The Founding Fathers never meant to tie our hands on guns

by John M. Crisp

Remember Uvalde? Does it seem that our memory of the shocking murder of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers has faded too quickly?

But just as Uvalde quickly eclipsed the massacre of 10 people in Buffalo 10 days prior, the murder of seven at a July Fourth parade in Highland Park has overshadowed Uvalde.

Since July Fourth, 200 more Americans have died in ones and twos by homicide, but it’s the mass shootings — four or more victims — in schools and churches and public events that catch our attention.

At least briefly. Of course, we’re appalled when 19 youngsters are massacred at their desks by another kid who was able to legally purchase a high-powered, high-capacity, semi-automatic weapon. But the pace of mass shootings is so rapid that we barely have time to forget the last one before the next occurs.

This raises a question: Have we resigned ourselves to the hard truth that mass shootings are simply part of what it means to live in America? We are shocked and outraged by the carnage, but we can’t muster the will to do anything about it.

Occasionally a mass murder is so shocking that even some Republicans understand that it’s bad policy and bad politics to continue to look the other way. For example, after Uvalde Congress passed a bipartisan gun bill, the first in decades. President Joe Biden signed it last month.

This feels a little like progress. The bill provides money to the states to develop crisis intervention programs and red flag protocols. It closes the “boyfriend loophole” and encourages states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

In other words, half-measures around the edges. The bill does very little to address the heart of our mass shooting problem: the fact that disturbed individuals don’t have much trouble obtaining high-powered weapons with large magazines and plenty of ammunition.

In short, few believe that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will have a meaningful impact on mass shootings. In fact, enacting the bill’s half-measures may lull us into believing that we’ve addressed the problem when, in fact, we’ve done very little. And the mass shootings will continue.

Is this what our nation’s Founding Fathers had in mind, a society that has no method by which it can protect itself from a persistent, terror-inducing public safety menace? Did they imagine that mass shootings were a feature of our culture that we would just have to get used to?

We give the Founders a lot of credit for creating the Constitution. Some even argue that the Constitution is a sacred, divinely inspired text. But, in fact, the Constitution is a flawed document written by flawed men who reflected the limitations of the times in which they lived.

How else do we explain the Constitution’s failure to imagine and provide the right to vote for women and Blacks? How do we explain the compromises that made the Constitution possible but permitted slavery to continue until the issue was resolved by the Civil War? How else do we explain the Electoral College?

The Constitution is brilliant, but it’s not perfect. Therefore we should be cautious about shaping — and limiting — modern American gun policy on the Founders’ belief in the necessity of a “well regulated Militia.”

The Founders undoubtedly believed in the right to own firearms — for hunting, for sport and for personal protection. So do I. In fact, I’ve argued that the right to a firearm for personal protection is a “natural” right that precedes the Second Amendment and that it should be clearly established in a 28th amendment. Then we could stop forcing the Second Amendment through the dubious contortions required to protect that right.

But it’s hard to believe that the Founders intended for the Second Amendment to preclude this nation, 230 years later, from protecting ourselves from the public health threat represented by modern weapons.

Did the Founders actually intend for the Second Amendment to tie our hands on gun control and expect us to tolerate an unending succession of Columbines, Sandy Hooks and Uvaldes? I seriously doubt it.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Texas and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.