Yet again we are mourning for the loss of innocent lives and for the devastation created for those who were injured or were witnesses; for those whose lives have been changed forever in another mass murder. The needless loss of children, brothers, sisters, spouses, parents, lovers, and friends, in a short span of time -- caused by a seriously disturbed individual who used a semi-automatic weapon to kill as many people as he could as quickly as he could.
This massacre has sparked yet another debate on how to prevent these mass murders that are increasing in frequency. I have watched as the debates quickly turn ugly - with vicious ad hominem attacks being launched. I worry that we have become desensitized to the loss of life and are no longer able to empathize with those who were injured or who were witnesses to the attack or its aftermath. I worry as people suggest that we have a duty to come armed to the teeth to our work places, or schools, or when we go to a club, restaurant, coffee house or movie.
I choose not to carry a gun -- that is my right. I respect those who choose to carry guns -- that is their right. But I am angry that, along with all the day to day struggles we face, we have lost the right to enjoy life without the fear of some lunatic taking out his revenge on us. I am angry we can no longer attend a football game without being subjected to metal detectors and pat down searches, and can no longer carry a purse inside the stadium. I am angry we cannot go listen to a government official in our community without fearing for her safety as well as those who have come to hear her. I am angry we cannot go to a movie without checking to see if anyone near you is armed. I am angry that police officers, sitting in a coffee shop or in their patrol car, cannot take a well deserved break without the fear that they will be executed. I am angry we cannot go out to a club to have a good time without fear. I am angry we cannot send our children to school or college without worrying that someone will shoot and kill them. I am angry that the work place is so full of violence that additional steps have to be taken to protect workers. I am angry, but I also feel helpless.
When I feel helpless, I try to find answers. I'm not sure that I have found the perfect answer, or that there is the perfect answer, but I believe there is a way we can all do something to prevent further tragedy. Please read the article written by Mark Follman for Mother Jones in the link at the bottom of my blog. Please share it.
The Supreme Court of the United States: Will they hear the Connecticut assault weapons ban case?
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States ("SCOTUS") is to decide if it will hear a challenge to the assault weapons ban passed in Connecticut after the Sandy Hook massacre where 20 first graders and 6 adults were murdered in 2012. Legal experts predict that the SCOTUS is unlikely to take the case just days after the mass murder in Orlando, Florida. Last December, they refused to hear a challenge to a ban on semi-automatic weapons enacted by the city of Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. This decision came just 15 days after the massacre in San Bernardino, California where 14 people died and 21 people were injured.
Should the SCOTUS hear the case?
Should the court accept certiorari? Is it time to get a more definitive ruling from the highest court? Do we need further clarification? Should the federal government, a state or a city be able to ban semi-automatic weapons? Do we need further clarification on the 2nd Amendment that reads: "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."? This transcription was the one ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State. Another version was passed by Congress that states: "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." The placement of this comma has stirred up much debate -- is the right to bear arms a right of the militia? Or is it the right of the people?
The SCOTUS answered this debate definitively in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) in a 5-4 decision. The Court ruled that the right to bear arms belongs to people, unconnected with any service in a militia. The Court, via Justice Scalia, further ruled that there is no "right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." The Court definitively stated that the Second Amendment extends to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, including those that were not in existence at the time of the founding of our country. Last, the Court ruled that the District of Columbia's total ban on handguns and the requirement that the handgun be stored unloaded, dissembled or with a trigger lock, violated the Second Amendment as it pertains to self defense. The analysis in this opinion is thorough, looking at historical concepts and the realities of modern life. It is well worth reading for those interested. www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-290.ZO.html
In McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), the SCOTUS held that the Second Amendment rights are fully applicable to the states, meaning that a state cannot deny Second Amendment rights to its citizens.
Most recently on March 21, 2016, in Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S. ___ (2016), the SCOTUS struck down a Massachusetts law that prohibited the possession of stun guns. Jaime Caetano had a violent ex-boyfriend. He beat her so severely, she required hospitalization. She obtained multiple restraining orders against him -- which he ignored. Jaime's friend offered her a stun gun for self defense. She accepted. One night after leaving work, her ex-boyfriend was waiting for her outside her workplace. He was screaming at her that she was not allowed to work and that her place was with their children. She showed him the stun gun and stood her ground, stating something to the effect of "don't make me use this." He got scared and left.
The SCOTUS issued a two page per curiam (unanimous) decision striking down the Massachusetts law. Massachusetts justified the total ban on stun guns because: (1) they were not readily available at the time the Second Amendment was ratified, (2) they were "dangerous per se at common law and unusual" because they were "a thoroughly modern invention", and (3) stun guns were not readily adaptable to use by the military. These arguments had previously been disposed of by the SCOTUS. Again, the opinon and the concurring opinion of Justice Alito, joined in by Justice Thomas, make for an interesting read.
The previous federal ban on assault weapons.
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush signed an executive order banning the import of assault weapons. On September 13, 1994, Congress passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) which prohibited the manufacture of semi-automatic firearms and large capacity ammunition magazines for civilian use. Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan supported the bill. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of the American public supported the bill.
The bill was in response to two mass murders. The first was the January 17, 1989, Stockton, California, elementary school mass shooting where 106 rounds were fired from a semi-automatic AK-47 firearm in a 3 minute period, hitting 34 children and one teacher. Five children died. The disturbed murderer shot himself in the head. Most of the children injured and killed were Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees who had come to the United States with their families.
The second incident occurred on July 1st, 1993, and is often referred to the 101 California Street Shooting. The mentally disturbed individual entered the law firm of Pettit & Martin, armed with two TEC-9 semi-automatic handguns with Hellfire triggers (they allow a gunman to shoot faster and turn a semi-automatic firearm almost into an automatic firearm), and another handgun with hollow point ammunition, murdered eight people and injured six more. As San Francisco police officers were closing in, he shot himself.
The bill expired on September 13, 2014, after a sunset expiration provision.
The number of mass murders committed by disturbed individuals armed with semi-automatic firearms is on the increase. This chart details this sordid history and its more recent escalation. www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data
What can we do?
These mass murders are not impulsive crimes. These mass shooters usually signal their intent to engage in mass murder well in advance of their killing spree. I'm closely following the rumor that the wife of the mass murderer of Orlando will be arrested. The rumor is that she had been informed of his plans to some degree and did absolutely nothing to stop him from carrying out his evil intent.
I have just finished reading a fascinating and extremely well researched and written article by Mark Follman in the November/December 2015 issue of Mother Jones.
If you do nothing else this week, read it. Then share it. We, the public, may be exposed to someone who wants to avenge his rage at the world by mass murder. We may have the power to help stop this madness.
Diane Russell is an attorney who is committed to serving her clients with the highest standard in the legal community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, photography, cooking, is the mom to Spanky, and an avid Seahawks fan. Blog posts will eventually get around to some legal issue, but not in ways you might typically expect from an attorney.