Let me begin by recalling one sensible sentence uttered by George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. “If you can’t solve a problem,” ‘Rummy’ said, “make it bigger.” When I heard him say that, I figured that he was advising people who faced problems they couldn’t solve ‘to try pouring gasoline on them’. But, that didn’t make sense to me.
What did make sense to me — and I make no claim that Rummy had intended “make it bigger” in the sense that I now suggest for it was to expand the context in which either the problem could be understood or actions intended to remedy the problem could be deemed allowable, or both.
And that brings me to a crucial observation about how the public debate over guns got constructed. Pro-gun people have couched their arguments in terms of Constitutional rights, which they defend by characterizing gun-control efforts as challenges to THEIR rights. Against such arguments, gun-control advocates have been left spinning their wheels.
Here’s where Rumsfeld’s comment enters. If gun control advocates could somehow “make it bigger”, they might be able to overcome the rights-based argument advanced by gun-rights people. And one potentially effective way to do that might be to expand the historical context of “rights” back to the time when the Framers wrote the Constitution.
When I imagine myself shifting back to that time, I find it easy to imagine that none of the big names there thought to ask, should we be explicit about the relative importance of [A] the rights of five and six-year olds to live long enough to become adults as they could imagine, to NOT be shot dead by assault rifles that they most likely cold not imagine, compared to [B] the right to keep and bear arms, and whether that right was granted collectively or individually.If the Framers would not have chosen “A” as being so obviously more important then we probably face a bigger Constitutional crisis than we already fear. But if we assume that the Framers would have cried as much as we are now, then maybe gun-control advocates could carry the gun-control debate beyond into a case of Rights v Rights, and trade-off solutions might become possible.