February 2, 2013 by Nash Riggins
As America’s debate over gun control continues to intensify, opponents of new government measures to limit gun violence are increasingly answering rational questions by way of reference solely to one archaic piece of legislature.
This sentiment proved truer than ever this week when Neil Heslin – the father of a six-year-old boy who was shot dead in the Sandy Hook massacre – was reportedly heckled by pro-gun enthusiasts while testifying at a local hearing on gun control.
Neil Heslin was giving an emotional account of his son Jesse’s murder on 14 December when several members of the crowd began brazenly shouting “the Second Amendment”. Media agencies across the globe pounced, claiming that Mr Heslin had been the victim of heckling; however, in truth, he was less heckled than interrupted. After all, some video accounts of the incident opted to omit the grieving father’s would-be-query to the room.
“I ask if there’s anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question: Why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips,” Mr Heslin said (rather than asked).
A period of brief silence followed, as the majority of the crowd clearly understood this to be a rhetorical question. Yet for whatever reason, only after Mr Heslin resumed speaking once more did the room’s pro-gun enthusiasts opt to interrupt him by shouting a delayed answer to his non-question: “the Second Amendment”. Not necessarily heckling, but no less nonsensical.
It’s hard to say whether the falsely-labelled hecklers simply missed the lack of rising intonation in Neil Heslin’s voice, or whether it just took them a little too long in order to manage the courage to speak up. Either way, Mr Heslin was not heckled, but merely confronted with a thoughtless answer to a valid question.
Meanwhile, the scene also served to demonstrate yet another low point in the national debate on gun violence – after all, what sort of person is so obsessed with an inanimate object that they can’t sit and listen to a forlorn father’s 10-minute account of his child’s murder?
In truth, Mr Heslin’s testimony was incredibly diplomatic, given that his young son had recently been murdered with 26 other victims at Sandy Hook Elementary. He admitted to having been raised with a knowledge of gun safety, and had regularly been hunting as a youth – and subsequently stated that assault weapons such as the AR-15 and other high-capacity firearms were 100% unnecessary for the purposes of recreation or protection.
“A semi-automatic or automatic weapon is one of the most inaccurate weapons out there. The sole purpose of a semi-automatic … is to put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly – and that’s what they do. And that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary,” Heslin stated.
His response was quite level-headed. Indeed, under what circumstances are over 100 rounds necessary in order to defend one’s home from an intruder? Unless you’re either being invaded by an entire battalion of trained soldiers – or are just an abysmally awful shot – it shouldn’t take more than a few bullets to defend yourself.
Yet according to the pro-gun enthusiasts who crashed the legislative subcommittee at which Mr Heslin had been invited to speak, the lack of need for civilian-owned, high-capacity firearms is completely eclipsed by the all-powerful Second Amendment. If nothing else, these primal screams form a foolishly half-baked defence against gun control – yet in the interest of fairness, they cannot be ignored.
Yes, this Constitutional clause undeniably spells out a civilian’s “right to keep and bear arms” – why? Because the founding fathers believed that “a well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free-state”. Indeed, their foresight paid off – for just twenty-some years down the road, a bitter British Crown tried to invade US soil once more. The former colonists persevered, and the King acquiesced.
Yet 200 years on, the UK has evolved into America’s closest ally – and US soil has unsurprisingly witnessed no additional mass invasions. Accordingly, perhaps it’s time for pro-gun activists to painfully admit that they aren’t stockpiling weapons so as to form a militia and protect America from foreign invaders. No – they stockpile weapons because they enjoy shooting for recreational purposes, or simply feel safer with a firearm close by.
That’s fair enough, and within their rights – but as previously stated, why the hell does this outdated and regularly abused freedom allow for almost any individual in the country to have access to a high-capacity assault weapon? The Second Amendment offers no specifications as to the state’s ability to limit which firearms individuals are allowed to carry under this right, as it completely fails to define the word “arms”. Accordingly, this piece of unclear legislature has been contested and reinterpreted numerous times – most recently, in 2008.
In the District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled in a five-to-four decision that the Second Amendment does indeed guarantee an individual right to bear arms; however, Justice Scalia also declared that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited”, and it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” After all, if this clause was exercised as literally as Mr Heslin’s would-be-hecklers want legislators to believe it should be, every American would be entitled to owning a nuclear warhead ‘just in case of intruders’.
In short, ‘the Second Amendment’ should not be considered a rational answer to Neil Heslin’s question; therefore, not only was the grieving father rudely interrupted during a formal proceeding, but he was interrupted with an incomplete answer that is too often used as the last line of defense for the otherwise indefensible. If nothing else, it should comfort advocates of gun control to know that their opponents are swiftly running out of valid arguments with which to launch against the impending arrival of new and proactive firearm legislature.
Over the coming months, all three bodies of federal government will be combing through different interpretations of an individual’s right to bear arms – that’s what we elected them to do. Accordingly, activists who feel very strongly with regards to the debate should make their voices heard – yet there’s a when and a where for everything, and this sentiment undeniably holds true whilst a grieving father is discussing his six-year-old son’s senseless murder.
No voice should be left unheard in a national debate that concerns all of society – especially those who are opposed to gun control. Yet it should be duly noted that civic discourse is best served rationally. Shouting the name of a short and infamously contested piece of legislature is by no means a winning argument, and the ‘activists’ who interrupted Neil Heslin, during what can only be interpreted as one of the toughest moments of his life, should be publicly shamed.
No, Mr Heslin was not heckled; however, this entire episode has clearly illustrated that the child-like sense of entitlement boasted by many Americans does not go beyond the literal translation of an archaic text. Subsequently, if gun advocates truly wish to be taken seriously, they must move beyond childish shouting, and instead provide rational arguments with which to formally make their case. It’s time for a grown-up debate about one of America’s most pressing issues, and thousands of Americans will live or die by its outcome. Don’t screw it up.