The Life of a Single Child is Worth More than the Second Amendment

by Rebecca Baumgartner

A Conversation

“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.” –Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 1791

“Many others … say that it is dangerous and absurd to base modern public safety on the 1700s and 1800s when a gun can be built with a 3-D printer and plans shared on the internet.” – Shawn Hubler, The New York Times, March 16, 2023

“The Republicans have turned the Second Amendment into a Golem. They’ve animated it, weaponized it, and unleashed it upon their enemies. It is killing children. It is time to hit this monstrosity in its clay feet.” –Elie Mystal, The Nation, August 7, 2019

“We only receive what we demand, and if we want hell, then hell’s what we’ll have.” –Jack Johnson, “Cookie Jar”

“Not doing anything about this is an insane dereliction of our collective humanity.” –Stephen Colbert

“_________________________________” –The 3,263 American children killed by guns since 2014 (as of March 30, 2023)

Two Axioms 

  1. The life of a single child is worth more than the Second Amendment. If we are incapable of protecting both simultaneously, then we must choose to prioritize the life of the child. 
  2. If you refuse to prioritize the life of the child above the Second Amendment, then you are no longer participating in the shared enterprise of creating a functional society. 

These are not political stances.

A Duty

The Second Amendment must be repealed. The room it allows for misinterpretation – misinterpretations that the drafters of the Constitution could not have possibly foreseen – has proven to be devastating to our well-being. It’s long past time for it to go.

This only sounds like a shocking statement because we have gotten so accustomed to people treating the Constitution as a sacred, rather than a civil, text. But the Constitution is not holy. It was not handed to us on a stone tablet, to remain forever enshrined. It can be, and has been, changed – and it should be changed when it is being used to justify morally indefensible positions or no longer serves our needs. The Constitution is one piece of our country’s past, not the dictator of its future. 

The Amendments are already changes to a previous version of the document. And even Amendments themselves can be repealed when we realize they were a mistake. We did this in 1933 when we ended Prohibition. We had previously passed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, which made it illegal to make and sell alcohol. When we decided this was no longer what we needed or wanted, we repealed that Amendment in 1933. 

The Constitution has always been a work in progress. It’s a living document, and it needs to be, because it serves a living, changing country. The version of the Constitution we have now is not the version written by the country’s founders (thankfully), nor is it the version our great-grandchildren will have. We are not done writing it. We will never be done writing it. And that is a good thing – it means we are still engaged in the project of creating a more perfect Union.

The Constitution is a provisional document whose worth comes from the interpretations fallible people assign to it and the actions they take as a result of those interpretations. And we have seen the actions that result from a modern interpretation of the Second Amendment. The evidence of those actions can be found in cemeteries all over the country. 

We have a duty to change the Constitution whenever it’s doing us more harm than good. Just as we changed it to abolish slavery. Just as we changed it to acknowledge women’s right to vote. 

And if we, as a country, can summon the civic motivation to repeal an Amendment so that we can rightfully enjoy margaritas, surely we can summon equal levels of motivation to repeal an Amendment that creates a nightmare loop of children being massacred over and over again.

I wish I lived in a world where this did not have to be said.

A Challenge

The people who consider the Second Amendment to be more sacred than the lives of children are overwhelmingly Republican. This is a party whose followers claim to believe in the sanctity of human life.

I say: Prove it. 

Prove it by putting the life of a child above your right to own a weapon. 

Prove it, lest you are made to eat your words in the worst possible way by losing your own child. 

When your self-interest is incompatible with human life, your self-interest must give way.

A Recommendation

We must repeal the Second Amendment rather than chip away at the problem with piecemeal reform, because it’s impossible to reason with someone who is willing to get blood on their hands rather than reconsider their political opinions. 

Such a person has exiled themselves from the shared language of moral action. They have alienated themselves from their own humanity. 

We cannot untie the Gordian knot presented by such a position. We must cut it.

An Indictment

If you are a “good guy with a gun,” you are the problem. 

If you are a responsible gun owner, you are the problem. 

If you say “Criminals are gonna be criminals,” you are the problem. 

If you disingenuously feign interest in increasing access to mental health care rather than considering gun control measures – and if you only talk about mental health when someone is shot – you are the problem. 

If you fetishize the past and believe the Constitution is a sacred text, rather than a civil text that we revise together, you are the problem. 

If you think we shouldn’t try to repeal the Second Amendment because it will be politically difficult, you are the problem.

If you allow self-interest to warp your reasoning about the meaning of the Constitution, you are the problem.

If, in the name of the arbitrary goal of having “small government,” you think Congress shouldn’t be permitted to pass legislation that keeps us safe, you are the problem. 

If you vote for politicians who are the puppets of the NRA, you are the problem. 

If you don’t vote at all, you are the problem. 

If you believe thoughts and prayers are a meaningful response to a mother whose life has turned into a black hole because she’ll never see her baby turn 10, you are the problem. 

If you think there are two sides to this issue, you are the problem. 

If this article makes you angry and defensive, you are the problem. 

If you want to put more guns in classrooms by arming teachers, you are the problem.

If you have morally reconciled yourself to the fact that your child’s teacher may be called upon to sacrifice their life to keep your child safe and you see nothing wrong with that, you are the problem. 

If you respond to the deaths of three children by saying “It could have been far, far worse,” as if the murder of one child isn’t already the worst thing, you are the problem. 

If you deflect the national conversation away from solutions by talking about school building layouts and doors, you are the problem.

If you’re so pigheaded and bloodyminded that you’d rather double down on an immoral choice than reconsider your opinion, you are the problem. 

If you are a city official who has allowed shooting ranges and gun shows in your town, thereby normalizing gun culture and making it easier for people to acquire weapons, you are the problem. 

If you think this isn’t a problem because it couldn’t possibly happen to your kids, you are the problem.

If you’re reading this and agreeing with all of it, but don’t actually do anything, you are the problem. (Here are several things you can do.)

If you’re too squeamish to even think about it, you are the problem.

Every day in which the flags are once again at half-mast is another indictment against all of us. 

A Prophecy

The thing that will be hardest to explain in the future is why the most powerful of us made decisions that brutally ended the lives of the most innocent of us, and why the rest of us let it happen for so long, why we did nothing while our children died, and watched their friends die, and watched their siblings die, and watched their teachers die. 

Ghosts are not real, but consequences are. And those who have dedicated their careers to making it easier for children to die deserve to be haunted by the consequences of their actions and inactions until the day they themselves leave the earth and perhaps understand — albeit too late — how pathetically evil it was to put an ideology above human life, and how grievously they’ve failed to perform the simplest and most important imperative of all: keeping our young safe, protecting the defenseless, letting our children grow old.