Shredding the Constitution: The Port Arthur Phenomenon

The tragedy at Newtown's Sandy Hook school has ignited a blistering attack on gun rights that could become the most successful campaign against the Second Amendment in the history of the United States.  In just over one month, emboldened opponents of our inalienable right to bear arms have seized commanding emotional, informational, and political advantages amidst the chaos of the national gun debate.  They have spread the contagion of gun control sentiment with alarming quickness and devastating effectiveness.

The viral dispersal of gun control sentiment in the United States during the past month is disturbingly reminiscent of the events that unfolded in Australia in 1996.  On April 28, 1996, a mentally ill individual by the name of Martin Bryant murdered 35 people during a shooting spree at a popular tourist site in Tasmania -- an appalling occurrence known as the "Port Arthur Massacre."  That same year, the Australian government, led by then-Prime Minister John Howard, enacted reactionary laws that annihilated the right to bear arms Down Under.  Nationwide gun confiscation ensued.  While many citizens vocally opposed the measures, their voices were ultimately drowned out amidst the hysteria.  In the blink of an eye, Australia's longstanding tradition of gun ownership was reduced to a farce by Howard's government juggernaut.

In a New York Times op-ed published last week, Howard chillingly reveals the irrational worldview shared by politicians of his ilk the world over who treat liberty as an option rather than an ideal: "Penalizing decent, law-abiding citizens because of the criminal behavior of others seemed unfair ... [y]et I felt there was no alternative." 

Australia, it should be noted, did not have a constitutional right to bear arms.  However, if you think that the United States is immune to what we shall call the "Port Arthur Phenomenon" (defined as rapid, government-sponsored, and popularly backed destruction of gun rights amidst the hysteria following a mass shooting), you are in for a rude awakening.  Already, in some areas of the United States where the Constitution is considered arcane nuisance rather than national backbone, we are witnessing the viral power of the Port Arthur Phenomenon. 

In New York (my home state), law-abiding gun owners were dealt a debilitating blow last week when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a frantically drafted and unconstitutional package of excessive gun control measures collectively known as the "NY SAFE Act" which, we are led to believe, was supported by a majority of New Yorkers.  Among other indignities: the measures subject New Yorkers to a reduction of maximum magazine capacity from 10 to 7 rounds and make the heretofore unthinkable notion of confiscation (or de-facto confiscation) a reality.  In clear defiance of the Second Amendment, the Act requires citizens to sell, within a year, any magazines that hold 8 or more rounds.  Clearly, the Act also has the potential to make a mockery of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.  How does the State plan to enforce this law when citizens defiantly keep their high-capacity magazines?

Although the situation is far better in fortresses of liberty such as Alaska, Texas, and Wyoming, far removed from the anti-gun fervor of post-constitutional jurisdictions such as California, Illinois, and New York, no State is immune to the injustice of federal gun control. 

For individuals lacking political influence, the act of writing is therapeutic, but sadly, as last week's events in New York demonstrate, writing in rebuttal to ardent gun control proponents may be about as effective as shouting for rescue while shipwrecked on Novaya Zemlya.  More is required.

Ironically, the literary work of a liberal Democrat from yesteryear illuminates the futility of direct intellectual engagement with the most dedicated opponents of the Second Amendment.  In the pages of Dr. Seuss, we learn of the dogged Professor de Breeze, who spends his entire adult life engaged in the noble but ultimately pointless endeavor of trying to teach Irish ducks how to read Jivvanese.  Some gun owners have rightly urged die-hard gun control proponents to redirect their misplaced energies to the root causes of mass shootings (such as mental illness).  Still other gun owners have dubiously asserted that appeasement is the answer, reasoning that legislative half-measures and compromise will ward off the gun-grabbers.  Unfortunately, as the one-sided  legislative action in New York confirms, gun-grabbers swing for the fences.  The efforts to deflect the energies of committed gun control proponents, or to compromise with them, are destined to fail as spectacularly as Professor de Breeze's Irish Duck dreams. 

Faced with the viral spread of the Port Arthur Phenomenon, gun owners should redirect at least some of their energies from the draining point-by-point gun control debate that inevitably plays into the hands of committed gun control proponents, who are inoculated against rational dialogue.  If you cherish the Second Amendment, devote at least some of your energy to the process of understanding the spread of the Port Arthur Phenomenon.

Perhaps some conditions that have allowed the Port Arthur Phenomenon to penetrate the American consciousness cannot be remedied in the short-term.  For example, the left, and by extension gun control proponents, enjoy a massively lopsided advantage in the media and at all levels of education.  That is an informational advantage that may take many years to close, particularly since the fields of journalism and education tend to attract a disproportionate percentage of reactionary idealists driven by a misguided need "fix" traditional America.

However, some of the conditions favorable to the spread of the Port Arthur Phenomenon can be diagnosed and remedied more effectively in the short term.  Gun control proponents in the media and in Washington have capitalized on two noteworthy national conditions during the past month: first, the utter apathy of many moderate conservatives, centrists, and even the occasional open-minded liberal, as well as the enormous pool of individuals who simply don't care about anything other than celebrities, reality television, and video games; and second, the fact that millions of adults in the increasingly suburban and urban American population don't know anything about guns.  This dangerous combination of apathy and ignorance allows politicians and journalists to get away with intellectually dishonest arguments, to repeatedly parrot inflammatory slogans such as "assault weapon," and to peddle outright lies that stoke the flames of mass hysteria. 

There is still time to write a happy ending to this sad story.  Fight the apathy on a neighborhood and local level.  Engage your persuadable or undecided family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers in a respectful discussion about gun issues and firmly explain what is at stake.  Educate them about gun terminology and gun safety.  Offer to take them to the shooting range.  Inundate your local, state, and national politicians with an avalanche of letters.  Organize counter-protests.  You may feel that your individual efforts are as futile as Professor de Breeze's language lessons, but never give up.  If enough concerned citizens act with urgency, we may yet get results that would be the envy of the good Professor.

Edward Paltzik is an attorney at the law firm Joshpe Law Group LLP.

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