Author’s Note: since posting this an hour ago it has been brought to my attention that AR does not actually stand for Assault Rifle, it’s a manufacturers label. This may undermine the cleverness of my language, but not the sentiment of my argument.
There’s a favorite quote of mine, from Ralph Ellison, that goes “Personally I am too vindictively American, too full of hate for the hateful aspects of the country, and too possessed by the things I love here to be too long away.”
In summary: “Goddammit I hate this country. Goddammit I love this country.”
It’s that sort of moment for me, right now. Between the unmitigated vitriol of this current election, seeing nasty in-fighting between liberals and the obliteration of sense on the right by the nomination of a staggeringly disturbing candidate, the particularly egregious outcome of the recent Stanford rape trial, the continued intolerance and racial unease happening across the country, and the ongoing-and asinine-debate about the basic human rights of transgendered people, it was already poised to be a long, hot, tense, summer.
Then Orlando happened. A clusterfuck of gun policy, LGBT equality, and fear over Islamic Extremism. Like the worlds worst political emotional combo platter of hate. At first the focus was on the presumption that the shooter was a home-grown extremist, with allegiance to both ISIS and Hizbollah (which, if you pay attention to these things, isn’t really possibly, from an ideological standpoint). But then we learned that he wasn’t really very religious, and sort of forgot to announce that until the middle of his rampage. But still, he had a vaguely “Muslim sounding name” (I’m not making this up), so we might as well assume he’s a terrorist. And to be clear, he was. But not out of that ideology.
And it came out that the shooter had a profile up on a gay dating app, and was a regular patron of Pulse. The picture came into better focus, of a homophobia internalized and then disastrously, tragically outwardly expressed-but not really because he practiced some sort of extreme form of radical Islam, as fear mongers would have us believed. Pitching two marginalized communities against one another, as delicious as it would be for Fox News ratings, wasn’t going to stick. The sad truth is that the shooter most likely did this because he hated himself, and couldn’t live with it. The fact that he had to take 50 people with him is…. I won’t say unforgivable, because I believe in a forgiving God. But I will say this: perhaps if this man had grown up feeling like being gay was not only an ok part of who he was, but a part of him to be celebrated, maybe he wouldn’t have hated himself and others to the point of mass murder. Just my arm chair psychology- but I doubt it would hurt in the future to err on the side of love and acceptance. I’m guessing most people who are loved and accepted, who are encouraged to thrive in their identity, don’t do this. So the next time someone asks why we should accept people who are different from us, if none of the other ethical, moral, loving answers work, I might try: so they don’t fucking shoot up a nightclub and kill 50 people.
But at the end of the day, searching for answers as to why people in pain lash out in more pain is only useful before they do something, when they could have access to mental health services, community support, and the help and love of friends and family. And I honestly don’t know anything about the shooter’s situation, so maybe those things were available and he didn’t take them. My hunch, though, is that someone that consumed with hate- self and otherwise- isn’t going to seek out those resources, and the people around him, who have already made it clear he’s not ok the way he is, are unlikely to offer. But he could seek out a gun.
And what a gun it was. But you know what, that’s not really what an AR-15 is. We like to talk about guns in this country like they’re all the same, but they aren’t. AR stands for Assault Rifle. Not defense rifle. Not protecting your home and person rifle. Assault: the act of creating a reasonable fear of bodily harm in another (often mixed up with battery, which is the actual unlawful touching, but in most jurisdictions is now combined). An AR-15 is a killing machine. It is made for killing-people. It is made to destroy anything that comes in it’s path. You don’t use an AR-15 hunting, you would literally rip apart your kill, and you could never eat it or use the pelt. You don’t use an AR-15 for personal protection, because it’s not the kind of weapon ideal for conceal-carry, and unless you are a drug lord or expecting a zombie apocalypse, you do not need that kind of rapid firepower to defend your home or property. I guess I take that back: if I knew you had an AR-15 in your house, I wouldn’t break in. I wouldn’t walk down your block. But you still have semi-auto handguns for that. If a 13 round clip cannot take down your intruder, I again congratulate you on your lucrative cocaine smuggling business.
So this man bought an assault rifle, a killing machine, and he bought it legally. Gun-rights advocates like to trot out the notion that tougher gun laws and restrictions wouldn’t stop criminals. And they’re somewhat right, it wouldn’t stop street thugs and one-off criminals. But is sure as fuck would make it a lot harder for someone who is not part of a gang or other criminal enterprise (or, sadly in the military or police force, where they have them for work) to get their hands on an assault rifle. And what logic is employed where because it would only be a partial solution, so let’s not to anything at all? Aren’t even a few less dead people, including children (because the Sandy Hook shooter used the same weapon, as did the Aurora theater shooter, let us not forget), worth even a partial answer?
The NRA says no. The gun lobby says it’s a slippery slope. I’m reminded now of another favorite writer, this time Aaron Sorkin, through the character of Josh: ““I realize as an adult that not everyone shares my view of the world. And with an issue as hot as gun control, I’m prepared to accept a lot of different points of view as being perfectly valid. But we can all get together on the grenade launcher, right?”
Now we’re at the crux of it, once you get past the dead bodies-if you can look past those. I am a lawyer. I am an American. I believe in the rule of law and believe in the Constitution. You ask me what the 2nd Amendment protects, and I will tell you, though I wish it were not so, that it protects not only the right to keep and bare arms as part of a militia to oppose a tyrannical government, as the founders intended, but the right to keep them for personal protection of yourself, your family, and your property. I don’t like that fact, but there it is. I know it is, because I wrote two different papers and studied countless others trying to prove it was not. I spoke at length with the man who argued the Chicago Gun Case, that made this not just a matter of the Doctrine of Incorporation, but of case law before the Supreme Court. I wish that was not true, but it is. The brief history, though, is that the reconstruction congress wanted to provide freed men- freed slaves- with the right to protect themselves, when the hideous post-slavery Black Codes, depriving them of all manner of rights, to preach, teach, marry, and other basic things, were instituted by the antebellum southern states. So the personal right is there (through the magic of the 14th Amendment equal protection clause), and it was there for a good reason.
But the personal right of bodily and property protection is not what an assault rifle protects. By definition its purpose is not to protect, its purpose is active, not defensive. Its purpose is to assault. It kills people. All guns kills people, but this one does it with unparalleled efficiency. And the Second Amendment does not protect anyone’s right to murder people with unparalleled efficiency. No imagining of the Amendment does that. No historical context of the Amendment does that. Even the first part, the Militia part, talks about the security of a free State- not the active assault of others.
So I believe that reasonable people can disagree on the issue of guns, broadly. I admit I do not like guns, though I grew up around them and I know how to shoot them. But I am not talking from a place of bias. I am talking from a place of reason, and reason, more than anything, is what has always stood in opposition to tyranny, hate, fear, and violence. I do not believe reasonable people can differ on this point about assault weapons, and if you agree, you must act. Start here with the White House petition, then call your congress people, then talk to your friends and family. There is no bravery in hiding behind a misinterpretation of the Constitution, and far, far too many dead bodies.