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Oppenheim: The Second Amendment

In Vermont, there was relief when the State Police got a tip that may have prevented more school violence.

The target was Fair Haven High School near Rutland; the suspect was an 18 year old former student who had laid out his plans in a journal.

Days earlier, it had been a very different outcome in Parkland, Florida where the FBI acknowledged failure to follow up on a tip that the 19-year old male shooter was a threat. On Valentine’s Day, he entered his former high school and killed 17 people.

Most of us know there are violent, unstable people out there and we rely on law enforcement to stop them before they act. But despite the FBI’s failings, it’s too much to put the weight of these tragedies on police. Or even solely on the disturbed young men themselves.

In the aftermath of these tragic events, we become complicit when we refuse any discussion of the second amendment and whether it’s worth re-examining. The amendment was born out of radical idea - that the people of the United States can rebel, overthrow tyranny and protect liberty. More recently, the Supreme Court has interpreted it to mean something different, that individuals have a right to bear arms. And the second amendment is in our political D.N.A. Many Americans believe in it deeply. So in practical terms, to question it is simply a non-starter.

And because we don’t, our cycles of violence are followed by mostly nonproductive cycles of discussion. The right preserves the status quo by saying these shootings are about mental health. The left insists there must be common-sense gun reform. The result is a battle between doing nothing and doing almost nothing.

Maybe it’s time to examine our most basic assumptions. Maybe the right to bear arms should no longer be a right. Owning – or using a gun – is rather like driving a car, which, by the way, is a privilege, not a right. Beyond our shores, easy access to weapons is something other countries don’t see as a right, and they don’t face this uniquely American crisis.

I’ve heard it said that there’s no point in trying to change something so fundamental. But we’re facing an epidemic, and will have to look deep inside ourselves to address this crisis.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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