On December 1, 1958, a garbage can ignited in a basement stairwell at Our Lady of the Angels School, on Chicago’s west side. The fire spread quickly, and 95 lives were lost that awful day, 92 of them children. There was a chance it was arson, or just a boy playing with matches at the foot of the stairs – though it could have been something as innocent as a surprised smoker ditching the cigarette before being caught in the act. We’ll never know for sure; we only know it started in that garbage can.
In the aftermath of the fire, careful study resulted in a number of changes to building codes, not just in Chicago but nationwide. The windows that were designed for cross-ventilation, the petroleum-based floor waxes, the wooden stair cases and stair rails… all these typical building features turned a school into a firetrap. Revised building codes would require plentiful and well-marked fire alarms, and designs and building materials that would retard a fire’s spread, rather than facilitate it.
Nobody proposed the elimination of trash cans; nobody called for an end to the production of matches, or cigarettes, or garbage. The public knew that there will always be smokers, and there will always be garbage cans, which will, especially in school buildings, be filled with paper until they’re emptied each evening.
So the American public – and the various levels of governments from town to township to county, and the many associations that study such things – called for a rational correction of our approach to school safety, and our building codes and related rules became much more helpful to the cause of safety as a result. They took time; they thought it through, and the changes proposed were reasonable, affordable, and entirely Constitutional.
The same could be said of many other risks in life. There are, tragically, many car crashes; we don’t propose banning cars. There’s food poisoning; we don’t propose banning food. There are injuries and deaths in airplane flying; nobody proposes banning airplanes.
There is risk in life on this earth. Risk of accident, risk of victimization, risk of natural dangers like tornados, and manmade dangers like drug allergies and the mechanical failures of a thousand clever machines. There is no way to utterly eliminate these risks outright, but there are things that society can do, both freely and under the compulsion of the state, without venturing beyond the proper role of government, without punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty.
To mitigate the dangers on the road, we require that vehicles be built safely, with bumpers and speed gauges and seat belts. We limit the alcohol that drivers are allowed to consume; we set minimum standards to obtain a driver’s license. But we don’t ban cars and minivans and buses, we just apply as many as these rational measures as are appropriate, so that our society can enjoy the many societal goods of automotive transportation.
Sandy Hook and the Rush to Ban Guns
When over two dozen children and adults were murdered in a school in Connecticut in December, 2012, millions were horrified, millions mourned, millions prayed. The horror of the mass murder at Sandy Hook rightly focused attention on some of this society’s risks… but it was also quick to be used as propaganda by the Left, and in particular, by a president who has been itching for the right opportunity for four years.
There have been mass murders before, even, sadly, during his presidency’s first term – an islamofascist terrorist at Fort Hood, a madman in a cinema at Aurora, Colorado – but he did not use those to call for unconstitutional gun control. What was different about Sandy Hook? The Sandy Hook killings took place after his reelection was completed.
Now confident that he’ll never have to face the voters again, this president rushed to demand gun control. Even before swearing that oath of office to the Constitution for the second time, visibly gleeful in the knowledge that he makes a mockery of it every day of his administration, this president has not only called for unconstitutional gun controls to be passed by Congress, he has sought to usurp their authority through the issuance of executive orders.
The Constitution of the United States is clear on the matter. Only the Congress can initiate and pass laws on anything. The executive branch can ask a friendly Congressman to sponsor the bills they like, but no Congressman is even bound to do so (for example, frequently in his first four years, this president was unable to find a single Congressman or Senator willing to sponsor his budget).
The law of the land is that bills originate in the House, then, if passed by the Senate, they are presented to the president to sign or veto. If he signs it, it is law (assuming it is Constitutional), and he must direct his administration to enforce it. If he vetoes it, it is not law… and he cannot enforce its edicts even if he likes some of them. If they override his veto, it is law (again, assuming it is Constitutional), and he must direct his administration to enforce it, like it or not.
Part of the process of enforcing these laws is that the executive branch must occasionally issue regulations. The president and his departments must write the rules to flesh out the details, to meet the intent of Congress when they passed the bill – which agency shall enforce it, which forms to file with whom, what tests may be required. These are the regulations of the federal statutes, and on rare occasion, the executive orders issued by the president himself.
But this duty has been utterly misunderstood by the current occupants of the executive branch. The duty to issue regulations and executive orders is encapsulated entirely within the bounds of the laws that Congress has passed. No president can issue executive orders, nor can his departments and agencies issue regulations, that are contrary to laws that the Congress has passed and then been either signed by the president or passed through the override of his veto.
