Vail Law: America’s culture of violence must change, and with it our actions (column)
October 10, 2017
"Whoever destroys a single life destroys the entire world. Whoever saves a single life saves the world entire."
The above is from the Talmud, which dates back to the second century. This is, in short, nothing new. What the learning consists of is the ripple effect writ large; what each one of us does in our own small way, affects us all. Likewise, what we fail to do.
Forty-four years ago, upon what I believed to be moral grounds, I stopped eating red meat. I haven't had a nibble since. The decision was mine and you don't have to agree with me but it fit into my moral universe. In the four-and-a-half decades that have passed since I made that decision solely for myself, red meat consumption in this county has decreased significantly. Perhaps I influenced someone who influenced someone who in turn affected others. That's the way that culture works; we each rub our ideals up against one another and the friction ignites change.
On a warm, pleasant weekend in Las Vegas, what is now 10 days ago, 58 people made the fatal mistake of attending a concert. Going to a concert in the United States should not be a life or death decision but, owing to the actions of a madman, for 58 poor souls and 500 more who were injured —some of them grievously — it sadly was.
Add Las Vegas to the cruel pantheon of American tragedies: Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, San Jose, Orlando, Sandy Hook and too many more to count.
Once again, there are cries for reform and perhaps this time some crumbs will be tossed at the bloodied feet of the unconscionable legacy of American slaughter. Perhaps the purchase of bump stocks — which I'll wager you never heard of before Las Vegas — will be restricted. And I'll wager too, little more will be accomplished.
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Whose fault is this? Well, first of all, the gunmen. The evil of their rampages lies in their black hearts. But it is also ours. Each one of us who supports this culture of violence can claim a share in the frisson of gun violence in America.
Turn on your TV and flip through the channels. I'll give you odds that some significant percentage of the channels through which you flip—particularly in prime time—will feature guns and violence. Check the movie page. Same. Peruse the best seller list, the leading video games, and on and on. We are consumers of violence, much of it gratuitous, with no purpose but to entertain.
Think on that for just a moment; we are entertained by violence. And as the years pass, it is ever more graphic and — perhaps more importantly — increasingly interactive. One has to wonder if it's healthy for growing children to spend hour upon hour blasting fictive bad guys.
What the Second Amendment assures is only this: "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."
I have argued before that, vivisected, what the Second Amendment was meant to say is that the right of the people to "keep and bear arms" is for the clear, express and limited purpose of arming a militia. Plain language is, after all, plain language and one of the most basic precepts of law is that in order to divine intent, language should be afforded its ordinary meaning.
Yes, I am aware of what the Supreme Court has said on this issue. I know all about Cruikshank, Presser, Miller, and Baldwin, each in its own way affirming the right of an individual to bear arms. Yes, I know that in 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia. And while I respectfully disagree, the Second Amendment is not the problem.
I believe there is a time and place for self-protection. In the rural backwaters of this country where a call to law enforcement might take half an hour or more, a person should have the right to protect her home and person. Despite my aversion to red meat, I support the rights of sportsmen.
It's up to us
But this bacchanal of senseless killing must stop.
I, for one, do not buy the "slippery slope" objections advanced by the NRA and others. Reasonable regulations on private ownership of weaponry will not lead to Constitutional perdition. There are reasonable restraints and regulations on nearly every aspect of American life. Requiring a driver's license has not led to the confiscation of your Camry. Mandating voter registration has not chilled your right to vote. Universal background checks, limiting ownership of assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole, banning bump stocks and other common sense restrictions will not unreasonably impair the Constitutional protections.
Might our rights be marginally infringed? Perhaps. But, ask yourself, on balance, how that compares to a 20-year-old's right to live a life or a grandmother of eight's right to come home to her family after a concert.
But it is more than government and regulation. It is us, each one of us. And how we live our lives, teach our children, and respect our neighbors. If we nurture gratuitous violence, that is what will bloom. If what we each ripple out into the sea of culture is tolerance instead, then waves of tolerance will fall upon our shores.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.