History, History Column

Guns vs Non-Violence

By ©2023 Sarah Becker

June 15, 2007: “Reaffirming the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence, and desiring to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence, The United Nations General Assembly observe[s] the International Day of Non-Violence on October 2.” The Day is “an occasion to ‘disseminate the message of non-violence.’”

 “Non-violence is a weapon of the strong,” India’s Mahatma Gandhi [1869-1948] said.

America’s gun violence statistics speak for themselves. Said Alexandria police Chief Don Hayes: “The amount of crimes being committed with guns, I’ve never seen it at this multitude.” Guns, it seems, are a power tool: hand or untraceable ghost, assault or semiautomatic.

“Gun ownership and gun homicide rates are high in the United States,” the Council on Foreign Relations said. “Mass shootings in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom prompted those governments to tighten gun laws.”

“Recent years have seen some of the worst gun violence in U.S. history,” the Council continued. “In 2021 guns killed more than 45,000 Americans…and the upward trend is on track to continue.” The total number of Americans killed by gun violence between January 1 and September 11, 2023 [254 calendar days]: 30,104. Sadly, gun violence is now the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teen-agers.

According to a 2017 Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey “the United States, with less than 5% of the world’s population, has 40% of the world’s civilian-owned guns…is number one in firearms-per-capita, 120.5 per 100 people.” As disturbing, “the U.S. has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate of the world’s most-developed nations.” The number of U.S. homicides as of September 11, 2023: 13,340.

“Places with the highest U.S. gun murder rates in 2021 included [in descending order] the District of Columbia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and New Mexico,” Pew Research reported. “Those with the lowest gun murder rates included Massachusetts, Idaho, Hawaii, Utah and Iowa.”

The Second Amendment, the U.S. Bill of Rights: “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.”

The U.S. Supreme Court did not grant individuals the right to own guns until 2008 [District of Columbia v. Heller, 5-4]. “The two sides in this case have set out very different interpretations of the Amendment,” U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia [1986-2016] wrote. “Petitioners and today’s dissenting Justices believe that it protects only the right to possess and carry a firearm in connection with militia service. Respondent argues that it protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

“Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem,” the five Justices decided. “That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.” Only in the United States, Mexico and Guatemala is gun ownership a constitutional right.

“We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed,” Gandhi believed. “But we must keep nonviolence as a goal.”

Gun ownership regulations vary. More than 175 of the world’s countries allow their citizens to own guns. Seventeen do not, North Korea included.

“As I am convinced that no other Method can be used to raise 2000 Men but by draughting [French and Indian War]; I hope to be excused, when I again repeat, how great Care should be observed in choosing active Marksmen,” provincial militiaman George Washington wrote in 1756.

“George Washington’s understanding of what we now often call ‘gun rights’ would not seem to readily square with the views of today’s contending factions,” Jeffrey L. Zvengrowski Assistant Editor of the Washington Papers explained. “He does not appear to have thought that every citizen possessed an unlimited individual right to bear arms.”

“The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun,” Michael Waldman author of the Second Amendment: A Biography, President of the Brennan Center for Justice wrote in 2014. “There is not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation in [James] Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the ratification debates in the states. Nor did the U.S. House of Representatives discuss the topic as it marked up the Bill of Rights.”

Four times between 1876 and 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court “declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected gun ownership outside the context of a militia.” As the Tennessee Supreme Court put it in 1840—Aymette v. State, 21 Tenn.—“The words ‘to bear arms’ have reference to their military use, and were not employed to mean wearing them about the person as part of the dress. To bear arms in defense of the state is to employ them in war.”

“To hold that the Legislature could pass no law…by which to preserve the public peace, and protect our citizens from the terror which a wanton and unusual exhibition of arms might produce…would be to pervert a great political right to the worst of purposes,” the Tennessee Supreme Court continued.

“Suppose it were to suit the whim of a set of ruffians to enter the theatre in the midst of the performance, with drawn swords, guns, and fixed bayonets, or to enter the church in the same manner, during service, to the terror of the audience, and this were to become habitual; can it be that it would be beyond the power of the Legislature to pass laws to remedy such an evil?” the Tennessee Supreme Court asked. “Surely not.”

Yet the Tennessee Legislature failed to pass a requested Red Flag Law five months after Nashville’s March 2023 Covenant school mass shooting.

Unlike Tennessee the New York State legislature responded quickly to Buffalo’s May 2022 supermarket mass shooting. Their June 6 legislative package included “bills to prohibit semiautomatic rifle sales to people under 21; ban body armor sales outside of select professions, and strengthen the Red Flag Law.” Then, to the amazement of many, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned New York’s 2022 restricted gun carry law [New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, 6-3].

The Bruen decision was a game changer. “Only after the ratification of the Second Amendment in 1791 did public carry restrictions proliferate,” the six U.S. Supreme Court Justices concluded. “None of these restrictions imposed a substantial burden on public carry analogous to that imposed by New York’s restrictive licensing regime.”

New York State has regulated the public carry of handguns since 1905, if not before. Wrote U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas [1991- ] on behalf of the majority: “Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command.’”

According to the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review [UPR] is a process “through which the human rights records of the United Nations’ 193 Member States are reviewed and assessed,” a process which examines the fulfillment of each member country’s human rights obligations and commitments. The U.N. conducted its last United States UPR in 2015.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence contends the U.N.’s UPR, as submitted by the U.S. government, “did not contain a single reference to the epidemic of gun violence.” The Center found it “perplexing, especially given that the United States is party to several international human rights instruments imposing a duty to protect.”

“Despite these obligations, the U.S. government has failed to take basic actions to protect individuals from gun violence,” the Giffords Center wrote the U.N. Human Rights Council: The total number of U.S. gun violence deaths in 2020: 43,742.

Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords [AZ-D, 2007-2012] founder of the now Giffords Center was the target of a 2011 assassination attempt. A Fulbright Scholar, she was shot in the head. “Women in the U.S.,” the Center claims, “are 21 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other high income countries.”

The U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed its “concern” and “called on the U.S. to pursue efforts to reduce gun violence on minorities, women and children…including through the continued pursuit of legislation requiring background checks for all private firearms transfers.”

The U.S. Congress has made some progress. Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, P.L. 117-159 in June 2022. Said Pew Research one year later: “49% of U.S. adults say gun ownership increases safety by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves: an identical share says it reduces safety by giving too many people access to firearms and increasing misuse.”

“The Court’s opinion [District of Columbia v. Heller] should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” Associate U.S Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia reminded.

In September 2023 California lawmakers imposed an 11% sales tax on both firearms and ammunition. Governor Newsom’s call: for the California legislature’s Right to Safety Amendment to become federal law—the Constitution’s 28th Amendment. Like the worn down ERA, the multi-state road to passage will be long.

Responsible, as defined by the American Heritage dictionary: “Liable to be required to give account for something; Involving personal accountability.” To what extent is today’s gun industry and or lobby liable, are gun owners accountable for the increases in gun violence?

The total number of mass shootings as of September 11, 2023 Jacksonville, Florida’s hate crime included: 496.

About the Author: Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes