The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Well, here we go again.

What's shocking is how unshocking it all is. The well worn kabuki drama in the wake of these mass shootings--30 this year, counting yesterday's--unfolds in almost rote fashion. Politicians offering "thoughts and prayers," but no action. In fact, anyone who demands action is guilty of a knee jerk response, or politicizing a tragedy.

Since the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting through yesterday's atrocity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., 438 people have been shot, 138 killed, in 239 school shootings.

The reaction of the Speaker of the House?
Ryan similarly said the conversation about the Florida shooting shouldn't become a discussion about gun control.

"I don't think that means you then roll the conversation into taking away citizens' rights, taking away a law-abiding citizen's rights," Ryan said. "And so obviously, this conversation typically goes there."
Yes, of course. That's what all the concern is about.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.

Those are the words carved by a mysterious finger on the wall during Belshazzar's Feast. Daniel translated them for the king, explaining the disaster about to befall the King, and giving as the reason: "You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting."

And Belshazzar rewarded Daniel for telling him the truth, but that very night, the king died, and soon thereafter his kingdom was sundered, and the writing--probably flaked off the wall, over time, or maybe erased to not embarrass the new ruler.

After all, it was so political.


In his opinion for a split court finding that the Second Amendment created an individual right to own weapons, Justice Scalia explained that the right the majority found in the Amendment was not an absolute:
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., Sheldon, in 5 Blume 346; Rawle 123; Pomeroy 152–153; Abbott333. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. See, e.g., State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann., at 489–490; Nunn v. State, 1 Ga., at 251; see generally 2 Kent *340, n. 2; The American Students’ Blackstone 84, n. 11 (G. Chase ed. 1884). Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment , nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” See 4 Blackstone 148–149 (1769); 3 B. Wilson, Works of the Honourable James Wilson 79 (1804); J. Dunlap, The New-York Justice 8 (1815); C. Humphreys, A Compendium of the Common Law in Force in Kentucky 482 (1822); 1 W. Russell, A Treatise on Crimes and Indictable Misdemeanors 271–272 (1831); H. Stephen, Summary of the Criminal Law 48 (1840); E. Lewis, An Abridgment of the Criminal Law of the United States 64 (1847); F. Wharton, A Treatise on the Criminal Law of the United States 726 (1852). See also State v. Langford, 10 N. C. 381, 383–384 (1824); O’Neill v. State, 16Ala. 65, 67 (1849); English v. State, 35Tex. 473, 476 (1871); State v. Lanier, 71 N. C. 288, 289 (1874).

It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment ’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.
(Emphasis added; citations left in to emphasize Scalia's point that regulation is well entrenched in the jurisprudence.)

So we the people are not barred by constitutional law from taking steps through legislation or enforcement of existing laws from trying to ameliorate the harm done by those who abuse the Second Amendment; we are barred only by politics.

So, yes, it's political.

On the national level, our politics are failing. The well-worn script is dusted off, "thoughts and prayers"; "don't politicize a tragedy"; "it's not time yet."

It's never time yet.

But those who object that laws do not automatically compel obedience have a point. We need laws, yes, but we need more, as I wrote in the hours after the Sandy Hook shooting, a cultural change:
But that is not enough. We need a cultural shift, and this is not something the law can do, and that politics can only help a little bit. We need to stop glamorizing guns, and gun culture. We have to not accept that guns are cool, and that killing is manly, or strong, or sexy, or whatever the hell it is that explains our long-term love affair with guns.

We have to cut it right out.

Let me tell you something; I don't hate guns, per se. I played with toy guns as a child; my Uncle Bill taught me to shoot a pistol one summer up in Rhinebeck. It was fun; I enjoyed it. I understand that implements of death can be domesticated.

I fence. Fencing is an athletic discipline that takes what used to be a perversely beautiful, skill-intensive way to kill somebody, and reimagines it as a fun competition. It has not brought back the sword as a major weapon of mayhem. Gun owners, you want to sever that link between your hobby and death. Step up. Draw lines of what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Don't be afraid of bucking the NRA, and keep guns out of places where they don't belong--schools, churches, etc. Shame people who think it's ok to bring guns where they don't belong, and those among you who feel that the omnipresence of guns is the only way to be sure your rights won't be taken away.

As to those who say guns don't kill people, people kill people? Cut it out. Do you have any idea how inane that is? Guns make the difference between working hard to kill one person, or two, and being able to, without discernible skill, talent, or physical or mental stamina, indiscriminately slaughter. It's the difference between retail and wholesale murder, and if you don't know the difference--why, I just don't want to know you.

And remember the murdered.
We aren't changing; a little over 6 years ago, we were shocked as a nation by Sandy Hook. Now? We are saddened, angry, but more than anything else, weary, oh, so damned weary, after Parkland.

This is the second day of Lent, so let me, as a deacon of the Church say this most emphatically clearly: Our culture's indifference to the safety of our children, to all of our people, is a sin. Period. The writing on the wall isn't at all mysterious; we are carving it every day, etching it across schools and churches, legislative halls, across the bodies of our children, across our very souls.

And if we do not repent--that is, re-think who we are and what we value, what will that writing say?

We know. Belshazzar knew in his heart, too--why else would he reward Daniel for telling him his death was imminent?

We will have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

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