Second Chances

I’m a little tired of this.  I’m guessing you are, too.

We’re living in very strange times.  I’ll have more to say about that – from a big picture perspective – soon.  But for now, let’s stay focused.

There have been eight school shootings so far in 2018.  Taking out weekends, when they don’t happen, that’s one every four days, or more than one a week.  They’ve become so routine that you probably don’t know about any of them other than the one in Florida this week.  I certainly don’t.

What’s wrong with us that we allow this to go on?

After the Las Vegas massacre (Remember that? It’s rapidly fading?), the disgraced and disgraceful Bill O’Reilly said, “That’s the price of freedom.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Or more ignorant.

It’s a sound, solid, conservative principle that when the need for a law or government program goes away, the law or program should go away, too.

Stay with me. And please know that everything that follows can be validated with very simple Google searches.  Like “Why do we have a Second Amendment.”

The notion that the Second Amendment exists in order to allow fiercely independent Americans to protect themselves and their property from marauders and from the risk of government oppression is a myth.  It has far more to do with John Ford westerns than with anything the Founders said.

The fact (which is a stubborn thing, according to Founder John Adams) is that the Founders put the Second Amendment into the Constitution because they didn’t want to create a standing army.  That’s why the amendment starts with the language about a “well-regulated public militia.”  And it’s why they disbanded the Continental Army immediately upon the end of the Revolutionary War.

What were they afraid of?  They were afraid that a standing Federal army might threaten or overwhelm the states.  (Remember, the word “state” actually means “country,” as in “Department of State.”  The United States was initially a federation of 13 separate countries.)

They were also afraid that a standing Federal army might threaten the Federal government, itself.

So they decided that if armies were needed, they would rather that let the states raise them on the spot through militias.  You kept your musket at home, and if Virginia or Massachusetts called, you came.

In short, the Founders did not put create the Second Amendment in order to protect the people from an oppressive government.  They created it to protect the government from what they feared would be an oppressive army.

Well, the standing army that was disbanded after the Revolutionary War was re-established in the War of 1812, and we’ve had one ever since.  We’ve had a very large standing army since WWI, and a really, really large standing army since WWII.

In other words, that train left the station a long, long time ago.  So long ago that it wasn’t even a train.  It was a horse leaving a barn.

Here’s what the idiocracy of the O’Reillys don’t understand.

The foundation of American liberty is the notion that your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.  Before there was a Bill of Rights, there was a statement of three “inalienable” rights with which we are all endowed.  The first of those is Life.  Notice that they put Life before Liberty.  Why? Perhaps because liberty without life is a non sequitur.

17 people, most of them children, were permanently deprived of their right to life this week.  In October, 58 people in Las Vegas were similarly deprived.  Only 5 weeks after that, 26 people were deprived of their right to life in a church in Texas.  The list goes on and on.

If you consider all shootings in which four or more people wounded or dead, they happen in this country at the rate of nearly one a day.

This – and I’m not going out on a limb here – is crazy.  As The Onion famously said (sadly, four years ago), “‘No Way To Prevent This’ Says Only Country Where This Happens.”

We all know why it happens.  Gun manufacturers fund the NRA, and the NRA uses that money to threaten Congressmen/women and Senators if there’s even a whiff of gun control.  None of this is a secret.  It’s not about liberty at all.  It’s about money, manipulation and tragedy.

This is a solvable problem.  We don’t have the will to solve it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t solvable.  Here’s a formulation that would work:

First, repeal the Second Amendment.  Yup.  S*!#-can it.  Like I said, conservatism calls for the repeal of laws that have outlived their original purpose.  This one is 200 years obsolete.

Second, change our mindset from one of “You have a right to own a gun unless we can find (without looking very hard) an overwhelming reason why you shouldn’t” to one of “In order to buy a gun, you have to prove that you can own it responsibly.”

We could enforce that mindset by requiring three things of anyone who wants to own a gun:

  • Before you can buy a gun, you have to pass the same background check required to obtain a Top Secret security clearance. (Don’t be alarmed.  Top Secret is only the second rung on the security clearance ladder.)  And you have to pay the actual cost of that investigation.
  • Before you purchase, and every year thereafter, you have to obtain a certification from a licensed mental health professional that you are of sufficiently sound mind to own a firearm. No mental health professional who is a gun owner him- or herself will be allowed to provide such certifications.  You have to pay for that evaluation.
  • Just like you do with your car, you have to maintain liability insurance in case your gun is used (by you or anyone else) to do harm to other persons or property. Not only would this create a whole new insurance market, which would be good for the economy, it would actually price the risk of gun ownership.  Of course, you have to pay for that insurance.

That would do it.

We could also simply outlaw weapons capable of rapid firing, which is what the Australians did in 1996.  They did this after a single mass shooting incident because they couldn’t imagine not taking action.  And a bunch of fiercely proud, independent Australians were patriotic enough, and other-oriented enough, that they turned in their guns.  Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting incident since.  Meanwhile, we have one a day.  Again, facts are stubborn things.

