the only group or person to demean the students and the marchers. I guess that people forget that we have a 1st amendment which entitled the students to gather, march and speak. Could it be that those complaining feel threatened? According to some of the complainers there is a deep state that can encourage millions of school children to protest with the intent to destroy America. I guess that the deep state is just more believable than the old “fake news.” It is my belief that the bullying of millions of young people, which were exercising their right to protest adds credibility to their voices. How odd, that individuals and groups so concerned with the second amendment, do not seem to respect the first amendment.
Respecting all of the constitutional amendments is important in that they are instrumental in our democracy. That being said, there are limits on our amendments, including the first and the second. It is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Gathering for peaceful protest is allowed, but not for inciting to riot. You can practice the religion of your choice, but polygamy is illegal. While we have freedom of the press, you are not protected from slander when misrepresenting facts. Most people know and understand these limits, most of which were the result of court decisions. What many seem to be unaware of is that there are also limits on the second amendment. Citizens are not entitled to have any kind of weapon they want. There are some that would like you to believe that anyone 18 year of age should be able to purchasing an AR15 type of rifle. Additionally, they would like you to believe that anything less, is an infringement on their constitutional rights. But – that is not true.
The Supreme Court made a critical decision on the second amendment in 2008, with the Heller case. In that case the Supreme Court said that there is an individual constitutional right to have a handgun in one’s home for self-protection. Additionally, the individual does not have to belong to a state militia. The court also said that the entity (the governing body) has a right to create regulations with regard to firearms.
After the case was decided both sides claimed victory. For the pro-gun individuals they said the court upheld the constitution, allowing citizens to keep handguns in their homes. For the anti-gun individuals they said the court sided with them for allowing regulations.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion for the court in the Heller decision and in his opinion he wrote:
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…”. It is “…not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
“We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller (an earlier case) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time”. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ ”
While this was a case from the District of Columbia, in another case, just two years later the court affirmed the decision and also said that it was applicable to the federal government and the states. Later the U.S. Supreme Court did not take cases that included gun laws in New York and Connecticut, both of which banned military-style assault weapons. By not taking the cases the court left the bans in place.
The Heller case said that the second amendment has restrictions, just as there are restrictions with the freedoms in the first amendment. Will the student’s voices make any difference? What is the solution? It is my belief that we will continue to argue about this until the next mass shooting. At some point, after a mass shooting, we will ban military type assault weapons and we will add significant regulations for purchasers of all guns. It is just a matter of time.