Our nation is under siege by gun violence, one of the most recent incidents occurring at a high school in Florida where 17 people lost their lives at the hands of a 19-year-old gun nut, Nicholas Cruz, who wielded an AR-15 automatic weapon. This is outrageous and totally unacceptable. We can only hope that Cruz is put away for life and that more gun control is put into place.

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States sets out a number of aspirations, perhaps the best known is to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense [and] promote the general welfare.”

Lately, in the wake of multiple gun massacres, we have hardly felt defended, nor have we enjoyed much domestic tranquility. Our general welfare is also suffering. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Advocates of having ever more guns in our society, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its president, Wayne LaPierre, frequently cite the Second Amendment to our Constitution as the basis for their extreme and flawed point of view. The Second Amendment is very short, consisting of a single poorly written sentence: “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.”   

Let’s put this into perspective. The Second Amendment did not come into place until 1791, about two years after the original Constitution was approved. Automatic assault weapons did not exist then. Our country was still recovering from our war for independence from Britain, which relied on citizen militias. But we have not been at war on our own soil with Britain, or any other nation, for a long time.

In any event, the framers of the Constitution were very concerned about militias, which, after the war was over, were proliferating. The framers were worried about chaos breaking out. Kind of like the chaos we are experiencing today, with gun fanatics running roughshod over everyone else. Today, our well-regulated militia consists of the National Guard, over which the governors of each state preside. The National Guard is comprised of citizen volunteers, or “the people.” Very few US citizens would deny the National Guard the right to keep and bear arms.

But let’s also analyze the Second Amendment in the context of interpretations of the First Amendment, which provides for freedom from and of religion, free speech, a free press and grants rights of assembly and to petition the government to address grievances. While these are much-cherished freedoms, they are not unlimited or without regulation. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, the First Amendment did not give a person the right to falsely shout fire in a crowded theater, and thus unnecessarily risk killing people in a stampede.

By the same token, while the Second Amendment seeks a limited freedom to keep and bear arms, this freedom needs to be well regulated, in accordance with the language of the amendment. Does a hunter need an automatic weapon to kill deer or rabbits? No. What about home protection? That’s the job of the police or a homeowner armed with a small-caliber hand gun.

Allowing anyone, including mentally deranged youth, to own an automatic assault weapon, is a recipe for disaster. And gun disasters are exactly what we’ve been having because of a lack of regulation. Public safety and security should be the only considerations, but the idea of any gun regulation is anathema to the NRA. They will do anything to confuse and cloud the issue.   

When politically fearful Republicans speak, it is obvious they are in the pocket of the NRA. They obfuscate the issue by loudly opposing common-sense gun regulations, like age restrictions and background checks, in the effort to divert attention from the more important issue of outlawing automatic assault weapons. Their hope is to stall any progress on gun regulation and wait until the heat is off. So far, we’ve been playing by the NRA’s rules, but problems with guns just keep multiplying. Theirs is clearly a failed policy.

Have you noticed that nearly all of the perpetrators of our horrible gun massacres are young, white hooligans? Imagine if a young black man were to commit a similar gun atrocity. Do you think NRA President Wayne LaPierre and his ilk would change their tune in a heartbeat? Here’s betting they would.   

Automatic assault weapons should be banned from all citizens who are not involved in law enforcement or military service, period.

John Grula and Louis Santilena are Pasadena citizens concerned about gun violence.