What to do about so many guns


All the Islanders I know who own guns are highly responsible with and knowledgeable about their firearms. That said, editorial cartoonist Drew Sheneman of the New Jersey Star-Ledger recently reminded his readers of the Second Amendment, ratified in 1791, with an accompanying illustration. The amendment reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.” 

His drawing portrayed the weapons a person carried in 18th century America: a frontloading flintlock musket, a flintlock pistol, and saber.

That was it.

For most historians, the phrase “to bear arms” referred to service in a military unit, not individual ownership. For the true originalist interpreter of the Constitution, that is, those who find that the legitimate meaning of each of its provisions must derive from the time they were added to the document, it would appear that military service was all that was meant 231 years ago. And the weapons protected would be relegated to those depicted by Sheneman.

In 2008, however, originalist Justice Antonin Scalia, with a bare majority of the Supreme Court, ruled otherwise. He wrote that the phrase “has nothing to do with soldiering,” and then went on to conclude that the amendment covers modern-day weapons with large-capacity magazines and military-style weapons like the AR-15.

That front-loaded flintlock musket weighed around 14 pounds, the AR-15 six and a half. A good shooter could lock and load a musket to fire maybe two or three rounds a minute. The AR-15 empties its 30-round magazine in five seconds. A fully automatic AR-15 can fire 700 to 1,000 rounds a minute.

The outcome is obvious to anyone who has followed recent bleak and shocking news concerning mass murders: Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa, and on and on and on. While our population stands at around 327 million people, the number of guns in America stands at over 400 million. No one has all the answers to solve the problem of so many guns in the hands of so many troubled and socially irascible people.

Liberals want to ban military-style guns, as Congress did from 1994 to 2004. They want to reduce the number of rounds in magazines, have detailed background checks before purchases, eliminate so-called “ghost” guns that have no registration numbers, and more.

Conservatives favor treatment for those with mental health problems because, they contend, mass shootings result from those who are deeply troubled. They also support greater school security, like training teachers to be armed or increasing the number of school police and security guards. Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) recently suggested that schools should have only one entry door, though the fire hazard that could result is obvious. Many officials, including Republicans, condemned the idea.

The most extreme right-wing gun enthusiasts argue that any limitation on gun ownership violates the Second Amendment. Besides, once one gun safety or gun control proposal is enacted, the door will be open to seize their guns. And, they add, gun control methods will not do any good anyway: The bad guys will always find a way to obtain a weapon.

So the reality is that over the past several years, Congress has been unable and unwilling to pass any legislation that will ensure the safety of the American people, and especially our children. As of the end of May, the number of mass shootings (those leaving four or more dead or injured) so far in 2022 stood at 213. More recently, there were 20 deaths in nine days.

This is unsustainable. Democrats and Republicans can find a middle way forward by taking a first step they can agree upon. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a conservative, has observed that he believes “the people drawn to this kind of terrorism are overwhelmingly of a type — young, troubled, socially awkward men.” 

So let’s begin there, with a few modest proposals. Perhaps age requirements can be imposed on anyone seeking to purchase guns with large-capacity magazines, and military-style weapons. Add to that more and enforceable so-called “red-flag” laws that allow interventions to stop troubled and potentially dangerous people from obtaining these weapons. And substantial background checks that include, as Douthat suggests, “not just a criminal background check, in other words, but some kind of basic social or psychological screening, combining a mental health check, a social media audit, and testimonials from two competent adults.”

These are modest first steps. But if we cannot even agree on these reasonable moves, then we will be doomed to the depiction by another editorial cartoonist, Bill Bramhall of the New York Daily News: His drawing shows a long line of mourners carrying small children’s coffins with the caption, “Open carry.”


Jack Fruchtman, who lives in Aquinnah, taught constitutional law and politics for many years.


  1. This is beyond belief. This guy taught Constitutional Law and can’t even recite the text of the Second Amendment of the Bill Of RIGHTS properly? Or perhaps he left out those pesky words that enumerate it as a RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE because it invalidates his position. Here is the correct reading:

    “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.”

    And you wonder why President Trump spoke about fake news?

    • I don’t wonder why our former one term president spoke about fake news– it was because he’s a pathological liar.

  2. Jack– you rarely make mistakes and I respect your dedication to facts.
    But you are wrong about what classifies as a mass shooting. You say 4 deaths–

    While there is some disagreement about whether it means 4 deaths or 4 injuries in a single incident, we have clearly not had 213 mass shootings that have killed more than 850 people.
    There have been 278 deaths resulting from 246 mass shootings.

