We’ve all likely experienced unintended consequences arising from our actions or decisions, things that negatively affected the people in our lives despite the fact that we were trying to do just the opposite. Lawmakers are no different than you and me in this respect.
When our founders framed the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which says “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,” they had no crystal ball to see how a firearm would become capable of killing dozens of innocent citizens in mere seconds.
They had no way of knowing that social media could be used to exponentially inflame racial hate and spread false conspiracy theories calling believers to arms. They had no way of knowing that later Supreme Courts would seemingly ignore the first part of the amendment — “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” — and interpret the meaning as “There should be no control over the sales or ownership of weapons meant to kill as many and as quickly as possible.”
This latter interpretation appears to most Americans to fly in the face of the “spirit” of the Second Amendment. Surely the authors of the Constitution couldn’t foresee the seven mass shootings in America last week alone. Nor could they foresee the horrific combination of mental illness and unregulated gun sales we’re experiencing 200 years later. Or that some of our lawmakers and citizens are so vexed by the idea someone may take away their weapons that they refuse to act responsibly, leading to thousands of murders and injuries from very small children to the elderly, all from firearms. It is hard to imagine that they would have ignored the potential consequences and not tried to address the possession of arms with more caution.
However, as a people living in a country with exceptional rights and privileges, we can hold our lawmakers accountable to change or sunset laws that are no longer viable, destructive, or make common sense. I agree that American citizens should be able to purchase a firearm to protect themselves in their homes and automobiles, to hunt, or just collect firearms, but I also believe our Supreme Court has gone too far with its newest interpretation, which goes back to 1791, disregarding the social, technological and mental environment we are living in today.
So, what are we to do about these senseless killings? It is time for all of us, including NRA members and other firearm owners, to speak up. With great privilege comes great responsibility. It is time for gun owners to protect their rights by compromising on sensible gun safety laws. And it is time for our nation to seriously address the lack of mental healthcare for families that cannot afford to get needed care for their loved ones.
If more of us are willing to speak up, to contact our legislators and congressmen and women to address these huge gaps in our country, we can make a difference. Let them know that the status quo is unacceptable. Work with your elected officials on gun safety laws. Ask the NRA to be an advocate for funded mental-health and addiction care in our country. We know that the voices of some gun owners and manufacturers will pose powerful objections, but as citizens we can no longer remain silent about these travesties that our forefathers surely never intended.
It is rumored that during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.” Can we again hope that our “sleeping giants” — the mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors, caregivers of all the people senselessly killed in mass shootings — who have been awakened will not go back to sleep?
It is up to each of us.
Joan Peck is the Mayor of Longmont.