Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, was right when he referred to House Bill 61 as an “almost a deification of the Second Amendment.” The bill, which easily passed in the House last week, will prevent state and local officials from restricting access to firearms during an emergency disaster declaration. Businesses that sell or service weapons and ammunition must remain open unless “all forms of commerce within the jurisdiction” are ordered closed.
HB 61 is a solution in search of a problem. While it’s true that firearms retailers in the Municipality of Anchorage were temporarily closed along with most other businesses during the COVID-19 health emergency, nothing like that happened following the 2018 earthquake there. Or in any other community that’s been impacted by a natural disaster.
But let’s get back to Josephson’s ‘almost’ qualifier with which he placed the Second Amendment near to a deity. The god some seem to worship, including Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky; Rep. Lauren Boebert,R-Colorado; and Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tennessee; is guns.
Early in December 2021, Massie, who is a member of the Methodist Church, wished his Twitter followers a Merry Christmas. The message made no mention of it being a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Instead, it included a photo of him, his wife, and children all holding guns, with a postscript that read “Santa, please bring ammo.”
In reply, Boebert tweeted a similar photo standing behind her four sons posing with guns.
Both were posted ten days after a 15-year-old boy killed four students at his school in Oxford, Michigan. And a week after the boy’s parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to secure the weapon used in the shooting.
The following Christmas, Ogles, who campaigned on the need “to go back to honoring God and country,” copied Massie’s and Boebert’s blasphemy. Three months later, all he offered to the families whose loved ones were gunned down in an elementary school in his state were the obligatory “thoughts and prayers.”
Alaska legislators who supported HB 61 aren’t in the same league as those misguided attention seekers. But the point Josephson was making is treating the Second Amendment as an untouchable sacred text can be tragically misunderstood by some gun owners.
Like those who pulled the trigger in these three shootings last month:
In Kansas City, Mo., an 85-year-old man shot a 16-year-old boy who mistakenly rang his doorbell. In Hebron, New York, a 65-year-old man killed a 20-year-old woman when the driver of the car she was in used his driveway to turn around. And in Elgin, Texas, a 25-year-old man shot two high school cheerleaders after one of them mistook his car for hers.
Self-defense and ‘stand your ground” aren’t legitimate defenses for those crimes. It’s possible the shooters had undiagnosed mental health problems. Or that an undue faith in the Second Amendment and the power of a weapon in their hand at the wrong time induced a moment of temporary insanity.
In Texas this month, Gov. Greg Abbott responded to two mass killings by claiming he and the state’s Republican dominated legislature are “in a big-time way” working to address the mental health crisis behind those violent acts. It began after the killing of nineteen students and two teachers two years ago in Ulvade, a crime that Abbot said came with “no meaningful forewarning.” The legislation they enacted hasn’t changed that.
Identifying gun owners with serious mental health issues is an impossible task. And the effort to find them does nothing for the mental health trauma of the survivors and witnesses, the numbers of whom are growing exponentially with each new gruesome tragedy.
“Our nation’s gun debate is understandably dominated by discussions of gun rights” NY Times columnist David French wrote in April. But as a strong supporter of those rights for hunting, shooting sports, and self-defense, he adds “it needs to feature more accountability for gun culture,” which he argues has migrated from “respect for firearms” to “a form of reverence” and “is now widespread gun idolatry.”
Josephson understands that by being focused solely on rights, HB 61 amplifies the worshipping of a false god. But like Massie, Boebert, Ogles and Abbott, supporters of the bill seem too absorbed in today’s gun culture to even consider the possibility it may be part of the problem.