    There have been at least 246 mass shootings through June 5 this year.
    In 2022 so far, mass shootings have resulted in 1,357 people shot, resulting in 278 deaths.


  3. We have had gun violence and many deaths for along time but it is interesting how we are now categorizing them as ”Mass Shootings”. Used to be Parkland or Newtown CT or Buffalo but now we are going to count say, gun violence in Chicago. In the meantime Biden accidentally or on purpose leaves 300 thousand guns to the Taliban and then lectures us on gun control. I now await the usual technical correction from Keller who will tell me it wasnt 300k guns but will overlook billions of military equipment left for the Taliban.

    • andy– thank you for your perfect example of “whataboutism”
      but whatabout all the military equipment the Regan administration gave to the Mujahideen, who were really the Taliban ?
      if you really want to get into a head to toe debate about whether republican or democratic administrations aided the Taliban more, let me know.

      But if you just want to keep the conversation nice, you could explain to all of us the reason you use an illogical juxta positioning of the Taliban terrorist and psychotic 18 year old’s who can legally purchase military grade weapons and perpetrate the mass murder of children in schools in the United States.

      • Keller you need a history lesson. The Mujahedeen were enemies of the Taliban. They fought against the Soviet occupation from 79 to 92 and the Taliban killed Ahmad Shah Masood the leader of the Northern Alliance a splinter group of the Mujahedeen. Reagan armed the Mujahedeen in order to help fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Taliban. Actually Carter started the arming and Reagan escalated it. The Taliban was founded by Mullah Omar in Pakistan and was distinctly different from the Mujahedeen although both were pro Islam. The Mujahedeen drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan in 1989. I have been to Afghanistan several times and speak the language–Dari/Farsi so I know something about this subject. More than you want to know.

        • andy– so now the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan
          Guess who didn’t end that war between 2017 and 2021 , as he promised he would ?
          60 u.s servicepeople lost their lives there during the trump regime..
          13 died in a single suicidal terrorist attack during the Biden administration.
          We have not had a single death of American servicepeople Afghanistan since August of 2021 .

          But back to my question— The Taliban currently have billions of dollars worth of us military equipment. Who authorized that equipment to be shipped to Afghanistan ?

          And congratulations on being able to speak the language of our enemies.
          I hope they paid you as well as the U.S did — I guess this explains your alleged wealth–You can rack up some quick cash if you are getting paid by both sides.

          • Keller, once again you need correction. The USA has been arming its own soldiers in Afghanistan since 9/11. That’s what countries do—they give their own soldiers weapons and all Presidents did that since 9/11. We withdrew under Biden and he didnt bother to take weapons back or people back when he withdrew. I like your novel idea that if one speaks the language of the enemy, one is paid by them. I guess you didnt know that US citizens speak languages of other countries in order to help the US. You are being silly.

        • The Mujahedeen and the Taliban are/were political organs not unlike Republicans and Democrats.

  4. I honestly don’t give a flying fig about what the 2nd Amendment says. The Constitution was written in the days of slavery, oil lamps, powered wigs and muskets. It was meant to be a living and evolving document. Hence, the amendment process. The 2nd Amendment was not chiseled into stone and handed down from God (despite with the religious zealots believe). It was written by men. And men can change it if it merits change. We seemingly just don’t have the will/empathy/compassion/common sense to put human life over the uniquely American, unhinged gun fetish. More clearly, elected officials don’t have the will to give up that sweet sweet gun lobby money to protect school children from being slaughtered into hamburger meat. The sanctity of gun ownership is greater than the sanctity of human life for these people. “Bans are unconstitutional!” they say – unless they’re talking about a zygote or an embryo … then by all means – ban abortion, ban birth control – ban ban ban away!

    • As you say, there is a process for changing the Constitution.

      The process is part of the Constitution itself:
      “Constitutional Amendment Process,” https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/constitution
      The instructions are in Article V:

      “Article V

      The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”

      My view is that Americans have the right to bear arms, guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
      The more dangerous life becomes, the more they will want to do so.
      This is reflected in recent data on gun sales.
      Licensing of firearms should be modeled on licenses to drive different grades of vehicles.

      Shootings in schools are the most horrific type of image, but they are a tiny minority of shootings.
      I’m not sure these events are so different from vehicular homicides, which often involve antisocial behavior from those who should not be driving a car.
      Well over 30,000 people die in lethal crashes in the USA every year.

      IMO the central issue with school and other shootings is the clear connection with unaddressed mental health issues of the perpetrators.

      See the data in this NIJ study:


      Gun ownership is not a “fetish” (fetish: an inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.)
      And, obviously, not all Americans nor American gun owners have mental health issues.

