What the Second Amendment Does Not Guarantee

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

David N. Myers, Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA

Benjamin Franklin once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

In surveying the carnage from the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., it is hard to resist the view that the repetition of this drama reflects a twisted and self-defeating distortion. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, addressing the Revolutionary War-era presence of a “well regulated Militia,” states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” It does not state that Americans possess the inalienable right to own any and all firearms, including those capable of inflicting the massive loss of life that was perpetrated in Florida last week. At what cost to our collective well-being — to the lives of our precious kids — will we perpetuate this madness?

There is an alternative path. We can learn from others. Another society with a robust “live and let live” attitude stepped back from the brink and imposed restrictions on unrestrained gun ownership. In 1996, two weeks after a mass shooting that killed 35 people in Tasmania, the conservative Australian prime minister introduced the National Firearms Agreement, which imposed tight control on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, insisted on a waiting period before purchase, and prompted a national buy-back that collected 700,000 weapons. Since that time, there have been no mass shootings in Australia.

Is it not time for Americans to learn from this example? Should we not recall the Mishnaic principle that destroying a single life — especially of a child — is to destroy the whole world?