Silence Can Be Dangerous

Until recently, I had not realized just how deadly silence can be.

In the wake of the Orlando shootings, the US House of Representatives held a moment of silence with the intention of honoring the fallen. However, a number of House Democrats protested. They knew that silence would not help anyone. They knew that they owed action.

One of these Congresspeople, Seth Moulton (D-MA 6th), knows the devastating power of modern firearms well—after being educated at Harvard and the Kennedy School of Government, he served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was a Captain in the Marines and the aide to General Petraeus, and received decorations for bravery in action. (Some are already saying he may be the second coming of George Washington!) After the Orlando shooting, he knew he could not be silent and wrote that no private citizen has the need or right to own and operate a military-style weapon.

We often teach children that silence is a virtue, but it may not be. The true virtue is knowing when to raise your voice.

Moulton and the other protestors showed courage by speaking up for Americans, over two-thirds of whom favor some form of increased gun control, at a time when the NRA, one of America’s most powerful lobbying groups, demands silence.

The fact is that the Second Amendment says that citizens have “the right to bear arms”, but that has generally been misinterpreted. The NRA wants us to think that the Founders intended that all citizens have an absolute Constitutional right to carry whatever guns they like, when in fact—and all the relevant history supports this view—all that it was intended to mean was that citizens (in those days, just men) had the right to join a militia and use arms in that role.

The NRA has unfortunately been able to control the debate over the Second Amendment, allowing their vocal and well-funded minority to defeat even the least restrictive common-sense measures. Now so many Democrats, Republicans, and Independents dance to the NRA’s tune that Congressional leaders refuse to allow votes on gun issues out of the fear of the political consequences to their members.

The silences that fill the halls of power has become a serious threat to the very fabric of our social order.

It may take something resembling a social revolution to overturn the grip of the NRA on the safety of our population—after all, American history is bound up with the gun in a way unique among modern industrialized democracies—the Wild West and the frontier culture it created may have birthed the American love affair with the gun.

Even so, there is already an instrument—useful and even essential, but potentially deadly—for which we already accept plenty of government regulation, despite its importance to American life and culture. That instrument is, of course, the car.

Not all Americans who want a driver’s license can get one. There are a number of baseline requirements: eyesight, physical ability, knowledge of the rules of the road. We make people take courses and tests before they can get behind a wheel. We require that most drivers have insurance. We permit the government to regulate car manufacturers and even demand that cars meet safety standards.

So why can we not accept a similar degree of control over firearms?

The NRA claims that guns do not kill—people do, but the same ridiculous (and circular) reasoning applies to vehicles, which is why government has properly interceded to protect its citizens.

To defeat the NRA, we have to take on the idea of an ABSOLUTE RIGHT to own a gun, but if ALL qualified and tested people are granted the right to own a gun suitable for a legitimate purpose, one can argue that the alleged Second Amendment right to bear arms has not been infringed upon at all. After all, the Amendment specifies that a militia be “well regulated”. A Supreme Court case on that issue would be very helpful, as all Judges are (at least in theory) immune to the NRA’s influence.

In an effort to curtail mass shootings, a new proposal is being put forward to outlaw large clips and magazines. Limiting magazine size might be a useful step, as it would likely make mass shootings more difficult by requiring a shooter to pause to reload. But it is much too limited and feeble and the basic problems would remain largely unaddressed.

In practice, however, the NRA surely will vehemently oppose any attempts at meaningful gun legislation, including limiting magazine size, and our silence is their boon.

If we want better gun control, we need to end our silence.

We need a new, highly-visible, and well-funded (Mike Bloomberg, here is a great new opportunity for you!)  gun-control advocacy  group to mount a powerful and vocal campaign to “Make America Safe from Guns”.

Let’s end the NRA-powered silence and give our many voices a chance to work for all the people in the USA.


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