      • Yes, that is one definition of ‘fetish,’ but it appears you forgot to apply the appropriate one.

        Feel free to look it up.

    • Ms. Cooper I agree with you. Lets get rid of some of those amendments like say the 13th and the 15th on voting and slavery and maybe some more. The Constitution was written by old white males under oil lamps as you say and things should evolve. By the way 637 school deaths since 1970 and while all tragic is dwarfed by say 9000 opioid deaths in kids and teens in the last 20 years. School shootings are comparatively rare and certainly not slaughtering hamburger meat as you say.

      • Whataboutism is the last resort of people with weak arguments. You apparently didnt read the first hand account of the physicians who attended to the slaughtered victims in Uvalde who were blown into unrecognizable bloody smithereens, decapitated by the force of the bullets grinding through their flesh. Too graphic for you? This is real and its shameful that Republicans are more concerned with keeping their precious seats than protecting children. Last time i checked, the 13th and 15th amendments haven’t caused mass carnage.

        • Cooper. You were lamenting that the constitution doesn’t apply due to old men and oil lamps. Are you saying they wrote a lot of good stuff but some stuff you don’t like should not have been written.? So now your argument is legitimized by the graphic picture of the deceased.? Novel.

          • I don’t think the issue in this case is the age, race, or gender of those who wrote the Constitution. It’s whether the definition of arms should change as technology advances. Modern weapons were not accounted for; clearly the guns being used to kill large groups are not the same guns that citizens owned hundreds of years ago. These advancements have given shooters a huge advantage, and they’re using it to destroy innocent people.

          • Nowhere did I say “the Constitution doesn’t apply”. My point is that when the Constitution was written, they couldn’t have foreseen a weapon technology that allowed for the mass slaughter of people in a matter of seconds. The amendment process allows for citizen enlightenment to continually improve upon the document. I guess you’re improvement would be to reinstate slavery and abolish women’s suffrage. Good to know where you stand.

  5. Thank you Carla. I’m glad you spoke up, especially after reading Steve’s comment. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    • Ms Cooper You said ”I dont give a fig about the second amendment. The constitution was meant to be a living and evolving document.” I dont know how you know it was meant to be that but lets suppose that when Roe/Wade was made law we didnt have the technology that has now evolved in terms of seeing into the womb and seeing real life and fingers and toes and weekly development. I am sure you now know what that technology tells us about slaughter in the womb. I will change my mind about guns if you———-well.

  6. I am truly, truly tired of the “yes, but what about …” diversionary tactics of people who cannot, in fact, justify ownership of weapons of war, i.e. assault rifles, by American people. Today a United States senator said that they have to be available to people to shoot targets and/or prairie dogs. I haven’t been west of the Mississippi in a while, but I hadn’t realized the prairie dogs had become that large and/or threatening. More to the point, Mr. Engleman drifts off the subject by talking about weapons we left in Afghanistan for the Taliban. As to the arguments protecting the second amendment, Ms. Cooper, IMHO, has it right; Mr. Flanders has it wrong. Take a look at the remnants of the bodies of the children and then please rationalize the ownership of assault rifles. BTW, the other answer, that we need more mental health facilities: the latest perpetrator had no history of mental health illness. Outlaw the damned assault rifles. People with assault weapons kill people.

    • Where are people seeing these horrific images of the victims? Several people have been posting about the carnage as if autopsy photos have been released. I’m sure they are unfathomable as any death of an innocent child is but my extensive experience with this type of weapon tells me that it does not eviscerate the body as some are suggesting. A 12 gauge shotgun shooting 00 buck well that’s possible. Sensationalizing this tragedy will not solve the problem.

    • Sara, the Senator was referring to varmint hunting, which is indeed a legitimate use of an AR-15. It consists of repeated long-distance shooting with smaller caliber ammunition, and AR-15-pattern rifles fit that bill perfectly.

      They were wrong about everything else they said, however.

      • So you are saying that most men (probably white) are incapable of using a shotgun for Prarie dogs as used in hunting for food?
        Just like the peetering out of their appendage that problem should only be theirs not everyone else’s.
        Excuses are like you know what’s and everyone has one.
        I can’t believe that anyone is downplaying mass assanations of innocent little children who should have a long life ahead of them. But for the poor feeble old man.

        • Brenda… I think you are proving my point about the average persons knowledge of firearms. Shotguns are not designed for accurate distance shooting as the barrel is smooth bored and not rifled. They are designed to spray their shot in a large pattern in short distances. So no man, white or other, would use a shotgun to hunt prairie dogs. Not sure what being white has to do with it, but oh well. Also the children were murdered and the reason is still unknown. However, I highly doubt they were “assassinated” since there is very little chance of a political motive. Sensationalizing the tragic event does nothing to solve the problem.

