The recent mass murders at the Charleston, South Carolina, church and the Roseburg, Oregon, community college have revived the stalled campaign for a wide range of new restrictions and even prohibitions on gun ownership.
In his address on Oct. 1, President Obama blamed everyone who hasn’t subscribed to his gun control agenda: “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.” He called for “modest regulation” consistent with the Second Amendment rights of “law abiding gun owners.” He did not, however, offer any specific “common sense” measures – but he approvingly cited Australia, where the government confiscated all privately owned firearms.
The similarly outraged Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the influential Washington Post, at least published his gun policy: “Prohibition [of private gun ownership]. Buyback [of existing private firearms]. A gun free society. Doesn’t it sound logical? Doesn’t it sound safe?”
Before the likes of Obama and Hiatt wander off into further excess, it’s worth taking a hard look at just what options are workable.
First off, law-abiding citizens have constitutional rights – federal as well as in many states — to keep and bear arms for self-defense. For the federal government to attempt to disarm 240 million adult Americans guarantees a coast-to-coast rebellion, and Obama’s government would have quite a bit of trouble mobilizing state and local law enforcement and the military to carry out his bidding.
Very well, then, they’ll say, let’s license, register and control ordinary firearms. The licensing and registering authorities will reject minors, illegal immigrants, felons, fugitives and persons involuntarily committed to psychiatric treatment by a court. No problem with that.
But they will also have to reject, and ultimately imprison, other people who “shouldn’t have guns,” because as Obama put it, they have “a sickness in their minds.” An affidavit, even from a psychiatrist, that a person “has a sickness in his mind” is clearly not sufficient.
However this sweeping gun control regime would not keep the guns out of the hands of legal owners who haven’t yet done anything to merit disqualification. Americans won’t stand for government agents confiscating someone’s means of self-defense on the mere suspicion that he or she might someday go bonkers and start shooting people.
With an estimated 300 million firearms in circulation in this country, there is no way that the government can keep them out of the hands of otherwise not disqualified people who it thinks may be about to commit crimes. Persons who know they are ineligible to buy a gun from a licensed dealer usually don’t even make the attempt (which is itself a felony). They acquire their guns by informal exchanges, or they steal them.
What then can be done to deter murderous lunatics? One technique is to encourage relatives, friends, co-workers and counselors to keep their eyes on a potential shooter and on his social media pronouncements, and initiate interventions.
Another idea is to deprive the shooter of the media publicity that so many seem to crave. The Oregon shooter, for instance, published a blog post that read “I have noticed that people like him [the Roanoke TV station shooter] are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are.”
Let’s think outside the box. Suppose the prospective shooter knew what would happen after his lethal bid for publicity. After he died at the site of the act, or after his capture, trial, conviction and death by hanging, his lifeless body would be subjected to the Berkeley Rule.
This is attributed to Sir William Berkeley, governor of Jamestown Colony during Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. According to historian James D. Rice, one rebel “was suspended in chains on the gallows, left to die of thirst, starvation and exposure, then to decay in public view, his rotting corpse and bleaching bones a monument to the fruits of treason.”
In this age, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment prevents mistreating a live person, no matter how wicked. Thus only the corpse of the shooter would be suspended at some crossroads, for a year of decay in an iron cage. After that, the rotting remains would be thrown down an old mine shaft, where a catwalk across the opening would afford citizens the opportunity to relieve themselves upon his memory.
Some notoriety-seeking mass shooters might not care what became of their corpse, but at least some would think twice about having their remains suffer the Berkeley Rule.