Less than a week after the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand’s government banned private ownership of semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles. They’ve announced a buyback program that will give current owners “fair and reasonable compensation.” Anyone who doesn’t surrender those weapons to law enforcement authorities could be fined or imprisoned.
This is a justifiable response by politicians who understand that freedom and liberty must be balanced by responsibility to the greater good of society. And it puts the U.S. Congress to shame.
It’s true that New Zealand’s government was able to swiftly enact the ban because the right to bear arms isn’t enshrined in its Constitution. But our Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right of Americans to own weapons like the AR-15 used by the gunman in Christchurch.
“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller. That’s the case which, for the first time in American history, the court ruled “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” The original constitutional originalist went on to state the ruling doesn’t establish “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” And he acknowledged that “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” did not violate of the Constitution.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, understands that Congress can prohibit the sale and ownership of the AR-15 and other semi-automatic weapons to private citizens. He knows they can expand background checks to include transfers of ownership at gun shows. Which is why he’ll only make vague references to the Second Amendment whenever there’s a public outcry for enacting such laws.
Like the remarks he made last year to the state legislature after acknowledging the “horrific” Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting act had “scarred the conscious of our nation and catalyzed an important national discussion on school safety.” And that “young Americans across the country who are speaking out” deserved “to be listened to.” He followed with one irrelevant point. Alaskans, he said, “understand how important our Second Amendment rights are” for self-defense and as “a tool to feed our families.”
In a Fox News interview before that, Sullivan was specifically asked about his views on an assault weapons ban. Without mentioning the Second Amendment, he replied that the problem isn’t “legally owning a firearm. It’s who owns them.”
While I agree with his qualification to the second part of that answer — that more needs to be done to prevent mentally disturbed people from obtaining any kind of firearm — the first skirted the responsibility clearly articulated by Justice Scalia. Congress can change the law to make ownership of those weapons illegal.
Sullivan then shifted the discussion to an “issue that never gets talked about … the promotion of violence” in movies and videos. That’s nonsense. Two federal agencies investigated the connection after the Columbine school shootings 20 years ago. Less intensive but similar studies date back to the 1980s.
And it’s been a National Rifle Association talking point ever since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. But that powerful lobby isn’t sincerely addressing the problem. Their strategy is aimed at members of Congress who need to distract the public from the fact the Supreme Court would uphold a ban on “dangerous and unusual weapons” like the AR-15.
Furthermore, the Second Amendment cannot be separated from the objectives stated in the Constitution’s preamble. To “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare,” it was the founders’ original intent that Congress would use its legislative powers to enact laws just as New Zealand has so responsibly done.
“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” President Donald Trump rhetorically asked a few months ago in an Oval Office speech. “To those who refuse to compromise … I would ask, imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken.”
He was referring to security along our southern border. But the far greater threat faced by law-abiding Americans is that they’ll be in a classroom, movie theater or attending a church service when someone sprays bullets from a legally purchased weapon that Congress could have banned.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. He contributes a weekly “My Turn” to the Juneau Empire.