Editorial: Time to amend the Constitution

Enough. Time to amend the Constitution.

Let’s begin the long cumbersome process of amending the United States Constitution to clear up the language on the right to bear arms, so the purchase and possession of weapons can indeed be “well regulated,” the words that the famed — or infamous — Second Amendment to the Constitution uses to describe the militias of armed farmers that the founders envisioned protecting the nation from invasion, or overreach by the federal government.

After last weekend — with two more in the long sickening line of “active shooter” incidents in which some lunatic with a gun slaughters the innocent for no good reason — it’s time for those Americans who are not excessively in love with guns to take steps to better protect themselves, and the rest of the general population. America needs protection from individuals who are mentally ill enough to go randomly shooting and killing total strangers, but can still easily get their hands on guns — not just on guns but on serious military weapons like the AR-15s that so frequently seem to be the weapons of choice among violent psychopaths.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution, the heart of the argument so often used against stronger gun laws, says: “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.”

A lot of things have changed since it was ratified in 1791.

Back in the day, people lived closer to true wilderness where dangerous animals were abundant. People hunted for food. In some areas people were concerned that the continent’s original inhabitants — from whom the land was, arguably, being stolen — might pose a threat to safety and security. Back then most people had firearms, and knew very well how to use them. Many of these things are true today for some people, but not the case for many others. Life has changed.

It wasn’t until the Civil War era that muzzle-loaders and single-shot guns began to be replaced in general usage by multi-shot weapons that don’t need to be reloaded after each firing.

In a world where everyone was armed, and nearly all guns had to be reloaded after each shot, a crazed individual with a firearm didn’t have the same ability that today’s psychopaths do to easily slaughter vast numbers of innocent people before being stopped. Today, a crazy person with an AK-47-type weapon can go to some public place like a shopping mall or a concert or school, start mowing down unarmed civilians, and keep it up until the police have arrived and somehow put a stop to it — probably by shooting the shooter.

There are counterarguments. “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” And if the government and its army have a monopoly on firearms, what is civil society’s defense against the government?

But gun advocates’ image of armed civilians defending freedom against a renegade government is more a dangerous fantasy than a reasonable means to check government overreach. A more likely defense against some power mad chief executive being declared president-for-life is the army saying: “No way!”

People say the problem is mental illness, not the availability of guns. Well, both are certainly problems. But while gun control measures may be difficult to pass, there is simply no way to outlaw mental illness — leaving gun regulation as the way to reduce gun violence.

The right of civilians to bear arms doesn’t need to be taken away, but it does need to be limited — as are many other rights, from the right to drive to the right to vote to the right of free speech. Bearing arms should not be an unrestrained right.

Something has to be done. With 29 fatalities from mass shootings last weekend at a Walmart in El Paso and a night-life district in Dayton, Ohio, the toll of people killed in shootings with three or more victims rose to over 57 so far in 2019 — with another five months of the year still to go. And the horror seems to be happening more and more.

A database of mass shootings kept by Mother Jones magazine counts 114 shootings in which three or more people were killed since 1982. Including last weekend’s El Paso and Dayton bloodbaths, the toll of those shootings is 932 people killed and 1,406 wounded.

Private ownership and reasonable use of firearms by civilians need not be outlawed. But it should be regulated. Today, it’s far too easy to buy guns, own guns, resell guns. The nation is awash in guns. These weapons are designed for the purpose of killing, and they shouldn’t just be bought, sold and floating around like cars, lamps, radios, kids’ toys. Guns should be regulated — more regulated.

It’s not an easy thing to do, amending the Constitution. Next year Americans will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of another amendment, the 19th, giving women the right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement dates back to the mid-1800s — the Seneca Falls convention viewed as a starting point of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. took place in 1848. Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.

Yes, the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution — in an amendment. And the founders wisely put in place a process for further amending the now revered document. With a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, and approval of the amendment by three-fourths of the states, the Constitution can be changed, the Second Amendment can be changed.

Far too easily, and too often, individuals who are both embittered and insane get their hands on powerful firearms — often military-style assault weapons — then go to some public place, and kill as many innocent strangers as they can.

That’s a problem that cries out for action.

Let’s amend the Constitution again — as has been done 27 times — and clarify that bearing arms is a right that needs to be well regulated.