We have a second chance to get this right.  The 535 invertebrates who represent us in Washington won’t do it unless we collectively make it clear to them that we’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.  We probably won’t because collectively we are more persuaded by tv ads and the Bill O’Reillys of the world than by reason and fact.

But we should.

And we should remember that this week there are 14 more children who won’t get a second chance.  And those are just the ones we know about.

5 thoughts on “Second Chances

  1. Hi Dan, Thanks for writing this. I greatly enjoyed it. If you post this to a site somewhere I will gladly tweet it to my 20,000 followers.

    I¹d like to offer some ideas to help you continue writing and talking about this topic. Firstly I agree wholeheartedly that less than 1% of Americans know why the 2nd Amendment was created, or its intent. Your history lesson is worthwhile. Don¹t hesitate to keep telling it, because you are thoroughly correct that the 2nd Amendment has no basis for remaining given that we will now, forever, have a standing army with more power than each state¹s national guard or militia. It¹s a big hill to climb, but the only thing stopping us from scaling it is pure ignorance. And I like to think ignorance can be fixed (while stupid is forever.)

    Second, I enjoyed your discussion about the financial cause of widespread gun ownership. I believe you could be aided by an analogy to the opiod epidemic. The pharma industry wanted to sell more opiod¹s, so they claimed they were safe and promoted their use. They lobbied with lots of money and got their way. Now we have a huge addicted population. The gun industry keeps saying guns are safe, and we now have a huge problem with murders. We could go down the tobacco road, and it isn¹t any different (cigarettes are safe, la, la, la.) Americans need to be educated to the fact that it is industry leaders who push safety while promoting products that kill people. Why are we allowing this to happen.

    In these instances we allow our politicians to be bought off by industries that fund campaigns. Just as you recommend repealing the second amendment, we desperately need campaign finance reform. ³Citizens United² made the problem much, much worse by allowing unlimited contributions from industry to campaigns ­ which allows industry leaders to buy politicians and thus control the law-making process. We need legislation that overturns ³Citizens United² and moves us from elections based on millions of spending on ads toward an education process for voters.

    I hope my feedback represents the positiveness I have for your column, and perhaps helps you think about even more arguments for significant changes to our gun laws.

    Keep up the good work!

    Adam Hartung

    From: “Carp Diem (Fish of the Day!)” Reply-To: “Carp Diem (Fish of the Day!)” Date: Friday, February 16, 2018 at 7:14 AM To: Adam Hartung Subject: [New post] Second Chances Dan Wallace posted: “I¹m a little tired of this. I¹m guessing you are, too. We¹re living in very strange times. I¹ll have more to say about that ­ from a big picture perspective ­ soon. But for now, let¹s stay focused. There have been eight school shootings so far in 201”

    1. Hi Adam, and thanks for your kind comments. I agree with you about the opioid parallel. In both it and the gun case, there’s an underlying root cause. With guns, it’s the mythology of the Second Amendment. With opioids, it’s a large and growing population of disaffected lower middle class people who are self-medicating as their lives continue to circle the drain. I’ll be writing about that soon.

      I’d be delighted to have you share this with your Twitter followers. A specific link to the post is Please let me know if that’s something you can use. If not, we’ll figure out something else.

  2. Dan- Your position is well thought out and well reasoned. My hats off to you.

    I would however take exception to your conclusion that the amendment was added so that “They created it to protect the government from what they feared would be an oppressive army.” While logical, I don’t think the history of the right to bear arms going all the way back to English common law supports that position so definitively. At the time of the convention, there was a palpable and very real fear of tyrants and their oppressors. Common law language is almost all rooted in this right expressed for an individual for his protection and defense. I do not believe the founders feared an oppressive army nearly as much as they feared an oppressive government of corruptible men. The Federalist factions and debate are evidence of that I think. We can agree to disagree on that.

    Assuming one accepts your argument, that the amendment is obsolete and no longer provides value, the proposal to repeal it I think is exactly correct. Unfortunately most of our citizens don’t understand this on multiple levels. Most of the population thinks that something is wrong with the constitution, that somehow time has made parts of it, or maybe all of it irrelevant. We’ve become accustom to the judicial branch making laws when sufficient political or social momentum “demands” that things we no longer like be changed. We live with the consequences of this erosion of the separation of powers and have been on a long slow decline of muddled accountability since the Warren court in the 60’s.

    There is nothing wrong with the constitution. In fact it’s perfect the way it is evidenced by the fact that founders knew full well they’d never anticipate the needs of the citizens 300 years hence, and made ample provisions for it to be changed, as long as an accepted process was followed. Therefore repealing the amendment is the only choice if the nation has such a desire and I would welcome the debate should the country get that far. I would support the effort to put the repeal through the process. I would oppose it’s repeal however on the following grounds.

