Alright, I’ll state it right off the bat: Let’s ban high-capacity magazines and assault rifles. The mayhem and bloodshed caused by the unleashing of these weapons of war has absolutely no relation to maintaining our right to protect ourselves or the right to bear arms.
That’s my opinion, and now you can quit reading my column if you are highly offended by what I said. You have the right to read or not read; to agree or not agree. In fact, you can write something of your own.
Remember, though, you can’t write or say just anything. You can’t publicly print or say on public airwaves a false statement about someone else’s character if it causes injury or damage to their reputation. You might face a libel or slander suit if you knowingly make a public statement with reckless disregard for the truth.
That’s the thing about our rights – they are ours and not to be taken away from us, unless we abuse or carry them to such an extreme we cause harm or violate someone else’s rights. Crudely put, my rights end where your nose begins.
We have many instances in which the exercise of our rights is tempered by law. With respect to the First Amendment, Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1949, “Freedom of speech, though not absolute, is protected against censorship or punishment unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest.”
There is an exception made to our Fourth Amendment - the right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures without a proper warrant - when an officer of the law thinks that an imminently dangerous situation exists.
The history of our country demonstrates that there are limits on all of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. But as they should be, when they are limited they are subject to scrutiny by the courts.
We used to have a ban on assault rifles. It was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and it prohibited the manufacture, transfer or possession of semiautomatic assault weapons as defined by the Act. The ban was up for renewal in 2004, which Congress failed to do. I’m not going to pretend that by having a ban – one that includes the notorious bump stocks – that we could have prevented each one of our growing list of tragic mass murders by assault rifles. However, if the ban had still been in place, it would have been illegal for the Florida high school assassin to have an AR-15 and the 300 rounds of ammunition that he brought with him. There would have been some leverage at hand with which to red flag the complete inappropriateness of having extremely murderous weapons in his possession.
Yes, there were other failures that led up to that fateful Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Yes, we need much greater access to mental health care that begins at grade school, at least. Yes, many of our families are under duress – I’ve written about that many times in this column before – and some families could become stronger by learning new parenting skills. And yes, as soft and nebulous as it is, we need to practice kindness, inclusion and active concern for our fellow humans. All of that and more needs to happen.
But I can’t silently stand by after witnessing the courage and strength that the MSD High School students demonstrated in the immediate aftermath of the bloodbath that they experienced firsthand as they stood before us, pleading for safety, protection, sanity and the decency to do more as a nation of adult citizens. In an interview with Chris Wallace, even Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged, with respect to the Second Amendment, “… some limitations can be imposed.”
We can and should have universal background checks that also apply to private and gun show sales; we should keep a complete database of those banned from buying firearms; and, because their only intent is to inflict unmitigated and indiscriminate harm and destruction, assault rifles can and should be banned.
Next week: Jim Wharton
Katie Colling is the executive director of Women Aware, a private nonprofit agency. She was elected to two consecutive terms on the Woodbury County Extension Council and serves on several civic-organization boards. She and her husband, Ron, live in Sioux City.