Editorial: How long will it take?

Column By John Young

When Martin Luther King Jr. addressed that question in March of 1965, he wasn’t talking of the intractable national tragedy of gun violence, but it’s a cause he’d lead today.

Three years later on an April evening, a high-powered killing device would take him away from us on a Memphis balcony.

Fifty-five years and a couple of days since that unspeakable deed, Tennessee has seen another shocking atrocity. Make that two.

First came the horrifying deaths of six people, including three grade schoolers, in a Nashville school at the barrel of an AR-15-style rifle.

Then came Republican lawmakers expelling two black state legislators who stood with young protesters at the Tennessee Capitol to get lawmakers’ attention about the perils young people face.

“The world is watching Tennessee,” said Justin Jones, one of the two expelled, a statement that couldn’t be more eloquent and passionate, and in the mold of King.

The leaders of Tennessee’s legislature would prefer none of us saw what they did.

Their tyrannical action stirs together two veins of injustice – the marginalization of people of color, and the never-ending rationalization of slaughter on commerce’s altar.

How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from their sacred throne?

Yes,  it’s all about commerce — mammon – not about the Constitution. It’s about profits for Bloodshed Inc.

Don’t be fooled. The late Warren Burger wasn’t. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1969 to 1986, appointed by Richard Nixon, he called the gun lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment “one of the greatest pieces of fraud” ever foisted on the American public.

Not every state is bending to the will of the gun industry and its fanatical band of hobbyists.

Colorado’s Democrat-majority general assembly recently sent the governor a package of bills that would (1) raise the age limit to purchase firearms to 21; (2) institute a three-day waiting period for all purchases; (3) make it easier to sue gun makers; (4) expand the state’s red-flag law.

Lawmakers likely will consider a ban on assault weapons as well.

To this, special interest groups hauled out the standard lies Justice Burger decried.

A gun lobby parrot with the Colorado State Shooting Association said such measures were “removing the West typical values” of “independence and self-reliance,” the “core of the Second Amendment.”

Baloney. The Second Amendment is about regulating a militia. Read it.

No state owes unfettered and instant access to a range of killing instruments. The Supreme Court has ruled for restrictions like the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 and the Gun Control Act of 1968.

What is an assault weapon, you ask? Says the court, it’s what we, the people, say it is.

How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.

Americans who want an end to the horrifying slaughter must defeat Republican candidates, who as a group have proven to be unflinching marionettes of the death merchants and the National Rifle Association.

Nothing proposed by any of the groups most active in this cause —  Anytown for Gun Safety, the Giffords Law Center, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence – would deprive law-abiding Americans of ample tools for hunting and self-defense.

As for AR- and AK-style weapons with high-capacity clips — they simply put police and innocents at the mercy of maniacs.

One hope for a safer nation is a civil action against gun makers, as succeeded with suits filed by victims of the Sandy Hook massacre.

They settled for $73 million from Remington, maker of AR-style weapons. A factor cited in the suit was marketing that appealed to troubled individuals like the gunman who killed 20 first-graders and six adults.

Americans who care about this must not stop fighting and demanding that policymakers choose public safety, and public health, over shoppers’ convenience and hobbyists’ passions.

The white Republican majority in the Tennessee legislature wishes no one outside its cloistered confines noticed what it did. However, it now has reaped a whirlwind and created two young heroes, symbols, like King, of a righteous campaign that has far to go but is getting ferocious traction.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.

Editor’s Note: The “AR” in an AR-15 firearm stands for “ArmaLite Rifle” because it was a scaled-down version of infantry rifle designer Eugene Stoner’s ArmaLite AR-10 by ArmaLite (which later sold the patent to the Colt Manufacturing Company in 1958) Colt makes the Colt AR-15. The patents expired in 1977 but Colt kept the trademark to the AR-15 name even though there are several generic copies of the AR-15 sold under various names. 

The original AR-15 invented by Stoner is similar to military M16 and M4 Carbine rifles as they all share the same core design. 

An “AR-style” rifle is now commonly described as any lightweight semi-automatic rifle based on the original design. Firearms supporters argue that any ban on “AR-15 style weapons” (now dubbed the modern sporting rifle or MSR) could also result in a ban on traditional-looking hunting or target shooting semi-automatic firearms.

While AR-15-style rifles receive notoriety as being used in half of the 10 most deadly mass shootings in modern American history, a 2019 Pew Research study showed that only 4 percent of U.S. gun deaths were from semi-automatic rifles. Most firearm-related homicides in the U.S. involved handguns – many of which are also semi-automatic.