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What do we say to Veronica Moser-Sullivan?

August 8, 2012
Jeff Baker , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Veronica died in a flurry of 5.56 mm rifle fire, 6-years-old but instantly no longer going on 7. She had committed no crime, offended no sensibility and threatened no one. She was simply unlucky - a young man with a legally purchased semi-automatic, military-style assault rifle had decided to murder as many strangers as possible, killing them for unknown and perhaps unknowable reasons. Veronica's mom had decided to take her to see a movie premier. The young man had decided to attack at the same premier. Fate joined their paths, and Veronica, along with 11 other equally innocent American citizens, died.

So what do we surviving American citizens say to Veronica? Do we owe her any explanation at all? Surely if she had been struck by lightning, or had died in that very theatre when a small asteroid from deep space smashed through the roof, we would have nothing to say. Very bad things happen, often nothing can be done to avoid them, and accordingly we who live could say nothing to help Veronica understand her fate.

Or should we tell Veronica that she is merely collateral damage, part of the price we pay for enjoying our Second Amendment rights? Should we refer her to the very language? "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Surely we at least owe Veronica honesty. Any fair reading of the Second Amendment must lead to the conclusion, if the Second Amendment means anything at all, it means her killer had a constitutionally protected right to own the weapon he used to kill her. All of the discussion from the talking heads on the number of bullets he could buy, how unsuitable the rifle was for pursuits such as deer hunting and defense of the home, simply miss the point. The Founding Fathers knew exactly what a militia was, the purpose it served and the weapons it required.

Again, this is not obtuse or mysterious stuff. The Constitution provides "The Congress shall have power ... to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel Invasions" as well as the power "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States..." (Article I, Section 8.) Moreover, once Congress has called "forth the Militia," the President "shall be Commander in Chief ... of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States." (Article II., Section.2.)

The Constitution says nothing about deer hunting, home defense and the like. The militia of the several states existed for a purely military purpose "to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions." At the time of the enactment of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the standard individual military weapon was a single-shot, muzzle loading musket or rifled musket. Today, the standard is an automatic or semi-automatic rifle with a high magazine capacity. It matters not what weapon our militiaman would use to hunt deer or defend his hearth, in the late 18th century or now. The Second Amendment protects his or her right to own the latest in man-killing weapons or it protects nothing at all. Would George Washington, if he were transported to our century, opine the Militia should "suppress insurrections and repel invasions" with the single shot musket of his era?

But, if we accept this analysis, does it answer the question of what we tell Veronica? Of course not. The Constitution is a living document, subject to amendment, and even outright repeal. The Second Amendment is no more sacrosanct than the Eighteenth Amendment - prohibition - which of course was repealed 14 years after enactment by the Twenty-first Amendment. "We the People of the United States" establish our Constitution.

So, perhaps we should tell Veronica we will use her death to inspire an honest discussion of what American policy and law should be regarding firearms. If so, let's have that discussion - and not get bogged down by existing laws and amendments. Critically, if we are to have that discussion, it is not limited by the Second Amendment.

Jeff Baker




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