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Saturday, August 02, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 5/29/2014

EDITORIAL

Constitutional contortions

As the bodies pile up, the gun lobby continues to hide behind its twisted version of the Second Amendment

Just when you think the level of public discourse can’t sink any lower, local Republican activist Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher has shown there really is no bottom.

After the weekend mass shooting that left seven people dead in California, including the gunman, Mr. Wurzelbacher wrote an open letter of supposed condolence to the parents of the murder victims. It includes the declaration: “Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

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In expressing the views of the extremists who have taken over the National Rifle Association, Mr. Wurzelbacher showed not only an appalling lack of tact but also a wrongheaded interpretation of the Constitution.

As the body count for mass shootings across the country piles up, Mr. Wurzelbacher and similar gun-rights advocates clutch a twisted view of the Second Amendment that has it forbidding practically any restriction on firearms and their ownership and use, no matter how reasonable or moderate.

No one disputes that gun ownership is a constitutional right. But the Second Amendment, as written and conceived, pertained chiefly to a “well regulated militia.” Thus, in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the National Firearms Act, the first national gun law, ruling that sawed-off shotguns and machine guns did not fall under Second Amendment prescriptions for military defense.

In the past 30 years, however, the NRA has transformed the Second Amendment into a constitutional shield against any restriction. And it has been extraordinarily effective.

After the massacre of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December, 2012, a grieving and shocked nation had reason to hope for reasonable and meaningful gun-control legislation, including renewal of an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Universal background checks, penalties for straw purchases, a national firearms database, tightened mental-health checks, and a ban on high-capacity magazines, including the 15 and 30-round devices used in shooting rampages, should be part of any legislative package on gun control.

But again and again, the gun lobby has won. Even moderate measures to expand background checks on firearms purchases, including those made at gun shows and the Internet, were rejected.

As it stands, people with even the most violent or troubled backgrounds can easily buy guns through straw purchasers who acquire them legally. With “stand-your-ground” statutes and other measures, gun advocates are pushing for even more lax laws.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he fears that “gun-grab extremists” will exploit last weekend’s tragedy. Richard Martinez, whose 20-year-old son was among those killed, has blamed the NRA and irresponsible politicians for allowing mentally unstable people such as 22-year-old Elliot Rodger to acquire guns.

Sadly, there is little reason for Mr. Wurzelbacher to fret. Every mass shooting appears to fade, too quickly, from the public eye. Reasonable gun-control measures won’t be achieved by legal scholars debating the Second Amendment, or by spineless politicians who won’t stand up to the single-issue gun lobby.

Change can come only with an even more powerful lobby of ordinary Americans who are fed up with mass killings and with people who argue that the carnage is less important than their right to own an AK-47. How many more Americans must die before that happens?



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