by Christina Larmon
As the dust settles on last month’s massacre, in which twenty year old Adam Lanza killed his mother and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed teachers, administrators, and a classroom of kindergartners, many of us have tried to create some kind of rationalization for how such an event could occur. What happened?
The events of Sandy Hook have led to a rise in the national conversation on such issues such as our treatment of mental illness, gun violence, and the gun culture. If it takes a village to raise a child, what does that say about the American village which has produced such children as Jared Loughner, James Eagan Holmes, and Adam Lanza?These mass murderers are enigmas to the general American public, as their acts display a wanton disregard for human life. Born of the middle class to white parentage, these criminals lack the normal socio-economic indicators which society identifies as precursors for violent criminal behavior.
Those on the NRA side of the debate believe that stricter gun control policies only serve to disenfranchise the gun owner without creating a detterant for real gun violence which the organization claims occurs on the black market. Gun sales after the Colorado, Arizona, and Connecticut shootings were shown to have spiked as gun owners fear rose. When examining the legal means by which weapons were purchased in this massacre one must begin to question our commitment to the right to bear arms and how it has shaped our American village.
Constitution and Sandy Hook
Here are the facts. “Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 12 others in the 2011 Tucson rampage including former Representative Gabby Giffords, allegedly purchased the 9mm Glock pistol used in the shooting from a Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tuscon of 2010. (Anglen, The Arizona Republic, January 2011) James Eagan Holmes, the alleged shooter of the Colorado mass shooting in July of 2012, purchased a Glock 22 pistol at Gander Mountain shop in Aurora, and six days later bought a Remington Model 870 shotgun at Bass Pro Shops in Denver.” (ABC News, July 2012) Finally Adam Lanza is believed to have obtained the assault rifles and handguns used in the massacre from his mother’s gun collection. All of these weapons were obtained legally under the Second Amendment.
The Constitution is not a suicide pact. The phrase was coined by Justice Robert H Jackson in his 1949 dissenting opinion in the free speech case Termniello v Chicago. “Constitutional restriction on governmental power must be balanced against the primary purpose of the state, which is ensure the protection of its people.” (Posner, Not a Suicide Pact, The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, 2006) The second amendment right to bear arms is often quoted by the National Rifle Association for being an indelible right given to men expressly through the Constitution. However the unabridged version of the amendment, expressly states the contexts in which this right should take place: “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.”
Connecticut has one of the strictest gun laws. With few exceptions, anyone acquiring a handgun in Connecticut, must have an eligibility permit to sell or carry handguns. The Connecticut law also addresses the gun show loophole requiring those purchasing handguns to pass “state and national criminal history checks.”(OLR Report, 2013) Finally state law bans the sale, use, and possession of assault weapons, with the exception of weapons legally acquired before the ban on October 1, 1994, and certain styles manufactured before September 13, 1994. (OLR Report, Rose 2013) Despite these strict restrictions, which are now being advocated on a national level by President Obama’s administration, the massacre still occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Constitution is not a suicide pact. If it was, African Americans would still be considered 3/5ths of a person under the 3/5ths compromise. It is a living breathing document that should grow and evolve with the needs and changing perspectives of the society. The event of Sandy Hook calls us to reexamine the place of the second amendment in twenty-first American society and whether the benefits of private ownership of weapons outweigh the societal costs, including the general loss of life that it has created.