Don't Know Much

The New Abolition of the “Execrable Commerce”



Slaughter of the Innocents

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under….” (Matthew 1: 16-New Revised Standard Version)


December 15 –this past Saturday—marked the 221st anniversary of ratification of the Bill of Rights.  I had planned to use the occasion to write about the history of the Bill of Rights and the general public ignorance of what these 10 Amendments are and why they were created by the Founding Generation.

That plan was cut off by the events in Connecticut on Friday, December 14 when, like millions of others, I was caught up in the maelstrom of media reports –so many of them initially mistaken—coming out of a small community not far from New York City.

In the days since, the issue of controlling America’s epidemic of gun violence has been thrust to the center of attention in a way it has not before—even in the wake of other recent shootings whose names are now well-known: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora. The list is old and way too long.

On Sunday evening, following the slaughter of the innocents, the President made that reality perfectly clear at a prayer vigil after the terrible shootings in a bucolic small town in Connecticut.  He said, “Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

As of today, it seems as though this horrific event has become what is called a ”tipping point.” Congress has begun to move itself. And the New York Times editorial page devoted its columns to the issue of Second Amendment rights and what it calls “the gun epidemic.”

I do not wish to use this space for yet another scholarly and historical debate about the origins and intent of the Second Amendment. Instead I urge people to read each of the related pieces. I especially want to encourage teachers – who have been thrust into the true front lines of this gun madness—to use this as a teaching moment, particularly with age-appropriate classes. This is a time for real “current events” in the Social Studies classroom. The following essays from the Times will provide some excellent talking points for classroom and community discussion.

•”Personal Guns and the Second Amendment”

”In Other Countries, Laws Are Strict and Work”

•”Let’s Get M.A.D.D. About Guns” by columnist Joe Nocera

”The Bullet’s Legacy” by columnist Frank Bruni

In thinking about this issue, I was reminded of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and the centuries of legal and political arguments over what Jefferson called “this execrable commerce” in his draft of the Declaration (deleted by Congress).

I believe that guns are our “execrable commerce.” And gun control is ultimately a moral issue, not a political one, just as the abolition of slavery was. It took far too many lives to get Abraham Lincoln to the point that he finally reached in calling for the abolition of slavery.

In the time of slavery, the voices calling for emancipation were drowned out by powerful political and economic forces. Men like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were dismissed as fanatics, with discussion of slavery even prohibited in Congress under its “gag rule.”

It is time to end America’s “gag rule” on serious discussion of rational, meaningful gun control. As William Lloyd Garrison wrote 30 years before the Civil War,

“On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation.” (The Liberator, No. 1 January 1, 1831)

Enough is enough.


© 2012 Kenneth C. Davis


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