American lawyer JIM BURKE gives us his own take on the gun debate in the States.
Let’s look at this second amendment which is all about the right to bear arms:
For many years it was dormant. Then for quite some time the prevalent view was that it was tied to the need for a protective local militia and so was not purely personal.
Then the Supreme Court held, in a case that banned guns from one’s house, that the right was personal, and so the government could not simply “ban” guns which could be used for self defence in the home.
What the full extent of that will be remains to be seen. Many think that rational restrictions on guns are permissible under the second amendment. But until the cases wend their way through the grindstone of Supreme Court litigation, we just don’t know.
My guess is that reasonable restrictions will be permissible, but I am often not in sync with the current lot of Supreme Court judges.
The real question is political rather than legal.
Assuming that rational and reasonable restrictions are permissible, it needs a legislative body to act to a conclusion, and an executive to sign the bill.
Our politicians are renowned for their spinelessness. Some- a sizable plurality, in fact- truly believe that there should be no restrictions at all. ( I assume some have heard about the mid-west state that had just passed a law allowing you to carry guns into schools, and it was awaiting the governor’s signature, when the Newtown shootings occurred.)
And some, a lesser number, favour wide ranging control of guns, ammo, and accessories such as magazines or silencers, etc. The balance is the legislators who do not know where they come down when it comes to gun law and possible change.
This week, maybe this month, they will speak sympathetically and sincerely about the tragedy; how it is a complex problem; how much we have to find ways to deal with problems of mental illness and joblessness; and other crucial social issues. As things cool down, the dollars will start to take precedence, and I fear that the results if ever they occur will be insufficient, misguided, and wrong. Can the president make a difference? Yes, if he keeps up the pressure and makes this a signature of his second term. I think he may have that in mind. But who can say?
One powerful ingredient in this whole debate is The National Rifle Association (NRA)
This lobby is exceptionally powerful, and I can’t for the life of me fully grasp why. Americans have a talismanic and sacred attachment to a gun: look at the westerns, the iconography, the myth of the stranger who rides into town and saves the citizens from the bully.
It’s just a good story though, not good policy or law. But we wish for salvation from fear, from or things we cannot control or understand. The rugged individual can protect himself (usually a him, but increasingly a her ) against all threats, one of which is the government itself , but most of which are the indefinable “THEM”. If we have a “them” we are by definition good, because “them are bad”.
A gun, realistically, is integral to the American view of America. And since the NRA, its allies and and its co-opted politicians are exceedingly good at controlling the words and phrases in the discussion of guns, safety, liberty, and gun control, I fear this will drift off with, at best, a token gesture that is for all intents and purposes meaningless.
+Jim Burke is Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Maine
Read Richard Lutz’s article here