    1. Gun violence and lawlessness in general is not the issue, it’s the symptom. You know as well as I do that solving issues at the symptomatic level prolongs the pain as the root grows somewhere else. As politically incorrect as it is to say, our collective societal view on the value of life is where our issue really lies. While extremely difficult to solve for, that’s what has to be fixed. How can we justify and codify in law the right to terminate unwanted unborn children in the name of “women’s health” and then turn around and be appalled by the 17 killed who were lucky enough to have 18 years of what our society deemed to be a valuable life? When did we receive the moral clarity about when life is valuable and when it’s not? Because Elizabeth Warren told us? How do we reconcile the rejection in congress of a law to prohibit abortion after 20 weeks gestation in the same week as the Florida shooting? How is it that we can justify the existence of the death penalty in 37 states, the federal government and the military? This is our problem. We value life when it suits us and shows up on TV. When it doesn’t suit us, we rationalize death and treat it like it’s something upon which we have discretion.

    2. When the percentage of the population currently extracting more value from the system than contributes to it rises from where it is at 47% to 51%, I can tell you that’s when you’re going to wish you had a gun because they’ll be coming over the wall to take what we no longer willingly give. That’ll be armageddon. House to house, man to man, food and water will quickly replace bitcoin as the currency of choice. And if you think the federal government will step in and save us from that calamity, just think about where Pelosi, Warren, Sanders and Trump will be. Behind a wall protected by AR15’s with plenty of ammo.

    Take heart though, I’m gonna save some room in my SUV for you and we’re gonna head out to Lopez Island where me and my brother will have plenty of food and water. We’ll also be locked and loaded.

    1. John, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.

      Regarding the reasons behind the Second Amendment, I’m afraid that there’s a difference between “it’s logical,” “they were more concerned,” and what actually happened in the debate. The amendment itself may be the most poorly written sentence of all time, but to the extent of my knowledge, the whole “It’s logical to assume,” and “history of Common Law” thing seems to be standard issue Fox News (sorry) and NRA fodder, while the actual debate was entirely about protecting the sovereignty of the states. Remember that at the time, it was “These United States,” not “The United States.” It was a federation of separate countries. So this was the original States’ Rights provision :-). Google “Why do we have the Second Amendment” and see what you get. Better yet, read Justice Stevens’ opinion from the Heller case (linked to in my post).

      Stevens’ opinion is, admittedly, a dissent. He lost. This was the decision that enshrined the Second Amendment as providing an unfettered right to keep arms for personal use, enjoyment, protection, etc. I find this bizarre because the second half of the amendment is absolutely clear. . .I know exactly what “shall not be infringed” means. Yet we already have all kinds of infringements on the right to keep and bear arms – no automatic weapons, no bazookas, no nukes, and you gotta do a background check, even if it’s complete BS, except when you don’t, etc.

      But if you read Stevens, you’ll see that the court essentially made up a right that the Founders didn’t have in mind at all. Which makes them exactly the kind of activist court you describe. It seems to me that if you don’t like Roe v. Wade, you shouldn’t like Heller either, and for exactly the same reason.

      Where I disagree with you profoundly is around the notion that undervaluing human life in some circumstances means we should undervalue it in others. Lowest common denominator? There is a true and morally difficult debate about when a life becomes “human.” That may sound strange, but I got a great tutorial on it from my religion professor, an ordained Methodist minister, in college. We should have that debate, and we should have it in Congress, where it belongs. But there is no question that those 14 dead children in Florida represent human lives lost. And I doubt that any of their family or friends would consider them lucky in any respect.

      Where I agree with you that we have activist courts that are legislating from the bench. The reason for that is Congress’ utter inability to tackle anything remotely controversial (like common sense controls on gun ownership), and the reason for THAT is that if they do so, we (the people) will vote them out of office. It’s our fault. Which doesn’t justify an activist court. But if the founders screwed up one thing, it’s that they never envisioned Congress having to take things away from people. They envisioned perpetual growth, and they designed an institution that is ingenious in it’s ability to apportion that growth with reasonable fairness over time. They did not envision it every having to go the other way, and it doesn’t know how to do that. Remember the scene with in Animal House about how cows can walk up stairs but they can’t walk down them (“Cows ain’t got no down genes.”) It’s like that. We have kicked declining competitiveness, increasing debt, increasing wealth inequality down the road for 50 years. And THAT is a serious problem we have to solve because not solving it is what will lead to the food riots you fear.


  3. Hello Dan, I continue to be a major advocate of your position on gun rights and the Second Amendment. I hope you continue to write on this topic, and promote your position. We should repeat the 2nd Amendment as we now have a standing army. I am sending you a link to a great supporting article, which I am hoping further encourages your movement. Thanks 016-06-14

    Adam Hartung

    From: “Carp Diem (Fish of the Day!)” Reply-To: “Carp Diem (Fish of the Day!)” Date: Friday, February 16, 2018 at 7:14 AM To: Adam Hartung Subject: [New post] Second Chances Dan Wallace posted: “I¹m a little tired of this. I¹m guessing you are, too. We¹re living in very strange times. I¹ll have more to say about that ­ from a big picture perspective ­ soon. But for now, let¹s stay focused. There have been eight school shootings so far in 201”

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