With all the time that modern politicians spend in the battleground state of Ohio, one would think they would at least be familiar with the decision Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. vs. Sawyer, commonly known simply as Youngstown.
In that effort by the Truman administration to seize private property, the Supreme Court laid out certain clear limits on executive power, holding essentially that the president is limited in his actions to what Congress has authorized and cannot exceed that amount, and that the president is forbidden from taking action to the contrary (as if one couldn’t tell that simply by spending a few minutes and actually reading the Constitution). It is especially clear when Congress has directly taken a position on the matter, one way or the other.
As we are reminded today, Congress has frequently considered various forms of gun control, and they have been voted down, as unconstitutional restrictions on the liberty of free American citizens.
Contrary to the pompous and pandering speech of this president, the safety of our children is not the government’s primary calling (if it were, the government would hardly be mortgaging our children’s future with a hundred trillion in debt and unfunded mandates). That’s the obligation of their parents and guardians, and the schools they hire to teach them.
No, the primary obligation of government is to secure the people’s freedom. Robbing the innocent and law abiding, and worse still, leaving them defenseless in a dangerous age, can hardly be considered the government’s duty.
This president seeks to regulate magazines, to regulate bullets, to limit who can engage in private commerce. All these are the very opposite of the goals of our Founding Fathers when they threw off a tyrant and promised the American people a government that would honor and secure their freedom.
The Second Amendment
Amendment II to the Constitution is composed of two parts. The latter is clear: the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. It’s plain as day: the people – which obviously means law-abiding citizens of this nation – have the right to own and use firearms. It doesn’t limit this right to hunting, or target practice, or home defense, or street defense through concealed carry or open carry, or the defense against tyrants. All these are the legitimate rights granted by Divine Providence and guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
Since everything else in the Bill of Rights is focused first on political rights – the right of churches to be free of government dictates, the right of the news media to be free of government censorship, the right of homeowners to be free from being forced to house soldiers – so too is it with the 2nd Amendment. The people’s natural right to possess and use weapons is guaranteed to be free of government restrictions.
The government can restrict these rights to convicted felons, but not to the law-abiding citizen. No preemptive strike against law-abiding citizens by taking away their firearms, their magazines, or their ammunition is allowed. Government’s obligation is to respect private property, not to confiscate it (see Amendment V).
The first portion of the Second Amendment, however, is often misunderstood. The militia, as defined in those days, constitutes all able-bodied male citizens under 45 or so, who are not a part of the military. The Constitutional Convention, remember, was led by General George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief who was horrified, upon his arrival at Boston in 1775, to find that so many recruits were utter novices at the handling of weapons. Most needed far more training than the officers believed should be necessary, or that the gunpowder-poor army could afford to expend in their training.
Washington and the rest of the leaders who had participated in the War of Independence recognized that we needed our citizenry to be at home with weaponry, not just while they serve in the army or navy, but while they are civilians as well.
The Second Amendment can honestly be read only one way, and it is the exact opposite of how the modern Left attempts to twist it. The Founders recognized that for a nation this size to survive and thrive, all law-abiding citizens needed to be ready if drafted, without having to see a gun for the first time on that first day of boot camp. The Framers wanted us to raise our children in a gun culture, properly appreciating the weapon that won us our freedom from tyranny, the tool that serves in so many ways, or as tool of the marksman or hunter, or as primary defense against local criminal or foreign foe, or tyrant in a palace, castle, or executive mansion.
Read in context, the Second Amendment leaves no question about its meaning.
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” means that security is at least as much the responsibility of the layman as of the policeman or soldier, and that this security is not only against robbers and rapists, but also against the loss of freedom. The Second Amendment says that this nation is to remain a free country, and it is the unlimited possession of firearms and their accessories by free citizens, along with unrestricted experience in their mastery, that alone can guarantee this result.
Proposals and Solutions
What then is to be done? How can a nation in mourning prevent future mass murders in schools?
Well, the president proposes confiscating the guns of the law-abiding citizens who aren’t murderers. He proposes forbidding non-murderers from buying ammunition. He proposes banning non-murderers from buying guns that hold more than a few bullets, and banning those non-murderers from buying the magazines (clips) for those firearms. He proposes all sorts of restrictions on the lives of non-murderers.
As we have already established, these measures are unconstitutional. Neither he nor Congress can legally institute such bans.
But this alone shouldn’t be the sole red flag of the debate. All these measures are taken against law-abiding citizens, against non-murderers. Why hasn’t this president proposed any measures against the real perpetrators of gun violence, and in fact, of all violence?
