Last Wednesday, a 19-year-old lunatic opened fire at a Florida high school, killing 17 students and teachers and wounding several others. This Valentine’s Day massacre was the 30th mass shooting in the United States so far this year, and the most deadly.
As our fellow citizens raced into their predicable opinion bubbles, ruminating on how to properly react to yet another instance of pointless American carnage, one sentiment struck me with particular force: “If you oppose gun control, you can’t call yourself pro-life.”
On the one hand, an assertion like that speaks for itself. Guns equal death; therefore, to foster life, eliminate the guns. Surely the “pro-life” movement, whose entire platform is based on protecting the young and vulnerable, can appreciate this as well as anyone.
And yet, unfortunately, the world is more complicated than that, if only because of the apparently intractable politics that have enabled America to become the most trigger-happy advanced nation on Earth. Even when overwhelming majorities of the public support certain basic changes to who gets to own deadly weapons in this country—and who doesn’t—the financial tyranny of the NRA over our elected officials guarantees a bloody status quo on guns for many years to come.
Into this breach, I offer a modest proposal: Repeal the Second Amendment once and for all, and in exchange, allow the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
That’s right: I’m suggesting a good old-fashioned trade-off whereby two groups claiming the mantle of “pro-life” can put their money where their mouth is, and two major issues can be addressed in one fell swoop.
Obtuse as it may sound, there is a certain symmetry in tethering gun rights to abortion rights. After all, both are rooted in core constitutional principles—the former in the aforementioned Second Amendment; the latter in the Fourteenth. Both involve the direct, deliberate taking of human life, sometimes for morally dubious reasons. Both provoke deep, painful and ultimately irresolvable debates about what it means to be a free American. Finally, both hinge on the question of federalism and what it would mean, practically-speaking, if we were to radically decentralize certain rights we have heretofore regarded as (to coin a phrase) inalienable.
Of course, we’ll never find out the exact answer to that question, since neither the Second Amendment nor Roe v. Wade will be disappearing any time in the foreseeable future—a fact that leaves me half-relieved and half-depressed (not necessarily in that order).
All the same, having witnessed lawmakers’ shameful abdication of leadership in the teeth of one heinous—and utterly preventable—mass shooting after another, I have reached the dispiriting conclusion that our national epidemic of gun violence will never abate unless and until we decide, as a people, that there shouldn’t be a right to bear arms in the first place. While such seemingly obvious fixes as an assault weapons ban or robust background checks would undoubtedly save countless lives, neither addresses the fundamental collective psychosis that is Americans’ fetishization of hand-held killing machines, for which the Second Amendment provides both legal and cultural cover.
Were I to become king, I would gut the Second Amendment tomorrow and hurl every firearm into a volcano. However, since I am not king and we live in a republic, I recognize that, one way or another, effecting truly transformational gun reform will come at a price—and a painful one at that. In a country with such wildly divergent views of liberty and freedom and right and wrong, no major ideological settlement can be made cleanly or simply: There must be a fight, and both sides must be prepared to give at least as much as they are hoping to take.
It’s hard to believe today, but this was something that America used to be able to accomplish. Indeed, look closely enough and you’ll notice a large chunk of modern American life came about through incongruous—if not outright ludicrous—grand compromises, many of them sealed in proverbial smoke-filled rooms or around dinner tables in between bottles of Port. Think Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton agreeing to establish a national bank in exchange for moving the capital from New York to Virginia. Or the Compromise of 1850, which gave us the horrid Fugitive Slave Act, but also California. (The former was eventually repealed. The latter, not yet.) Or the fact that the Constitutional Convention itself gifted us a bicameral legislature, with one house favoring small states and the other favoring large ones.
That was then. Now, of course, we are represented by a Congress that can’t seem to pass laws everyone likes, let alone ones that divide America straight down the middle. Because our body politic has become so irretrievably tribal—so blindingly partisan, so stubbornly zero-sum—the very notion of compromise has increasingly been conflated with weakness, capitulation and ideological selling-out, rather than for what it actually is: the only known way to run a goddamned country.
Hence the rank impossibility of a comprehensive immigration deal—something that could be resolved in an hour if Democrats merely agreed to fund a wall along the Mexican border. Hence the absence of a plan to strengthen Obamacare, which the GOP prefers to cripple out of spite than make work for its own constituents.
Our leaders would rather get nothing than give their opponents anything, and we are all living with the consequences. It would be a terribly unfair quandary for this great country to find itself in, except for the pesky fact that every one of those representatives was democratically elected by us, the people. This is what we wanted, folks, and the madness will continue until we choose—say, on November 6—to make it stop.