A Message from the President of Americans Against Gun Violence
Four days after the Oxford High School mass shooting, in which a 15 year old student killed four fellow students and wounded six other students and a teacher, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky posted the photo below of himself and his family on Twitter.
Apparently not wanting to be outdone, four days later, Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado posted the picture below of herself and her four sons with the message, "The Boeberts have your six @RepThomasMassie! (No spare ammo for you, though.)"
Boebert represents Colorado's 3rd Congressional District. She's previously posted photos of herself in provocative poses holding a handgun on her hip, and she's the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado, where waitresses openly carry loaded handguns.
Were Representatives Massie and Boebert unaware of the Oxford High School mass shooting, or were they purposefully trying to rub salt in the wounds of the surviving victims, two of whom remained in critical condition, and the parents, siblings, and classmates of the students who were killed? Were Massie and Boebert unaware that a study funded by the CDC in the mid-1990’s showed that U.S. children under the age of 15 were being killed by guns at a rate that was 12 times higher than the rate for children in the other 25 high income democratic countries of the world?[i] That Congress reacted to this study not by adopting stringent gun control laws to protect our nation’s children, comparable to the laws in the other high income democratic countries of the world, but instead by cutting the CDC’s funding for gun violence prevention research?[ii] That a more recent study showed that high school age youth in the United States are being murdered with guns at a rate that is 82 times higher than the rate for youth in other high income democratic countries?[iii] That the Oxford High School mass shooting was the 29th shooting on a U.S. school campus this year?[iv]
And which do Representatives Massie and Boebert love more? Their children…or their guns?
I've often referred to our country's epidemic of gun violence as "the shameful epidemic." Representatives Massie and Boebert should both be ashamed for posting these photos. But what about other members of Congress, including even the ones who were publicly highly critical of the Massie and Boebert photos? Shouldn’t all members of Congress be ashamed for allowing anyone to possess weapons like the ones shown in these photos outside of service in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard - the modern equivalent of "A well regulated militia?"
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in its 1939 Miller decision:
With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.[v]
The four surviving members of the Supreme Court who reversed over two centuries of legal precedent, including the Miller decision and three other prior Supreme Court opinions,[vi] by ruling in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to own a gun unrelated to service in a well regulated militia, should also be ashamed. These four surviving members include Justice Kennedy, who has since retired, and Justices Roberts, Alito, and Thomas, who remain on the Supreme Court. The fifth justice in the Heller majority, Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2017. He should have been ashamed at the time that he wrote the Heller majority opinion, though, for the multiple false statements in the opinion, including the false claim that the Heller decision was consistent with Miller. Did Scalia and the other four justices in the Heller majority not read the Miller decision? And did the four justices who signed on to Scalia’s majority opinion not even read the first half of the Second Amendment, which states, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state?" If so, how could they have signed on to the principle holding in Heller, which, when combined with the first half of the Second Amendment, would read, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia?"
And while "ashamed" may be too strong a word, I believe that it's disingenuous, at best, for other gun violence (GVP) organizations to keep sending appeals for donations that feature the Massie and Boebert photos, along with heart-wrenching testimonials from the parents and siblings of children and youth who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shootings with the kinds of weapons shown in these photos, when these organizations don't even advocate the kinds of stringent gun controls, including complete bans on civilian ownership of these kinds of assault weapons, that would be reasonably likely to have prevented the Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shootings. Some of these organizations don't even advocate banning new sales of assault weapons. The organizations that do advocate "banning assault weapons" don't mention in their appeals for donations that they don't support any bans that don't include so-called "grandfather clauses," that would allow the Massie family, the Boebert family, and the millions of other Americans who already own assault weapons to keep them.
Although we've tried to get these other organizations to join us, at the present time, Americans Against Gun Violence remains the only U.S. gun violence prevention organization in our entire country that openly advocates and is actively working toward a complete ban on civilian ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles, including a ban on all of the weapons pictured in the Massie and Boebert photos, with no grandfather clause. Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand all promptly adopted such bans after mass shootings committed with semi-automatic long guns in Hungerford, England in 1987;[vii] in Port Arthur, Australia in 1996;[viii] and in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.[ix] People who already owned these kinds of guns were required to surrender them in return for monetary compensation, and the guns were destroyed.
It’ also disingenuous for other GVP organizations to cite the recent Oxford High School mass shootings in their appeals for donations. The Oxford High School shooting was committed with a handgun that the shooter’s father legally purchased after passing a rudimentary federal background check. No GVP organization other than Americans Against Gun Violence advocates a complete ban on civilian ownership of handguns comparable to the ban that Great Britain adopted following the 1996 Dunblane Primary School mass shooting.[x] In fact, no other GVP organization even advocates banning just new sales of handguns.
