For years, those who profit from the manufacture and sale of weapons and ammunition have relentlessly campaigned for an interpretation of the Second Amendment that ensures not only the right to bear arms but an entitlement to own them in vast numbers and to include among them weapons and high capacity magazines designed for mass killings. And clearly they have won the debate, as we have willingly, or perhaps unwittingly, allowed ourselves to become a country that is undeniably awash in guns, including those capable of killing large numbers of people in an instant.
In fact, their success in promoting their constitutional view is so complete that it is difficult to counter the argument that guns need to be readily available so that people can protect themselves — indeed, protect themselves from other people with guns in a nation where we have made such weapons so remarkably plentiful: Flood our communities with guns, make people of afraid, and then use their fear to recruit advocates for the belief that any restriction on weapons deprives them of a right to self-protection. A perfect circle — the well-armed law abiding public protecting itself from the well-armed law breakers. Never mind if innocents sometimes die in the cross-fire. They are mere collateral damage in the larger issue of adhering to the Constitution's mandate.
Whenever tragic mass shootings occur, as they do here with a frequency unheard of anywhere else on earth, officials tell us not to penalize the law-abiding gun owner but, instead to enforce the laws that we have to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable. Yet the enormous availability of weapons continues to make them routinely accessible to those with designs on doing harm.
Defenders of the gun status quo will, without fail, offer their thoughts, prayers and condolences to those who lose their lives or lose a loved one or have their lives forever shattered by a burst of AR-15 fire. But they will, nevertheless, argue that we must protect gun ownership and availability in the face of such lawlessness. And so nothing changes, regardless of the fact that the argument has created a culture in which parents can never know if sending their children to school in the morning will mean that they may be gun-downed before the day is over.
But what of those other rights? The simple right to go to school or a concert or a movie. The basic right not to have to live in fear. The fundamental right to the peaceful pursuit of one's own happiness and ambitions. Have we so inundated ourselves with weapons that we must sacrifice those rights on the altar of self-protection? Is the saturation of our communities with guns so complete that there is simply no turning back to the more peaceful time when we could reap all the benefits of walking out the door rather than locking ourselves behind it?
The answers to those questions are not a matter of constitutional interpretation. They are about who we are as a people and the lives we want for ourselves, our families and our neighbors. One thing is abundantly clear: No leadership has emerged with the capacity to combat our epidemic of violence and the empowerment given to it by our gun policies. If we continue on this course, no stockpile of weapons can save us.
Raymond Daniel Burke, a Baltimore native, is a shareholder in a downtown law firm. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.