The Des Moines Register, Tuesday, December 23, 1997, Page 11A



Gun control: Repeal 2nd Amendment

In the film "Lion in Winter," Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, played by Katharine Hepburn, tells her young son John, who is complaining about being attacked by his knife-carrying brother Richard, "We all have knives.  It's 1183 and we're barbarians, how clear we make it."
    For the second time this fall a gun-carrying teen-ager has killed classmates, this time in Kentucky.  We are used to this.  We are no longer outraged by such acts.  We are immune and accepting.  Would the line for a new "Lion in Winter" be "Guns are everywhere.  It's 1997 and we're barbarians, how clear we make it"?
    Columnist Donald Kaul had it right a few years ago when he observed that there are countries fighting full-scale civil wars with lower body counts from gunfire than the United States has while at peace.
    It is instructive to compare the last two school shootings in the United States with the tragedy at the Scottish elementary school.  The British were shocked.  It was the sort of thing one would expect in America.  Indeed, such strange happenings are so rare in Britain that the head of state, Queen Elizabeth, attended a memorial service and extended the condolences of the nation to the grieving.   These murders in American schools will not make a ripple in President Clinton's obligations as head of state.
    We have come to the point where we accept that innocent people doing their jobs at the University of Iowa will be killed by guns, where people working in law offices will be murdered, postal workers slaughtered, people eating in restaurants shot and California schoolchildren will be mowed down all in the name of some twisted concept of freedom and rights.
    We are not a safe country.  Our country has become a nation holding on to its civilization while camps of lunatics and marauders wander among us armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated and dangerous of high-tech weapons.  The causes, in the sense that sociologists speak of causes, for this problem are many.   Certainly violent people cannot blame the rest of us for their act of deadly aggression.
    But as complicated as the causes are, the solution is simple.  We need look no farther than Canada, Western Europe or Japan for the results of effective gun-control laws.  And the reason we do not have effective gun-control laws is the political clout of the National Rifle Association, its lobbyists, political lackeys and fellow travelers.  These defenders of the barbarians among us have blocked every effort at real national gun control.  They have flexed their muscle in the Iowa legislature so that the home-rule rights of the people who live in Iowa's cities do not extend to reasonable regulation of firearms.  The blood of 20,000 Americans a year is sacrificed to the perverted altar of the National Rifle Association.
    Perverted?  Yes.  The National Rifle Association and its allies have hidden themselves behind an at best doubtful reading of the Second Amendment as protecting individual rights of gun ownership (as opposed to the rights of the states to maintain militias) to give to its position a perverted form of constitutional sanctity.   This neat trick has also kept focus away from the tragedy of the present bloodbath by allowing gutless politicians a sanctimonious position from which to make noble sounds about the nation's traditions while gunshot wounds have become the leading cause of death for inner-city youth.
    The response is obvious.  Repeal the Second Amendment.  Even talking about repeal will at least move the discussion to the right arena.   Discussion of repeal will also make it plain to those who see nothing wrong with 20,000 deaths a year that they must either accede to reasonable gun control or be faced with gun prohibition.
    Freedom and rights are guaranteed in an ordered, civilized society to protect lives and property, not destroy them.  Our constitutional system allows us to change even constitutional strictures that have become destructive.  The choice is between civil peace and continuing civil violence that costs 20,000 lives a year.
    Or if that is too much, then think of the choice as between a system in which young people can safely gather in a circle to pray and one in which guns are so easily obtained that even the most gentle of our young can have their lives taken by a teen-ager with a high-tech weapon.

IVAN T. WEBBER is a Des Moines attorney.

The Des Moines Register, Tuesday, December 23, 1997, Page 11A
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