A friend of mine wrote something on my Facebook page today that gave me pause: "Think of this: you cannot buy a 32 ounce soda in New York City, but you can buy a automatic assault rifle because the soda is bad for your health."
I would be hard-pressed to find a more succinct way to consider the disparity we often see within our fragmented American agenda.
If we Americans have learned anything from the countless, senseless tragedies we have faced as a nation, it is that death at the hands of another is extremely personal and far too real. There were real, alive people in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. There were bone-crushing, blood-loss-ing, life-ruining and life-ending bullets in the weapons the suspect fired. There were and are real consequences all of us face because of our "freedom" to keep and bear arms.
The Constitution missed the boat on more than a few things, which our nation has attempted to right by Amendments and other local, state and federal legislative provisions. Slavery is wrong. Women should be allowed to vote. If we were to consider the list of federal, state and local laws that have been enacted (including more that need to and hopefully will come) so we actually become the more perfect union our forefathers had hoped for us, the list would be endless.
The nation's early leadership might have believed in the notion to keep and bear arms for good reason, but we've interpreted it incorrectly for well over a hundred or so years since. Our 1700s idea of personal protection has become an intimate and real present-day public threat. Our Constitution's key assurance, the inalienable right of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and the right to carry a firearm cannot successfully co-exist. How would Thomas Jefferson have known about an AK47 with a 100-round magazine? Our first leaders simply had no idea what the world could build.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has used the argument that those who want real gun control measures put into place secretly want to take guns out of the hands of hunters. What an amazingly dangerous smoke screen that is. I have known a fair amount of hunters in my life, and not one of them has ever used a handgun or an automatic weapon to kill a deer. I know people who use guns responsibly, and believe the vast majority do. Still, I cannot endorse their (or any other responsible individual's) rights to carry handguns and automatic weapons when innocent people in America, every second of every day, end up on the wrong end of a bullet.
The preamble of our Constitution begins, "We the People". We. All of us. We have to do things that are for our population's common good, even when such things are not what we would personally prefer.
The first lines of it are:
We the People, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
These first words were meant to lead us. Our country was to be one that afforded justice for all of its citizens. Tranquility. Common (not individual) defense. General welfare. We were formed as a nation to ensure all of the blessings of liberty would exist for all of us.
You cannot be free when you are an innocent victim, dying on the floor of a movie theater. You can't be free when you're the man in Iowa working the late shift at 7-11 who is robbed at gunpoint, the grandmother of three in South Central Los Angeles who was the unintended target of the drive-by, or the 6-year-old child in New Jersey who didn't realize the gun he found was real before he pointed it. There is no freedom in such things.
The Freedom to keep and bear arms in 2012 is not what our Constitution and our Founding Fathers had intended for us over 200 years ago. Not by an automatic long shot.
Sarah O'Leary is a writer, licensed minister, and an issues-based independent. She can be reached via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.