There were a couple of mass killings in 2012 – awful, horrible, but still, there were not many in this nation of 300 million. By contrast, there are thousands of murders every year that add up… in the ones and twos and threes, yes, but they add up to many thousands. There were over 500 murders in 2012 in Chicago alone! Cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and Washington all see hundreds of killings per year. Shouldn’t these far greater numbers concern us most?
The solutions are obvious to any student of American crime statistics: by far the problems are cultural and criminal justice related.
The Courts - Our country has so skewed our legal system that we now let guilty criminals walk free if an arresting officer made a mistake in the arrest. Practically all murders are committed by people who have previously been caught and released multiple times due to plea bargains and technicality acquittals, people who should have already been in jail before they could commit their murders.
Will the president support an end to technicality acquittals, and will his party support more mandatory sentencing at the state level?
The Prisons - Our country has so skewed our penal system that we set guilty criminals free because we don’t have room for convicts to be comfortable in jail. States that cannot afford to build more spacious prisons are forced by federal judges or by internal budget-cutting needs to set dangerous criminals free, sending them back into their neighborhoods to strike again and again.
Will the president support an end to this idiocy, through a federal law forbidding federal judges from mandating the early release of guilty convicts for reason of overcrowding?
The Tools of Law Enforcement - Our military is often scolded for its spending, because non-purchasing experts in this commercial age don’t think of the relative cost savings of mass production. We see a whopping price for a part of a helicopter, a tank, a submarine, and we assume they are profiteering at the expense of the taxpayer. We are incapable of appreciating the expense in making just twenty planes, just fifty tanks, just a single aircraft carrier; we expect a shock absorber or driver’s seat to cost the same as a similar part made in a run of 100,000 for a family sedan.
By the same token, powerful bullets, high caliber weapons, and thirty-round clips are cheaper for our military and our police forces when they can be purchased on the open market by law-abiding private citizens. Removing the private market for these weapons and accessories will drive up the cost for our police stations, our state troopers, and our nation’s military.
Will the president drop these unconstitutional limits, or will he stick to them, either pricing necessary equipment out of the range of our hard-pressed municipalities and states, or simply removing these necessary tools from their arsenals entirely, rendering our nation’s law enforcement community weaker and broker as a result? Which will he choose: his knee-jerk obedience to the far left, or the men and women risking their lives in the service of our law enforcement community?
The Welfare State - In just two generations, our welfare state has encouraged and rewarded the demise of the nuclear family in countless communities; every study proves that neighborhoods full of public housing and food stamps, lacking working fathers and role models, are the key incubators of violent crime in our nation.
Will the president support an end to the welfare state; will he support reforms that free new generations from the cycle of dependency and violence?
The Dangerously Mentally Ill - A generation ago, in a well-intentioned but foolish effort to make it harder for people to commit sane relatives and spouses against their will, bleeding heart politicians and judges made it impossible to commit even clearly dangerous mental patients to asylums, leaving them free to snap.
Will the president support an end to this ban, and allow the states to institute rational frameworks around the issue so that the criminally insane can be removed from society, after establishing a pattern of violence, but without having to wait until after they’ve left corpses in their wake?
The Security of our Schools - And finally, just as our banks guard money with security guards, just as museums guard artifacts with security guards, just as our malls protect shoppers with security guards, so too should our children, our students, the most fragile among us, be protected by security guards and made safe from terrorists and psychotic killers.
Some schools can afford to hire an armed guard or two. Most cannot, but could easily afford to train such teachers and administrators as are willing to be armed on campus. If five teachers out of twenty were armed and trained, the schools would be immeasurably safer, without trampling on anyone’s liberty, without violating the Constitution.
Will the president support measures to encourage this, by offering tax credits for such specific security training from GOA or the NRA, and for the purchase of such weapons by the individuals or their schools (if they are not already tax-free for another reason)? Will the president encourage the lifting of such dangerous and counterproductive ordinances as many locales have passed, banning law-abiding citizens from being armed, thereby guaranteeing that the only person in the building with a gun is the one who wants to murder people with it?
When this president and this administration support these rational measures to reduce gun violence and make our nation safer, then we’ll believe that he’s an honest man looking out for our best interests.
But if he insists on violating the Constitution and leaving our children defenseless, it remains impossible to even give him the benefit of the doubt.
Copyright 2013 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance lecturer. A former chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he attended a military boarding school for four years, back during the 1970s, at which every student practiced with firearms every week, and many teachers and students walked around the school armed with either handguns or swords every day. In his four years there, he never saw either kind of weapon misused… and certainly, no psychotic mass murderer ever tried anything there. An armed and defended campus is a safe campus.
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