An Open Letter to Sen. John Cornyn
Dear Senator Cornyn
You have been named by President Biden as one of the Republicans he is looking at to help him come up with legislation to reform current guns laws with the goal to reduce the incidence of mass shootings as recently occurred in Uvalde, Texas. I write this letter, not just to you but to all Republicans, independents and Democrats who would like to see a responsible response to recent tragedies. Progress in gun reform, like progress on many other issues which we confront today, is made difficult by extreme positions on the right and left that make compromise on these issues all but impossible. But after the massacre in Uvalde, there appears to be a new resolve to try and find some answers to these intractable problems.
President Obama tweeted, “It’s long past time for action, any kind of action.” This is an incorrect response. Knee-jerk reactions and changes based on raw emotions instead of reason may have unintended consequences as bad or worse that the problem they attempt to resolve. Now, more than ever, is the time for a reasoned, thoughtful response.
The crux of the issue revolves around the second amendment to the US Constitution, which states, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” But the second amendment is very different from the first amendment. The rights of freedom of religion and free speech are absolute. Congress is forbidden (“shall make no law”) to prohibit or abridge these rights. Conversely, the Second Amendment begins, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” The right to keep and bear arms is conditioned by the previous clause.
But the conditions that mandated the first clause of the Second Amendment no longer exist. The Founders feared that a large standing army under the control of the Commander in Chief could create an unacceptable tyranny similar to the one they had just fought a long and difficult war to escape. They envisioned that the state militias could be called forth to defend the country and to defend the states from the federal government as well. Because it is the security of the “free State” that is the object of the Second Amendment.
But the United States now has a very large standing army that is the most powerful in the world and which has thankfully done a pretty good job of staying out of domestic politics. And the country no longer looks to the Militia to, “execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions” as required in Article I, section 8 of the US Constitution.
There are those who say (I will decline to name them, but you may have a pretty good idea who they are) that because the Second Amendment is clearly obsolete, we should simply eliminate it from the Constitution and be done with it (along with a lot of other sections of the constitution that they believe are also obsolete). But the Constitution has a process for changing, amending or eliminating parts of this foundational document and this process is long and difficult and requires a broad consensus of the American people in order to be accomplished. Given the current division of the political parties and the American people, building the broad consensus necessary to amend the Constitution is not an achievable goal. So, if we want to reform gun legislation we must do so within the current Constitutional strictures.
Luckily, Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power to “provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia.” While the hurdle for congressional action is not as high as for constitutional change, there remains a need for consensus. And the role of the seeker of that consensus has fallen to you, Senator Cornyn.
There are partisan extremists in both the Democratic and Republican Parties who would rather seek confrontation and ideological purity over consensus. But the American public seek pragmatic solutions over ideological purity. And while mass shootings like Uvalde command the headlines and turn up the outrage volume, far more people are killed by everyday murders, drive-by shootings and gang executions than mass murder. Any gun reform effort should also address these issues, as well.
So, we need to find some common ground in the middle where a consensus of the people can agree. This common ground could include banning bump stocks and limitations on high-capacity magazines. There could be agreement on red flag laws and other limitations on people who have a history of mental health problems. Restrictions on individual gun owners might be counterbalanced by support for a stronger police presence in troubled neighborhoods and stop-and-frisk laws that have been proven to lower the rate of gun violence. It is important that some sort of compromise be found because the people need to know that our lawmakers can work in concert when needed for the benefit of the country. Because without that belief, partisan differences can lead us only to despair for the fate of our once great nation.
We look to you, Senator Cornyn, and your Senate colleagues to find this consensus. The Senate is supposed to be the consensus building arm of the legislature as I do not believe there is a similar consensus building effort in the House of Representatives. We can only hope that they will sign on to a bi-partisan bill from the Senate.
Such a bill will not put an end mass killings or rising inner city gun violence. It may only be a tentative first step in the right direction. But it is important that the American people have hope for a better day.
Thank you for your efforts. And good luck!
Edifice of Trust