I had a dream last night that I killed someone with a handgun. I’ve never owned a gun, never even held one. Well, that’s not entirely true. When I was a young girl I was allowed to hold my mother’s .22 rifle for about 5 seconds. Other than being surprised at the weight of it, I had very little interest in it. I don’t see myself as a violent person. When I feel myself at the extreme limits of exasperation, the best image I can summon is of me kicking the source of my vexation in the shins.
Why, then, did I have this dream? It likely had to do with the announcement yesterday that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called “New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. vs. Bruen,” struck down a restrictive gun law in New York. No longer will there be (reasonable) limits on who can carry a firearm in public. On hearing this I felt a sense of dread. Here in Massachusetts we can fully expect our own restrictive laws to be similarly challenged in the near future. Some of you may recall that our Governor, Charlie Baker, bragged about our “controlled” numbers relative to crimes committed with guns. Well, that just jinxed it for us!
The specifics of yesterday’s Court decision are summarized thusly: “An individual who wants to carry a firearm outside his home may obtain an unrestricted license to ‘have and carry’ a concealed ‘pistol or revolver’ if he can prove that ‘proper cause exists’ for doing so. . . An applicant satisfies the ‘proper cause’ requirement only if he can ‘demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.'”
Now, that seems terribly easy to do — I mean, how hard is it to demonstrate (in this country) that one has a “special need for self-protection” when all of us are already viewing the “general community” with great distrust, skepticism, and (at times) fear. I’m left with a dispiriting sense that while we have taken one important step forward with the bipartisan federal bill that was just recently hammered out, any gains will be stripped away by the New York case ruling. And let us not deceive ourselves that it will end at New York State’s borders. As a society, have we lost all sense of reason, all sense of proportion?
It is generally agreed upon by historians that the context in which the 2nd Amendment was written relied upon a common understanding of our new nation’s greatest existential threat. All sides of the debate back in 1791 were in agreement about the dangers of a standing army. Noah Shusterman (Washington Post, 22-February 2018) distilled the prevailing thought this way: “any society with a professional army could never be truly free.” It was never about an individual’s right to bear arms; it was ever about their participation in a militia. In that fragile moment, no one could foresee the broader implications.
The debate now cannot presuppose a common way of looking at our nation’s greatest security needs. For sure, there are coalitions among the American citizenry who still fear either a foreign take-over of our country or a coup staged by army generals, but can we really say that that is a greater threat than the threat we pose to each other? And, last I saw, we have a “Regular Army”, so do citizens still feel the need to bear arms? Against whom? Has our mutual distrust reached capacity, such that we will find it impossible to disentangle ourselves from our consuming resentments and grievances, our stubbornly-held differences?
Having a dream in which I killed someone with a handgun really shook me up. Even though I convince myself that my dream took that direction because of all the recent episodes of gun violence — especially the mass shootings — the 6-3 ruling (big surprise) by the U.S. Supreme Court expanding gun-toters’ rights seems morally wrong. If it isn’t starkly obvious by now, yes, I do believe there should be limits on gun ownership and carry laws.