Enough by Al Sikes

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An article on the eve of the Never Again march in Washington kept quoting kids 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 National Rifle Association (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 bi-partisan coalition. Cycles that favor the right or left will not end; bi-partisan laws have continuity.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

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Letters to Editor

  1. Michael Heffron says:

    The last time I checked l found it is legal to hunt geese with a shotgun plugged to allow the loading of only 3 shells but I’m fairly certain that it is illegal to hunt humans regardless of the weapon’ s capability to load even one shell, so, no, geese do not have more protection from firearms than humans. I do, however, agree with the rest of author’s thoughts. I only wish those on either side of this debate would stick to facts and avoid creating false arguments based in, and to elicit, emotion.

  2. Bob Ingersoll says:

    Mr. Sikes,
    Well thought out, as usual.

    Thank you.

  3. James Nick says:

    I hope Mr Sikes is able to hit his target better when he is hunting than he does in his call to “personalize” guns. Our country is awash in guns. It is said that there are now more guns in civilian hands than there are people. Even if every gun going forward was outfitted with smart gun technology, it would be impossible to retrofit the hundreds of millions of weapons that are already in circulation.

    The fact is that the “gun issue” isn’t really about guns and their lethal accessories, per se, anymore. It even transcends arcane arguments over the origins, the meaning, or the wording of the 2nd Amendment. Mr Sikes may as well save his breath. Thanks to the incessant reciting of The Big Lie(1) by NRA propagandists, guns have become the Gadsden Flag of the 21st Century. Guns are near-religious totems of tribal membership. They are at the tip of the spear in the culture wars. Whatever dimension you care to use to characterize the deep divisions in the country today, guns, and the attitude towards them, are the external expression of who people are and what they believe. Guns are now inextricably bound up in the tangled right-wing fantasy world of machismo, status, political ideology, resistance, and freedom. Take your pick.

    At this point, personalizing gun ownership would just be tinkering around the edges. There needs to be more bold and aggressive action. Outlawing weapons of mass destruction like the AR-15 and its clones would be a good start.

    1. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=The%20Big%20Lie

    • Al Sikes says:

      In many respects I agree, including banning assault weapons. But, here is where I disagree. A compelling case can be made for the personalization of weapons and that can begin to move the dial in unanticipated ways. Plus we need to act for tomorrow, not just for today.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      You are so right. Guns have replaced the Bible for millions of people. This is cultural and people have wrapped themselves in an erroneous second amendment argument. These people cannot therefore have a rational discussion about guns until we can
      get rid of the all or nothing argument they cling to. This has no constitutional basis. Further more, we citizens are sick of the balance
      of interest to be always on the side of the gun owner. Military grade weapons and hand guns should have no place outside of the military. Period.

  4. Matthew Daley says:

    “Personalizing a gun” is an attractive concept until one looks more closely at the multi-faceted nature of gun deaths in the US. Roughly two thirds of those deaths are suicides; “personalizing” will do precious little to reduce suicides. The remaining third of gun deaths consists mostly of murders which include both planned crimes and what are loosely called crimes of passion, shootings by police, instances of self-defense and accidents.

    The planned or intentional shootings probably account for over half of our homicides and are done by people who will not acquire a personalized gun for obvious reasons. The likely “market” for personalized guns is mostly limited to accident prevention and making it easier for police to find the perps of crimes of passion. Accident prevention would be a useful objective given the current state of the technology, but may be very expensive compared to alternative approaches.

    Alas, while the technology is sufficiently reliable for cell phones, its failure rate is unacceptable in a firearm. Police will lead the way in adopting this technology when it is reliable for the simple reason that a surprisingly high number of officers who are killed are shot with their own weapons. Until then, one can expect a lot of resistance to “personalizing guns.”

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