The Emperor’s New Guns

Space Needle

I took this picture of Seattle’s iconic landmark on Wednesday and planned to write a column about it, but then a nut case in Colorado Springs shot up Planned Parenthood and a couple of jihadi terrorists blasted their way into history in San Bernardino and that column disappeared in a cloud of gun smoke.

This is a column I didn’t want to write. I’ve written it before (see Cowards and Bullies, April 19, 2013) and though I didn’t want write it again it’s a burning issue that isn’t going away until we do something. Given the bloviators on the 2016 campaign trail and the gutless wonders in Congress,” something” may not happen soon enough to prevent another bloody massacre.

I don’t really understand it, but the 2nd Amendment really has legs. In 1919 Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that shouting “Fire” in a crowded movie theater was not a protected right under the 1st Amendment, but open carry i.e. “the act of publicly carrying a firearm on one’s person in plain sight,” is permissible in a majority of states without restriction. That firearm can be anything from a .22 caliber pistol to a semi-automatic military style rifle loaded with a high capacity magazine. What’s the disconnect here? Why are limitations on other fundamental citizen rights acceptable but not on the 2nd Amendment? The “strict scrutiny” test of judicial review requires the state have a “compelling interest” to limit a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. What could be more compelling than protecting the lives of its citizens? The fundamental right to own an armor piercing semi-automatic weapon?

With Sandy Hook Elementary, Aurora, Umpqua, Charleston, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino in the rearview mirror why the fuck aren’t we doing SOMETHING to make America a safer place?

Have we lost our collective minds? Are we drinking a new mind-altering Kool Aid that makes us believe it is more humane and compassionate to own a high capacity, semi-automatic military firearm than it is to “burden” online sellers by asking them to initiate background checks on their buyers? Americans are like the Emperor’s subjects who were afraid to tell him he had no clothes? This is outrageous. The Emperor has new guns and they are killing us. It’s outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I wish these gun buyers had undergone extensive background checks – and so do the families of the people they killed.


We’re supposed to be a nation of laws, and the brilliant founders of our country put in place a set of checks and balances – three branches of government – with a Constitution as the primary governing document. The underlying supposition is that the legislative branch will enact laws that are the will of the people for their protection and general good, the executive branch will enforce those laws and the Supreme Court will safeguard us from those that violate the Constitution. So, where are the reasonable, common sense regulations that govern gun ownership responsibility? Polls repeatedly tell us that the majority of Americans favor reasonable laws governing the responsibility and ownership of guns. So where are they?

Last week, in the wake of San Bernardino, the gutless wonders in the US Senate, most of whom have taken campaign money from the gun interests, defeated a bill that would have expanded background checks to include online sellers and gun show purchases. The National Rifle Association and right-wing zealots act as if owning a gun is going to prevent an intrusive, totalitarian government from taking away our rights. Trust me, if the government wants to take away your rights they will be gone in a heartbeat and your gun will still be in the closet.

Ted Cruz says schools would be safer if teachers were armed to protect their students. I’m sure Mrs. Hamilton who teaches my 5-year-old grandson would be ready, willing, and able to quick draw her securely stored handgun and drill the terrorist who breaks into her kindergarten classroom with a modified AR-15 semi-automatic rifle like the ones used in San Bernardino. What do you think?

Marco Rubio and others say that Paris and San Bernardino wouldn’t have been prevented by gun control legislation. They argue that this is a reason not to enact further legislation. While it’s true that these terrorists would not have been deterred, is that a good reason not to enact reasonable limitations on gun purchases? What’s so sacred about Internet or gun show sales? Why are they exempt? If I didn’t want my gun purchase tracked I’d buy it there too. The same is true for private sales. I’d feel safer if there was a law in place regarding them too. It’s too big a burden on the seller? Bullshit. The San Bernardino terrorists bought their assault rifles from a neighbor. No background check required. Lives can be saved if terrorists, demented individuals or criminals can be stopped from buying weapons? Let’s expand background checks to close these loopholes. Currently someone whose name appears on the US “no-fly list” can walk into a gun shop and buy a military style weapon. What is going on with that?

On Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, 185,000 guns were purchased from legitimate gun dealers and 185,000 background checks initiated. That’s an astounding number – and those were just the legal purchases. What about the online, gun show, and private sales? We don’t know who bought them or how many there were.

Terrorists will always be able to get guns. Their organizations are quasi-military. They’re on a war footing with war-like resources. Paris has strict gun ownership laws, but the terrorists came down from Belgium and who knows where the weapons were purchased. We probably can’t do much to prevent this kind of terrorism, but the San Bernardino killers bought their AR-15 assault rifles from a neighbor. Maybe their Muslim/Pakistani/Saudi connections and recent travel would have raised flags if a background check had been conducted.

Terrorism is all about scaring the bejesus out of people. It’s working. We’re scared. Do you think Americans would have bought 185,000 guns in one day if they weren’t scared? I had a great day at the Space Needle on Wednesday. I didn’t think much about it then but now I realize it’s a great “soft target.” I’m not easily scared but I won’t be going back any time soon even if friends come to town who haven’t seen it. There are plenty of other places to take them. Maybe I’m getting timid in my old age or maybe just smarter. Last weekend I watched The Wiz and until the wimps in Congress get some bigger balls I’ll think of them as descendants of the Cowardly Lion. Grrrr…


Breaking News: Moments ago the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on a 2nd Amendment case involving the constitutionality of an assault weapons case. That means that the lower court ruling upholding a ban on assault weapons will stand. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia were apoplectic over the decision but the 7-2 decision means they have no power to change the outcome.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case could be read as an indication of the justices’ unwillingness to further define the contours of the Second Amendment in light of the current political climate. Huffington Post Legal Affairs Analyst

Gun legislation is still a local issue but this ruling means a state can ban assault weapons. It’s another tool in the kit that will make America safer – assuming there are state legislators with the courage to vote for the ban.


  1. Unfortunately, campaign financing reform (starting with reversing the insane Citizens United decision) has to happen (in order to render the NRA toothless) before we can get gun control legislation. And that’s going to be even tougher sledding.

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