  7. Guns , or any weapon, in the hands of mentally unstable people are always going to be a problem. I wish both sides of the gun debate would chill out and start a discussion on solutions to the mental health crisis in this country.

    • Ok, John– I’m all in with you on that one.
      Mentally unstable people purchasing high powered weapons is a problem.

      How do you propose we prevent that ?
      Do you think if gun shops only had one door it would help ?
      Do you think if gun shop owners were armed it would help ? — Actually…

      How about background checks ?
      As someone pointed out recently here, on one’s 18th birthday, that have no background to check.
      How about raising the age to 21 ?
      That would give the system 3 years to accumulate some information for the background check, if even that could ever get past republican opposition.
      The house just passed legislation to do something …

      Guess which party will block it in the senate ?

      I assume you have a way to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill—
      Let’s hear it…

  8. The measures being put forward in the Congress are a drop in the bucket, red flag laws turn parents, co-workers and the police into psychiatrists and the “mental health” argument is absurd because our mental health system is utterly broken. The privacy laws surrounding a person with mental health problems prevents parents, spouses or police from knowing anything about them or how sick they are.
    The Republicans in both the Senate and house care only about money- the “Victory Fund” money from the NRA – Steve Scalise ( himself a victim of gun violence!) sent a memo to the Republicans in the Senate instructing them not to vote for the most basic of gun safety laws. The blood of babies at school will be on their hands when the next AR-15 outrage occurs.
    Why can’t they pass an assault weapon ban ? Simple -it’s the money……

  9. Full disclosure, I am a full 2A supporter but it is complicated. We need to update our antiquated background investigations to include social media, prescription drugs and legitimate reference checks to include family members. I am open to 21 for the purchase of certain weapons. Perhaps making the age of majority for all things 21. To include voting. If your not mature enough to drink a beer and handle a rifle perhaps you are not mature enough to understand the consequence of your vote.

    But to be clear the modern day sporting rifle chambered in 223 and 5.56 is not a weapon of war. As a matter of fact the ammunition that these rifles fire are actually made to incapacitate rather than kill in order to wound rather than kill. The theory being to take multiple people out of the fight to render aid. The military version of the modern day sporting rifle has a selector switch that makes firing multiple rounds while pulling the trigger only one time. Hunting rifles chambered in larger rounds are much more lethal, accurate and are favored as the typical sniper rifle.

    There is no doubt that we can mitigate this problem by working together with all of our elected leaders coming together for the common good. Our country is imploding and it’s not because of of constitution.

    • No one is talking about fully automatic weapons. Those are regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act (as well as several others, but that’s beside the point).

      And just because a rifle is chambered for 5.56 instead of, say, .300 Blackout does not make it any less lethal. Heck, at short range, .22CB is also lethal.

      Outside of varmint hunting, there is no need for repeated rapid fire while hunting. Heck, I dare say you shouldn’t even need a repeating rifle. Get a Ruger No. 1.

      • Aron single action one round 22 lr rifles are great guns. I agree. But unfortunately the media is not doing their job by educating themselves and their readers on basic firearm nomenclature.
        Semi automatic rifles that fire 223 rounds are spectacular self defense weapons as they have very little recoil and allow the operator to get back on target.
        Our own AG Merrick Garland and Pres Biden have often said that the biggest threat to our democracy is white supremacy. The fastest growing owners of the modern sporting rifle is the minority community and woman. Let’s not disarm the defenders of our democracy from its biggest threat of white supremacy. This marginalized group as been the victim far too long and deserves their right to self protection. And before anyone says that you don’t need a modern day sporting rifle to protect yourself ask yourself if you would feel comfortable protecting your family with a Ruger #01 against a domestic terrorist armed with a self loading rifle. It’s time for equity in in basic self defense too

    • ” If your not mature enough to drink a beer and handle a rifle perhaps you are not mature enough to understand the consequence of your vote. ”

      I seem to recall that the voting age was lowered to 18 because, so the logic, that is the age when young men (and I suppose, now, young women) can be drafted to serve in the defense of their country. If they can be sent to lose their lives in the defense of their country, they should be able to vote into or out of office those who make the decision to go to war (of course, Congress no longer declares war anymore, but that is another question).


      If the age to purchase a fire arm is raised to 21, then I think it would be consistent to raise to 21 the age when young men are obliged to register for the draft.

      If you are too young to handle a rifle or other firearm, then perhaps you are too young to be ordered off to fight in a war.

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