Elijah’s ninth birthday wish

Elijah in high chair

Elijah in his high chair

Grandpa, my ninth birthday’s coming up next week! Are we going to have a party and stuff?

Well, Elijah, we only celebrate birthdays annually. That means once a year. You’re going to be nine months old, not nine years old.  The day you turn one year old, we’ll do something special for your birthday. I promise.

That’s not right! I have to wait for my presents?

Not necessarily. Grandma and I love to give presents. Do you have something special in mind?

Yeah! I’ve been thinking a lot about it. So can I have it now?

Sure, what have you been dreaming about?

Safety.

Okay. What about it.

Can I have a bomb like Kim Jun un and the President?

Oh for heaven’s sake, Elijah, where’d you get the idea you could have a bomb?

The Second Amendment, Grandpa. The right to bear arms!

Remember our discussion yesterday about the origins of the Second Amendment? 

The Supreme Court doesn’t agree with you. The Supreme Court says I have the “right to bear arms”. “Arms” are weapons, Grandpa, so why are we just talking about guns? Arms are what armies and state militias have. I’m stickin’ up for my rights! This is America, Grandpa! We get to protect ourselves. I need a bomb to protect Mom and the family!

  • Elijah and Grandpa, Chaska, MN, February 16, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Grandmother’s Rifle

My 90 year-old Grandmother kept a revolutionary war rifle under her bed in Rockport, Massachusetts. She wanted to be safe. When she showed it to me, I could barely drag it out from under the bed.  How she would have gotten it out and lifted it to point at an intruder was a puzzle, but my Grandmother, like many of us, thought a gun would make her safe.

My Grandmother's revolutionary war rifle.

My Grandmother’s revolutionary war rifle.

Security, weapons, and freedom make strange bed-fellows. Guns will not produce security, and the freedom to buy and use the weapons of war equates pulling a trigger with free speech.

In America the mixing of the right to bear arms, the search for security, and the sanctity of personal freedom without limits are the ingredients of a national security state…and a state of permanent anxiety.

We are not safe in America. The six-year-olds and seven-year-olds of Sandy Hook were not safe. Their teachers were not safe. Their town was not safe. The five-year-old and the two-year-old in Minneapolis who found a pistol under the pillow in their parents’ bedroom were not safe. The two-year old is dead. The five-year-old and his parents will never be the same. Nor will the people of Baghdad, the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood or the folks killed at McDonald’s. We are not safe either at home under Homeland Security or in the places around the world where un-manned drones kill and maim not only those who threaten our safety but innocent children, under that banner of freedom, democracy, and national security.

The U.S. Constitution is a work of genius and wisdom depending on how well it is interpreted by the Courts. The First Amendment the right to free speech. The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, a right originally intended to maintain the power of the people, collectively, to overthrow another King George or a government that did not serve the well-being of the American people.

Among the “arms” protected by the Second Amendment there was no assault weapon able to shoot 100 times in 60 seconds and then reload or a pistol capable of 30 shots before reloading. What the framers of the Second Amendment had in mind was muskets.

“Load… aim… fire…..  Load… aim… fire.”

The Second Amendment never imagined the likes of the M-16 or its knock-offs or a semi-automatic pistol concealed in one’s purse or trousers. The weapons used against a mother and elementary school children in Newtown and against customers having a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s were the furthest thing from their time-bound imagination.

There were no McDonald’s when the Second Amendment was adopted and there were no semi-automatic weapons sold at gun shows. Today, ABC News reports that, according to the 2011 statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there were 4.17 times as many federally-licensed retail gun dealers and pawn shops(58,794) than McDonald’s (14, 098) in the U.S – more death shops than places to eat a Big Mac.

ABC News also reported that “2012 has been a record-setting year for gun sales. As of November, the FBI recorded 16,808,538 instant background checks for gun purchases for 2012. Even without counting December, which has historically been the busiest month, this beats last year’s record by more than 350,000.”

Argument for strict Constitutional interpretation by Justice Scalia

Argument for strict Constitutional interpretation by Justice Scalia

Strict Constitutionalists like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia know full well that my grandmothers revolutionary war rifle was the “arms” the Second Amendment had in mind. Every citizen in America has the right to have a revolutionary war rifle –  a single shot “load…; aim…; fire… re-load…; aim…; fire…” under the bed… or under the pillow in the parents’ bedroom.

Freedom was never intended to produce a domestic or international killing field. If we Americans have learned anything from 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbine, Red Lake, and Sandy Hook, it is that our security is not found in a gun or a drone in every home. Neither was the nation’s security license to monitor the phone calls, emails, texts, bank records, and personal movements of citizens.

I exercise my right to free speech by writing and publishing words as the weapons of persuasion in hopes that they might contribute in some way to a national introspection and action that minimizes the human impulse toward violence and destruction. I have to believe that words are more powerful in the end than the Bushmaster .223 assault rifles and drones that kill at home and abroad – all in the name of keeping us alive and “safe”.

According to strict judicial interpretation of the Second Amendment, everyone in America has a right to own a musket or, perhaps, pull a revolutionary war rifle from under the bed.

The “Tragedy” of Sandy Hook

macbethIf philosophical parsing of the meaning of Sandy Hook was inappropriate just a few days ago, it is mandatory now.

The slaughter of these dear little ones and their teachers was a moment of terrible and terrifying insanity. When Adam put on his body armor and turned his mother’s guns on his own mother and Sandy Hook, insanity broke out to bring grief that chilled the bones of everyone in America.

Today there are calls for gun control and mental health services, and those calls make perfect sense as practical responses, but they will not fix the problem.

There is a more profound collective insanity that pervades our culture and our nation. It’s a tragedy in the sense of the old Greek and Shakespearean theater: a fatal flaw that is doing us in.

Sandy Hook was the latest symptom of the American tragedy: our worship of safety – arming ourselves to the nines – turns out to the death of us.  The idolatry of safety is the worship of death itself.

A five year old boy in Minneapolis is playing with his two-year-old brother in their parents’ bedroom. He finds a loaded pistol under their father’s pillow, points it at his brother as one would point a toy gun. His brother is dead. The surviving five-year-old and his parents will never be the same – because a father sought to keep his family safe with the pistol under his pillow.

A mother in Newtown has guns in the home she shares with the disturbed son she loves and seeks to protect from a cruel world. Like so many others in America, the guns were purchased either for safety or for sport, but the results are the antitheses of safety or fun.

Whether in our bedroom at home or in the nation’s Capitol, when the insurance of safety rises to the top of the pyramid of values, death ascends as the power that destroys, the fatal flaw in a natural human instinct toward safety and security.

Freedom and safety are basic human needs. They are American values. Each is important. But neither freedom nor safety is God. Neither one is worthy of enshrinement by itself, and the two of them mixed together make for a Molotov cocktail thrown back into our own bedrooms, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Baghdad, and anywhere else that the concern for safety releases the tragic flaw of the Greek theater, Shakespeare, and the American theatre of the absurd.

Pieta - Michaelangelo

Pieta – Michaelangelo