An article on the eve of the Never Again march in Washington kept quoting students observing that the “system is rigged.” A rigged system would deny their right to speech and petition. But, on one level they are right.
Constitutional freedoms that allow marches, posters and chants also allow people and companies with enormous capital, the same access. Let’s use gun control illustratively.
First, the Constitution, in an 18th Century context, protects the right to own a gun. The framers were thinking of the right of people to rise up against concentrated power, as happened in our Revolutionary War.
Now almost 250 years later, and generations of gun technology later, an ideology has been successfully shaped by the NRA that has subordinated, implicitly, the freedom to think straight.
Vaclav Havel, the cerebral force behind the Velvet Revolution, showed with absolute clarity how the Soviet system of mind control worked. The Soviets used the phrase “Workers of the World Unite” to give its domination an emotional center. In fact, the Soviets subordinated hundreds of millions to the dominant bureaucracy that ruled the Soviet Union and Warsaw Bloc nations. The last thing the Soviet hierarchy wanted was for the workers of the world to actually unite.
In the United States, the NRA has been no less successful with most Republicans and many Democrats. The NRA warps the Constitution by insisting that the right to bear arms (virtually any arms) is absolute. Then they supply the necessary political weapons: money and single issue voters. Regardless of how contorted some of its claims are, millions have signed on for a variety of reasons having little to do with the underlying rationale of protecting Americans from home grown oppressive power.
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in a recent op-ed, said we need to amend the constitution’s Second Amendment, which reads: “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.”
Constitutional amendments are as difficult as reviving a person from cryogenic sleep. What we need are Supreme Court Justices that will yield to common sense, but first they have to be presented with something that makes sense.
The Second Amendment was not intended to make the use of a 21st Century weapon easier than a smart phone. The latter requires either a digital or biometric password and is indelibly linked to its owner. Nothing is more personal than a smart phone; the same should be true of a gun. Personalizing a gun does not guarantee responsibility, but it links irresponsibility with potentially dire consequences and evidence of culpability.
There was a time when I was an NRA member to support their gun safety program. I am a hunter and know the potential for horrendous accidents when a gun is used carelessly.
I also know that today we provide more protection for waterfowl than we do for humans — a lot more. Legally, waterfowl hunters must plug their gun so that only three shells can be fired without re-loading. And there are game wardens in the field to enforce hunting restrictions.
The emotional dial has been moved by frequent mass shootings and youthful leadership. The NRA notwithstanding, I believe the next three years will bring major changes in gun control. My principal recommendation: personalize gun ownership.
I hope as well that the Hollywood types that were so evident during the marches will bring pressure to stop nihilistic video games (I am not optimistic).
Finally, while I believe the Never Again movement is encouraging, it seems inclined to dismiss efforts at compromise. The NRA successes have been sustained by a bipartisan coalition. Cycles that favor the right or left will not end; bipartisan laws have continuity.
Al Sikes’ leadership helped shape the arc of 21st century communication technologies from positions as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and then President of Hearst New Media. In 2004, the Manhattan Institute chose Sikes as one of eight winners of the Social Entrepreneurship Award for having founded READ ALLIANCE, which trains teenagers to tutor children with reading deficiencies. Sikes second book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow was recently published by Koehler Books.