By Daniel Kaufman
ABC News, Special Report, with Pris Pruitt.
Pris Pruitt: We are preempting our scheduled broadcast of Transgender Celebrity Housewives of Color in order to bring you the President of the United States, who momentarily will be giving a speech on the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, which claimed some forty nine lives and left even a larger number of people wounded. We are broadcasting live from the Oval Office.
[Shot of the Oval Office, empty. The President of the United States enters the room and seats himself at the desk.]
My fellow Americans,
I speak to you in the wake of yet another mass shooting, the worst in what has tragically become a regular parade of such shootings. These sorts of killings cannot be allowed to continue. The chief duty of government is to protect the lives of its citizens, and it is clear that in this regard we have been woefully derelict.
It clearly would be a mistake to suggest that these kinds of mass murders have just one cause or a single solution. We must address the problem on multiple fronts. But one unambiguous source of the trouble is the easy availability of firearms — weapons that make it possible to deliver a lethal payload, at a distance, and in a very short period of time. We must insure that these weapons cannot be acquired by any legitimate means, and we must insist that those who already possess such weapons turn them in, so that they may be destroyed. To that end, I will be proposing legislation to the Congress that will do the following:
- Make the sale of any firearm to anyone other than members of federal, state, or local law enforcement a felony.
- Make the possession of any firearm, by anyone other than members of federal, state, or local law enforcement a felony. Current gun owners will have six months to turn in their weapons, before they are prosecuted under the law.
- Add additional felony charges to any crime committed with a firearm.
- Strip states of all federal funding and support, if they permit the sale and ownership of firearms, outside of federal, state, and local law enforcement.
Let’s dispense, now, with the predictable red herrings, arguments, and complaints.
Any legal or regulatory regime relies to a great degree on the voluntary compliance of the citizenry, and there always will be those who refuse to comply. In this case, there will be those who refuse to obey the law, either with respect to purchasing firearms or with respect to turning them in, if they already possess them. But, this represents no reason to reject gun prohibition. Many of the shootings we are talking about were committed with legally obtained guns, and there is no reason to think that the shooters either would have been willing or able to obtain such weapons from criminal sources. The ban I am suggesting will very likely prevent some of these kinds of shootings, and it is always a mistake to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Undoubtedly, one can commit mass murder by other means. The massacre in Oklahoma City was done with a homemade bomb. A man armed with and skilled in the use of a knife can kill any number of people, especially in a confined space. But this, again, is no reason to interfere with efforts to prevent mass shootings. To repeat, it is always a mistake to make the perfect an enemy of the good. And when mass knifings and mass killings by way of exploding fertilizer become as common as mass shootings, we may need to reconsider the legality of these things as well.
Many will cry that this ban violates the Second Amendment. It does not. The Second Amendment straightforwardly provides grounds for arming a citizen militia, in the days when the United States lacked a standing army. These conditions no longer obtain in our nation – we have a standing army and no longer require citizen militias – and thus, the Amendment, as written, is a relic of a bygone past. I am well-aware that our most recent jurisprudence does not support this understanding of the Second Amendment and that our Supreme Court has interpreted it as conferring an individual right to own firearms, whatever the circumstances, but the Court was wrong. I am more than happy, then, to allow the next Court to deliberate on the issue again, as I am confident it will rule differently. Put another way: to those who want to fight this law, go ahead and sue us. We’ll see you in court.
Hunters will be disappointed that they can no longer engage in their preferred sport, and I sympathize. I propose this legislation, not for reasons of animal but human welfare. Making headway against the scourge of annual mass shootings is more than worth the price of having to forgo chasing and shooting animals in the woods and around ponds.
Finally, many undoubtedly will appeal to the right to self-defense, and it is an understandable concern. It also gives me the opportunity to engage in what apparently is a much-needed civics lesson.
Our polity is grounded in the Social Contract tradition and specifically, the version found in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. According to that tradition, what justifies political society and provides the ground for political authority is that a rational person would choose them over a life of maximal prerogative and liberty in the State of Nature.
Our natural – God-given — condition is one of maximal liberty and maximal right. In the absence of any third-party authority, we are free to do whatever we like within the Law of Nature, according to which no one may harm another. Because we are rational, we are capable of recognizing other peoples’ interests and autonomy and thus, can understand the reasons for not harming them.The trouble is that some people will choose to harm others nonetheless, and in the absence of any third-party authority, the policing of the Law of Nature falls to the individual, in whom the natural right to enforce it lies.
Locke describes such a situation as, at a minimum, non-ideal, and if one thinks about it, it will be quickly apparent that life in the State of Nature would be one of persistent anxiety, in which the sorts of large scale, collaborative projects constitutive of advanced civilization, which rely on mutual trust, are impossible. The rational person, therefore, will embrace the Social Contract.
The Social Contract involves two basic commitments: a collective agreement on everyone’s part to surrender their right to enforce the Law of Nature and transfer it to a third party – the government – granting it the authority to do so; and a collective agreement that each of us will voluntarily submit to the authority of that third party, in matters of enforcing the law. To quote the relevant section from the Second Treatise of Government:
[T]here is a political (or civil) society when and only when a number of men are united into one society in such a way that each of them forgoes his executive power of the law of nature, giving it over to the public.
This is a collective gamble that we all make. But it is an educated one. A rational one. And it is hard to imagine that anyone could seriously believe that they would be safer and freer to pursue their interests, in the State of Nature. But, if, at any point, we are rationally justified in believing this, we have the right to dissolve the Social Contract, its basic rationale having been shown to no longer apply. That is, we retain the right to revolution.
But even in the best of civil societies, we will never be perfectly safe. The outstanding, professional law enforcement we are so fortunate to have cannot protect us from every potential predation, on the part of our neighbors, even if it protects us from most. But it is the best that we can do. There always will be some risk in the living of one’s life, and it is important to understand that it can never be entirely eliminated. And it most certainly cannot be eliminated or even mitigated by the carrying of firearms by private citizens. For to permit this is to undermine the very logic on which the Social Contract rests. What leads us to accept public authority is precisely the fact that we recognize the problem inherent in leaving the authority to enforce the law in private hands. When we permit private citizens to carry firearms and to take the enforcement of the law upon themselves, we undermine the very reasons that led us to this acceptance. If you will indulge me one more quotation from the Second Treatise of Government:
Consider what civil society is for. It is set up to avoid and remedy the drawbacks of the state of nature that inevitably follow from every man’s being judge in his own case, by setting up a known authority to which every member of that society can appeal when he has been harmed or is involved in a dispute—an authority that everyone in the society ought to obey.
To allow private citizens to carry weapons not only increases the likelihood that mass killings like the recent shooting in Orlando will occur, it undermines the very logic on which our civil society rests. As President, my chief duty is to protect American citizens and preserve the integrity of our Republic. And I will press for this legislation with every ounce of energy and conviction that I have, drawing on every resource at my disposal.
God bless the victims of the Orlando shooting and their loved ones and God bless the United States of America.
[The camera pulls back to a wide shot and fades to black. ABC News Special Report returns, with Pris Pruitt.]
Pris Pruitt: That was the President of the United States, addressing the nation on the Orlando Shooting and on his proposal for a complete ban on all firearms. The President’s speech will be the subject of an hour long edition of Nightline, tonight, with special host and Nightline veteran, Ted Koppel. We now return to our regular programming, Transgendered Celebrity Housewives of Color.