In past Americans Against Gun Violence president’s messages, I’ve repeatedly stated that in creating a constitutional obstacle, where none previously existed, to the adoption of stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in other high income democratic countries, the Supreme Court’s rogue 2008 Heller decision is literally a death sentence for tens of thousands of Americans annually. The statement that Heller prevents us from banning or even stringently regulating civilian ownership of handguns, which account for about 90% of all gun related deaths in our country, is definitely true. In Heller, the narrow five member majority ruled that even Washington DC’s restrictive handgun licensing law, which allowed residents who already owned handguns to keep them but prevented anyone who didn’t already own a handgun from legally acquiring one, violated the Second Amendment.
In 2013, though, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, which was committed with an assault rifle, the city of Highland Park, a suburb 25 miles north of Chicago, passed a complete ban on civilian possession of assault rifles within the city, with no grandfather clause. Residents who owned assault rifles were given just 60 days to get rid of them. The gun lobby filed a lawsuit, claiming that the ban violated the Second Amendment. A federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit,[xi] and in a split decision, a three judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal.[xii] The gun lobby appealed the case to the Supreme Court, but with the five members of the Heller majority still on the Court, the gun lobby could only get two justices (Scalia and Thomas),[xiii] not the requisite three, to agree to hear the case. In declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court left Highland Park’s assault weapons ban intact. At the present time, therefore, there is no Second Amendment obstacle to the adoption of a complete ban on civilian ownership of assault weapons comparable to the ban that Highland Park adopted in 2013.
Please contact your U.S. Representative and your U.S. Senators and let them know how offended you are by the social media posts by Representatives Massie and Boebert, but more importantly, how outraged you are concerning the fact that despite repeated mass shootings in our country, including mass shootings on school campuses committed with assault rifles, Congress has done nothing to stop the carnage. Urge your members of Congress to take swift action to completely ban civilian ownership of assault rifles, with no grandfather clause, and educate them concerning the fact that there is currently no Second Amendment obstacle to such a ban. At the same time, though, let your members of Congress know that in the longer term, you expect them to openly advocate and do everything within their power to overturn the Supreme Court’s rogue 2008 Heller decision and to enact a complete ban on civilian ownership of handguns comparable to the ban that Britain adopted after the 1996 Dunblane Primary School mass shooting.
To learn more about Britain’s response to the Dunblane Primary School mass shooting, I suggest that you view my November 7 interview with Dr. Michael North who lost his five year-old daughter, Sophie, in the Dunblane shooting. In the interview, Dr. North describes humbly and eloquently how he and the other grieving Dunblane parents decided that nothing short of a complete ban on civilian ownership of handguns would suffice to prevent other parents and children from having to endure the horror to which they and their children had been subjected; and how he and the other Dunblane parents overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles in getting a complete handgun ban enacted within less than two years. There hasn’t been another school shooting in Britain since the handgun ban went into effect in 1998, and the overall rate of gun related deaths in Britain is currently 1/60th the rate in the United States. At Americans Against Gun Violence, we believe that we have not only the ability, but also the moral responsibility to follow Dr. North’s example.
Thanks for your support of Americans Against Gun Violence. And thanks for helping us show through our actions, and not just our words, that there are those of us in the United States of America who, like the people of Britain and the other advanced democratic countries of the world, very definitely love our country’s children more than its guns.
Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence
Note: Dr. Durston is a board certified emergency physician, a former expert marksman in the United States Marine Corps, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, decorated for "courage under fire."
[i] “Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Death among Children--26 Industrialized Countries,” MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 46, no. 5 (1997): 101–5.
[ii] “U.S. House of Representatives” (1996), https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/1996/7/11/house-section/article/h7280-2.
[iii] Ashish P. Thakrar et al., “Child Mortality In The US And 19 OECD Comparator Nations: A 50-Year Time-Trend Analysis,” Health Affairs 37, no. 1 (January 2018): 140–49, https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0767.
[iv] “School Shootings This Year: How Many and Where,” Education Week, March 1, 2021, https://www.edweek.org/leadership/school-shootings-this-year-how-many-and-where/2021/03.
[v] U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939) (n.d.).
[vi] United States v. Cruikshank, 92 US 542 (Supreme Court 1876); Presser v. Illinois, 116 US (Supreme Court 1886); Lewis v. United States, No. 55 (U.S. 1980).
[vii] Michael J. North, “Gun Control in Great Britain after the Dunblane Shootings,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 185–93.
[viii] Rebecca Peters, “Rational Firearm Regulation: Evidence-Based Gun Laws in Australia,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 195–204; Philip Alpers, “The Big Melt: How One Democracy Changed after Scrapping a Third of Its Firearms,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 205–11.
[ix] “2019 Firearm Law Changes (Arms Amendment Bill 2),” New Zealand Police, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.police.govt.nz/advice-services/firearms-and-safety/2019-firearm-law-changes-arms-amendment-bill-2.
[x] North, “Gun Control in Great Britain after the Dunblane Shootings.”
[xi] Friedman v. City of Highland Park, 68 F. Supp. 3d 895 (Dist. Court 2014).
[xii] Friedman v. City of Highland Park, Illinois, 784 F. 3d 406 (Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2015).
[xiii] Friedman v. City of Highland Park, Ill., 136 S. Ct. 447 (Supreme Court 2015).