Advertisement

Allan Powell: Dead bodies still fail to move lawyers

March 29, 2013|By ALLAN POWELL

A story reported in the history of Pennsylvania is tragically being repeated today.

As Euro-American settlers advanced into Indian territory, American Indians retaliated with fire, tomahawks and arrows. The frontier residents pleaded with the Colonial legislature in Philadelphia for protection — to no avail. In desperation, the settlers carried dead bodies to the city and deposited them on the sidewalk in hopes that such drama would get a change. This, too, failed because the Assembly was dominated by Quakers who, as pacifists, would not allocate funds for forts and armaments.

It took a clever maneuver to turn things around. An order was threatened that would have required all members to swear under oath their loyalty to the King before they could take their seat. Since they were, by religious custom, forbidden to take any oath, they resigned and opened the door for non-pacifists to replace them. Protection then became available. Quakers believed that the proper approach was to befriend the Indians to stop their incursions. The idea was unrealistic as long as settlers invaded Indian hunting grounds.

In a somewhat similar way, we are repeating history — albeit in a modern setting. We have repeated cases of dead bodies lying on the floors of schools, theaters and other public places. It was truly saddening to reflect on the latest brutality in which a lone gunman, in less than five minutes, unloaded 152 bullets, killing 26 people in a public school in Connecticut. There is a distinct possibility that legislators will be unmoved yet again.

The early justification for inaction was a reverence to a noble (but impractical) ideal —  pacifism. The recent justification also rests on reverence to an ideal — the Second Amendment. The present course of virtual inaction could well be a deliberate case of misinterpretation of that important clause. It reads as follows: “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.” The critical term, of course, is “infringed.”

The dictionary defines infringed as: “violate or transgress,” “encroach or trespass.” When a national legislature passes a much-needed regulation for public safety, it is an abuse of language to designate the term as “violate” or “trespassing.” In other words, there is nothing in the Second Amendment to prohibit a ruling that a gun can only carry eight or 10 bullets or that a military-sized assault gun is unacceptable. None of these rules, if passed, would interfere with a hunter's capacity to hunt.

Why then, are lawmakers so timid about passing laws that would help control the mindless loss of life and the crippling damage to the innocent bodies of helpless children? I have been a longtime user of the law of parsimony or simplicity. This maxim recommends that “of two or more rival hypotheses — always choose the simpler.” The simplest choice in this case, is also the most obvious: money.

The latest brutality in Sandy Hook is but another chapter in the story of spineless neglect on the part of lawmakers. We endure their excuses ad nauseam as to why even the gentlest regulation is out of the question. Members of both state and federal legislatures wax eloquent about their deepest sympathy for the victims and then dutifully quote the senseless platitude, “guns don’t kill — people kill.”

The real problem though is money.

The money to block any reform in gun regulation is in the leadership of the National Rifle Association. They, and gun manufacturers, have at their disposal enough potential campaign contribution funds to keep most lawmakers in line, either by gifts or by fear. We are naive indeed if we can’t see this simple fact.

A Colonial politician, Fisher Ames, made a profound statement when he declared that, “A lie could travel from Maine to Georgia while truth was still trying on its boots.” When updated, he would now assert that a lie could travel through 50 states, the District of Columbia and several dependent territories while truth couldn't even find its boots. We need to be reminded that history is again being re-enacted — dead bodies are unable to change the mind of legislators. Even worse, we do not appear to find a clever way to maneuver around the obstacles as they did in earlier days.

Because the present composition of the House of Representatives has a dominance of radical right politicians, there is little chance of gun control reform. This means that it would take an exceptional surge of courage on the part of moderates to get the needed reforms. This is most unlikely.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

Advertisement
The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|