I am writing this on June 11, having just returned from the large and moving local Gun-Free School Zones/March for Our Lives event.
I feel tremendous gratitude to those who worked on this event, especially Megan Oddsen-Goodwin and Triston Ezidore, who were the principal organizers, and speakers including Mayor Daniel Lee, City Council Member Yasmine-Imani McMorrin, Freddy Puza, and Bubba Fish. I am very proud that these people are all members of our Club.
One of the many powerful speeches was from Sami Shanman. She described attending the first March for Our Lives after the Parkland killings, when she was a Culver High student, and how frustrating it is to march for the same things four years later, while she is home from college. She has learned and grown; the country has not.
Sami inspired me to reflect back further, to my own first awareness of our national gun crisis. I was starting middle school and just beginning to discover the depth of the Beatles’ music when John Lennon was killed in December 1980. In March 1981, an assassin’s bullets wounded President Ronald Reagan and paralyzed his Press Secretary, James Brady. These attacks, both committed with handguns, inspired a bipartisan movement for gun control which produced the Brady Bill, passed in 1993, which mandated background checks and a five-day waiting period for almost all gun purchases, and the 1994 Federal ban on assault weapons. Data showed these laws to be so effective that Republicans voted to ban the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from continuing to study gun violence.
So what happened? How did we get from serious limitations on handguns to accepting people carrying semi-automatic rifles in Vons? First, the assault weapons ban included a “sunset provision,” so it only lasted ten years. Multiple attempts to reinstate it or make it permanent have been stymied by Republican legislators.
Second, the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller established, for the first time in the nation’s history, that the Second Amendment includes an individual right to own guns.
The Second Amendment is a very poor bit of writing. Its ambiguity has cost thousands of lives. The complete text is: “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.” While there is a lot to say about the historic role of militias (see Carol Anderson’s recent book The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America), the commas after “militia” and “arms” make this sentence undecipherable. Without them, the Amendment would clearly say that a militia is necessary and that people need guns to serve in it. With them, who knows?
The majority ruling in Heller resolved this by uniting the last two clauses against the first two, as if the text only said “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Whatever the legal or grammatical foundation of this argument, it took over 200 years for the Supreme Court to put it in a majority opinion. When the Court did, it was in one authored by Antonin Scalia and signed by Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, and Thomas.
Of these five men, Kennedy and Scalia were appointed by Reagan, Thomas by Bush the Elder, and Alito and Roberts by Bush the Younger. Of the four dissenters, Stevens was appointed by Gerald Ford, Souter by Bush the Elder, and Ginsberg and Breyer by Bill Clinton.
While Heller was not a party-line decision, it shows the transformation of the Supreme Court to an instrument of partisan minority rule. The more recent the Republican appointee, the more extreme. A sign at today’s rally called for “Safety, Not Politics,” but safety is political. We cannot have safety without defeating the politicians who enact and defend policies which make us less safe. The California Democratic Party’s platform on Gun Violence Prevention appears elsewhere in this newsletter, so it can be absolutely clear what we are here to do.
Again, I am very proud of all the members of this club who organized, spoke at, rode as bike escorts, and just attended today’s march and rally. I note also that Culver City City Council candidates Freddy Puza and Alex Fisch, Culver City School Board candidates Triston Ezidore, Stephanie Loredo, and Darrel Menthe, and a representative of the Karen Bass for Los Angeles Mayor campaign were present. As we consider our endorsements and cast our votes between now and November, let’s keep an eye on who shows up to stand up. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words.
[painting by my grandfather Ralph Levine, from 1980]