By Mark C. Poloncarz
October 3, 2017
On October 2, America woke up to the terrible news of the slaughter of innocent concert-goers in Las Vegas. As we all know, 59 persons were murdered and more than 500 injured in a fusillade of bullets that lasted minutes, but must have seemed to be a lifetime to those seeking shelter. A sniper unleashed terror from 32 floors in the sky, ending the lives of dozens of innocent people and destroyed countless families with a rage I will never understand.
As the day progressed we learned the shooter had stockpiled nearly 20 guns in his Mandalay Bay hotel room, many of which were capable of firing as many as 9 rounds a second. Since 1986 the purchase of newly made automatic weapons (an automatic weapon being one in which the squeezing of the trigger releases multiple bullets at a time) has been banned in the United States, though weapons made before the “ban” was enacted can still be purchased. Semi-automatic weapons (squeezing the trigger only releases one bullet) are widely available across the United States and sometimes can be modified to mimic automatic weapons. Regardless of whether the shooter used automatic or semi-automatic weapons, in a very short period of time he murdered in cold blood 59 innocent people and shocked the world.
Our nation’s Constitution is built upon the premise that our laws must protect the individual from the “tyranny of the majority.” In Federalist No. 10, part of the entirety of writings we know today as “The Federalist Papers,” James Madison argued for the passage of the Constitution because a representative republic would best protect against the non-land owning majority of citizens taking action against the minority landed gentry. He feared a true democracy in which everyone has a vote and say in the running of the country.
Federalist No. 10 was often used as the legal argument for not only passage of the Constitution, but the enactment of the first 10 amendments to it – the Bill of Rights – which truly did guarantee many of the rights that form the bedrock of our country. Madison did in fact champion individual liberty, but his reasoning for it might not always be as glorious and “American” as we wish it to be. The common good matters, but not if it conflicts with the minority that actually owned land, property (including slaves) and ran the economy. Thus, protection from the tyranny of the majority was a necessary evil.
But what happens when a right adopted in 1791 is so bastardized that a person in 2017 can legally acquire weapons of mass death and destruction and mow down helpless citizens?
What happens when we are told, repeatedly, we are helpless to stop the slaughter of patrons at a movie theater, party-goers at a club, representatives on a baseball field, attendees at a concert, and, still unbelievably, kindergartners in their classroom because the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is so sacrosanct that it matters more than my or your right to live?
What actually happens is you have tyranny of the minority because it is only a small minority of Americans that support the unfettered right to purchase and own arms which are created for one purpose: the murder of as many people in as short of period of time as possible. Study after study show a large majority of Americans support restrictions that are designed to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.
For example, in June of this year, the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan and highly respected research and polling entity, released the results of a nationwide poll that showed:
• 89% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans favor legislation that prevents the mentally ill from purchasing guns;
• 85% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans favor legislation that prevents gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists;
• 90% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans favor legislation that requires background checks for individuals purchasing guns at private sales and gun shows; and
• 80% of Democrats and even 54% of Republicans favor banning assault weapons.
Yet, none of this legislation can pass through Congress because of the tyranny of the minority represented by the National Rifle Association (NRA), other pro-gun organizations and gun and arms manufacturers, known on Capitol Hill as the “Gun Lobby.” Through the donations it has made, and threats of retribution it will make if representatives do not vote the way they want, the Gun Lobby owns the majority in Congress lock, stock and barrel. They own it so much that the only piece of gun legislation that is presently being considered is not a measure to restrict guns, but a law to legalize silencers.
Our Constitution is a wonderful document, but it is not perfect. Its original construct denied women the right to vote and legalized slavery. Court decisions based on it will change over time. Legal precedent is not carved in stone for all eternity, but can and often change based on the will of the people. That is why the Plessy v. Ferguson decision providing for separate but equal facilities for African-Americans and whites is no longer the law of the land. That is why almost every major law and interpretation of the Constitution has changed over the years, including interpretations of the 2nd Amendment.
The 2nd Amendment is not unlimited. The Supreme Court has held you do not have a right to own a weapon that can inflict mass casualties, like a bazooka, artillery or tank. Banning of assault weapons and other devices that can end so many lives in an instant is constitutionally legal.
So why is it we as a nation continue to offer only our thoughts and prayers when a person opens fire into a crowd? When are we as a nation going to say enough is enough, a civilized society does not permit the massacre of its citizens under the “justified” response that it is the price we pay for freedom?
Common sense gun laws are supported by a large majority of Americans. No one is talking about taking away shotguns or hunting rifles, but prohibiting the sale of weapons of mass death and destruction and preventing those who should not own any gun, like the mentally ill, from having them.
I come from a family of hunters and I have many friends that are hunters. But no matter who I talk to I cannot find anyone who thinks it makes sense to have complete and unfettered access to guns that can kill dozens, perhaps hundreds, in the time it took you to read this paragraph.
It is time we do more than just offer our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families of this senseless gun violence.
It is time we took our nation back from the very few who believe their right to own weapons of mass death and destruction is more important than our right to live.
It is time our nation, as a civilized society, stands up and passes common sense gun laws that prevent those who should not have guns from buying them.
It is time we require all sellers of guns, including unlicensed sellers at shows and through internet sales, to perform background checks for all sales.
It is time we pass legislation that values our unalienable right to life over the right of some person to terrorize us or end our life no matter where we are: at school, a church, a movie theater, or as witnessed in Las Vegas, a concert.
It is time we take back our country from the tyranny of the minority represented by the Gun Lobby.
Mark C. Poloncarz is the Erie County (NY) Executive.
Copyright Mark C. Poloncarz 2017