He Said, She Said, PMH On Politics: Gun Control and the Second Amendment
By: Conner Graham and Adrienne Wood
The issue of gun control becomes a hot topic after every mass shooting event. While families are grieving, politicians rush to the cameras to provide their sage wisdom of how these atrocities could be avoided if only we had “common sense” gun control.
Gun debates then erupt all over the nation around water coolers, at family dinner tables, and on social media feeds. Typically, one side always wins: the side that has actually handled and used firearms in the past. Whether it is news reporters who cannot distinguish a handgun from a shotgun from an AR 15, or gun control advocates who believe that people buy machine guns at Wal-Mart, too often ignorance by gun control advocates results in debates over guns where “common sense” is sorely lacking.
Gun control advocates routinely argue that the public should not have access to “semi-automatic” or “military style weapons”. They don’t realize that the public already doesn’t have access to the same weapons as the military. Automatic weapons are largely banned and heavily regulated with expensive and difficult to obtain licenses. Those “assault weapons” on the news are no more capable than most long hunting rifles. The only differences are cosmetic. A “semi-automatic” weapon is virtually every gun currently in existence, other than historical muskets, classic revolvers, and bolt-action, single-shot rifles. “Semi-automatic” simply means one trigger pull equals one fired round until the magazine is empty. A ban on “semi-automatic” weapons would make illegal nearly every handgun and rifle in the nation.
They say that the mentally ill shouldn’t be able to purchase “assault weapons” from Wal-Mart, without realizing that they already cannot. To purchase a gun from a retailer like Wal-Mart requires submitting to a background test and a waiting period, which can take weeks. These tests look for things like prior felony convictions and history of mental illness. If one fails the checks, they’re not given the gun. Yet somehow, we have multiple mass-murderers, including the Lafayette movie theater shooter, who purchased weapons and passed these background checks even though their mental health history should have prevented it. Today, funding for mental hospitals in the state of Louisiana is at an all-time low, and the costs of drugs for treatment of mental disorders is at an all-time high. Our governments have found it to be more cost-efficient to simply give our mentally deranged people narcotics and send them back into society rather than isolate those who show potential for violence. Without better screening and better care, no regulation will prevent the deranged from committing violence.
None of these “inconvenient truths” really cut to the heart of why gun control is such a losing topic for its advocates. It simply does not work. They say that if we just cracked down on gun sales and made them illegal, we can stop gun violence, but Chicago is also home to the highest incidences of gun violence in the nation, in both raw numbers and per capita. The reason why gun control fails is the same reason why alcohol prohibition did not work. It is the same reason why the War on Drugs has failed. All it does is switch the distribution method from legitimate, regulated retailers, to the black market and organized crime. Just as the prohibition on marijuana has not made pot any more difficult to obtain, neither would gun control.
To make matters worse, it would take guns out of the hands of responsible owners and put them into the hands of those who are willing to break the law to obtain them. Just as criminals blatantly break laws against theft and murder, they would flaunt laws against guns just as easily. Door by door confiscation of every gun in existence would be needed to eliminate these guns, but just as critics of Donald Trump’s cries to deport all illegal immigrants from the United States, going door-to-door would be completely impractical and blatantly unconstitutional. Even then, just like with bootleggers during prohibition, organized crime would simply import guns from elsewhere and distribute them here on the black market. Confiscation, and indeed gun control in general, is anything but “common-sense”.
In the end, guns are nothing but a tool. They can be used to put food on the table, defend the innocent from those who mean them harm, or be used to threaten and destroy lives. The choice in how to use that tool is up to the wielder. It is not the weapon’s fault that it is used to commit these atrocities that have become all too routine in America, but the fault of those who choose to use them to that end. Unless we can end the prohibition that fuels the gang cartel violence, invest in better mental health evaluation and care to protect civilians from those prone to violence, abolish “gun-free zones” that lack actual security measures, and defeat the ideals of extremism, we must accept that the limits of the Second Amendment mean what they say: “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. As with most hot-topics, a little less ignorance and a little more understanding could go a long way in helping end gun violence.
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, written in 1789 and ratified in 1791, provides protections for the right of individuals to “keep and bear arms.” The Second Amendment is typically the most common argument used against any type of firearm regulation. But, consider: what if we applied similar logic to other Constitutionally protected freedoms and refused to regulate them?
Take, for example, the right to free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment. Language used to advocating for violence or incite riots is not protected free speech. The right to make slanderous or libelous statements is not constitutionally protected. Child pornography is considered obscenity and is not protected under the First Amendment. To apply the Constitution broadly and without any restrictions would seemingly create a lawless society. Most of these common-sense limitations to our Constitutional freedoms are designed to protect people. So, the question becomes: why can’t we place limits on guns, which are, by design, intended to inflict harm and cause death?
Every time there is a major mass shooting, satirical news source The Onion runs the same headline: “’No Way to Prevent This.’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Sarcasm aside, this headline makes two important points: Mass shootings are a regular occurrence here in the United States, and we are the only nation where this is a persistent problem. A “mass shooting” is defined as an incident in which a gunman shoots or kills four or more people in the same general time and location. Although the media may only highlight major incidences of gun violence, the number of mass shootings in America averages out to about 7.5 per a week. This is happening literally every day, and it is becoming the new norm. We have even developed a routine response: immediately jump to praying for the victims and their families, and leave it at that. Prayers and compassion are both good and necessary, but they aren’t enough.
Following the horrific shootings of elementary school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the parents of the victims understood that thoughts and prayers could not create new legislation. Those parents mobilized and lobbied for mandatory universal background checks, as well as a ban on the sale and manufacturing of various semi-automatic weapons. The National Rifle Association responded to the grieving parents by advocating for armed security guards in schools – because more guns is always the answer. Despite the NRA’s efforts to increase the presence of guns in schools, the parents were undeterred. They rallied the Connecticut legislature to expand the list of banned assault weapons as well as push the United State Congress to expand background checks.
This article isn’t a plea to ban all weapons or “disarm” America. It is a plea to advocate for reasonable limitations on the Second Amendment. The system we have is broken; we cannot continue to blame gun violence on mental illness, violent video games, or perceptions of a “growing evil” in the world. The fact of the matter is that the United States is a country with too many guns. There are an estimated 300 million guns in the United States, for a population of around 320 million people. These 300 million guns are owned by a minority of the population, and while many of those citizens may be responsible and well-intentioned gun owners, I have to ask: what need does a casual hunter have for a semi-automatic weapon? Assault weapons are the weapon of choice for mass shooters. At the very least, why can’t we place stronger restrictions on those? I have grown up in Louisiana around hunters and gun enthusiasts, many of whom are my friends and family. I have never seen them duck hunting with an AK-47. And if someone breaks into your home, are you going to fire 40 rounds of ammunition at an intruder making off with your Smart TV? Is this what the Framers of the Constitution really intended?
Our Founding Fathers were incredibly insightful and forward thinking, but they were not fortunetellers. Their vision of the Second Amendment included gunpowder, muskets, and single-shot cannons. They could not have envisioned, all those years ago, a world in which one single person could kill 58 people and injure 546 more within the span of ten minutes. In a world where one well-equipped person can do the damage of an entire eighteenth century militia, it is time to stop using the existence of the Second Amendment as an excuse not to enact sensible, life-saving gun laws in this country.