On June 10, Emilio Hoffman, a 14-year-old student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., was transformed, from a good-hearted kid with his life ahead of him to a statistic.
Now, he’s a red dot on a graph, one blip in an “American victims of gun violence” total that is already absurdly high, and will no doubt be higher the next time you check it.
Emilio’s crime? He went to school, on a day that another student decided — for reasons none of us can fathom — to bring an AR-15 rifle from home and start shooting people.
What happened to Emilio is not a tragedy. A tragedy is when something happens that no one could have helped: an accident, a natural disaster, a crime that could not have been foreseen or prevented.
But what happened to Emilio also happened at Seattle Pacific University five days prior. And it happened in Isla Vista, Calif., near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara, two weeks before that.
These aren’t tragedies — not any more. These are symptoms of insanity — of a country doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
This is the lunacy of a nation.
We have the right to bear arms in the United States. It’s guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
But let’s just acknowledge the facts here: The Second Amendment was drafted when there was virtually no such thing as a police force to keep law and order, and frontiersmen’s property might very well be attacked by wild animals or roving bands of American Indians, and the state-of-the-art weapon of the day was a musket that took at least a half-minute to load and was as likely to miss or explode in your face as it was to find its target.
At the time, the ingesting of mercury (which we now know to be horrifically toxic) and the deliberate draining of one’s own blood (which is not a good idea either, by the way) were regarded as cutting-edge and highly effective medical techniques. Also, slavery was considered a perfectly legitimate business enterprise.
As far as I know, there’s no one arguing that we should reinstate the medicinal or anthropological thinking of 220 years ago, so it’s more than a little disingenuous to claim that the firearms standards of the same time period can be directly superimposed upon our modern-day society, with its assault rifles and semi-automatics.
We live in a very different world today, and that makes interpreting the Second Amendment a bit trickier.
I am not anti-gun. I’m not anti-the Bill of Rights. Those rights, however, were an addendum to the Constitution. They came later. Before them, before we even had a country at all, the Founding Fathers declared our independence on the basis of different, even more fundamental rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The right to bear arms was bestowed by a government, but these “unalienable rights” were held to be a gift to mankind by our Creator.
We can only guess how the Framers would have worded the Second Amendment in a world of Adam Lanzas and James Eagan Holmeses and Elliot Rodgers and Jared Michael Padgetts.
But there’s nothing ambiguous about the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are timelessly applicable. The “right to life” — that’s clear: It means a 14-year-old kid has the right to not be shot to death in his high school locker-room.
If we care about “rights” at all, that is where the conversation has to begin. That’s our starting point.
And I’m not prescribing a particular route here. I fully appreciate that this is a complex issue, and if it had an easy and obvious solution, we would have implemented it long ago.
I don’t know, specifically, what will solve America’s gun violence problem. All I know is that doing nothing won’t.