Since the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School, a debate has been raging throughout the United States about the role of gun rights in the nation. People have come down on both sides of the debate and yet, what the debate is about isn’t always so clear. Worse still, politicians seem unwilling to act despite the demands of the nation.
Many on the fringe have tried to claim that any attempts at gun regulation reform is a violation of the Second Amendment. In their paranoia they have clamored that the government is attempting to take away all guns. But the dichotomy that is being held up is false. Wanting to have some reform doesn’t mean that all gun rights are going to be stripped. It certainly doesn’t mean that the government is going to line up and start taking away guns.
The view of the Second Amendment varies from jurist to jurist and so part of the problem lies with how should the Second Amendment be interpreted. There are those that view the Bill of Rights as static and cannot be changed, while others believe that as society evolves so too must the understanding of the rights. Understanding this, it is easy to see how the First Amendment gives the right to free speech, but how certain types of speech like shouting fire in a crowded theater or inciting a riot are punishable offenses. This illuminates the fact that while the Bill of Rights ensures a set of unalienable rights, that there are regulations to those rights that develop according to the needs of society.
Indeed, when the Second Amendment was drafted it was intrinsically tied to the militia. Without a strong standing army, the young United States relied heavily on the militia forces to assist against foreign invaders. One may even argue that without the militia the Revolutionary War would have failed. However, as the nation has grown, so too has its military capabilities; today, wars are not fought with the assistance of the militia, but are the exclusive prerogative of the armed services directed by the government. If we recognize that the Second Amendment was born into a specific context and that a nation grows and changes it is perfectly reasonable to also allow the interpretation of the Second Amendment to grow and evolve. If we refuse to acknowledge this then we would be denying the evolving thought that eventually led to the freeing of slaves, the recognition of African Americans as equal citizens, the right to vote for women and much more.
If we are to accept that regulations are possible, then gun regulation offers us an opportunity to stem the epidemic of gun violence and an epidemic it is. Of all the Western nations, America has the highest rate of gun violence, being outdone by countries like Columbia and South Africa. Since the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 has expired we have seen an increase in mass shootings with 15 of the largest mass shootings happening in the last 10 years alone.
That said, when gun reform is being mentioned by advocates there are two points that are being pushed: universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons. The president’s proposal actually includes further points, but these are the two big ones. Now, the NRA leadership has vehemently opposed these regulations and if they are to be believed then Americans are—if you’ll excuse the pun—up in arms over any attempts to regulate guns. The ultraconservative propaganda machine has fueled itself on recycling this assumption that Americans are outraged at any attempt at regulation. The media, including social media, has given voice to the fringe where they shout the loudest. However, the reality is that the majority of Americans actually support these proposals and in large numbers. 91% of Americans support universal background checks and 57% support bans on assault rifles. This polling includes Americans who are gun owners themselves. Despite what its leadership may say, NRA members also support universal background checks in larger numbers with 75% for it. Among the advocates for stricter gun regulations are also decorated generals Collin Powell and Stanely McChrystal, which shatters the illusion that gun reform comes from people who don’t know anything about guns or who are not gun owners themselves. Both men have been quoted as believing that weapons made for war should not be allowed on our streets.
Despite the overwhelming support for the measures, despite the recommendations by gun experts, and despite the fact that most of their constituents support gun reform, when the bill came before the Judiciary Committee, not a single Republican voted for it. If they are ignoring the voice of their constituents, it makes you wonder who Congressional Republicans are voting for. Are they more interested in giving voice to special interest lobbyists than they are the people who voted them into office?
Today, Republicans in office have to ask themselves, are they willing to become the party that supports lobbyists against their own constituents. Are they willing to become the party that did nothing in the wake of massacres? Are they willing to send a message that unequivocal and uncompromising gun rights are more important than the lives of our children? Because if they are, I am pretty sure that life comes first before liberty and the pursuit of happiness in our founding principles. And there’s the rub; these same Republicans are also the ones who opposed things like universal healthcare and who regularly attempt to ban abortions. The message they are sending seems pretty clear to me, gun rights equal freedom, but having access to health and therefore life is a luxury. In other words, they are all about freedom, except for women, or people needing healthcare, and they certainly don’t want marriage equality.
While Republicans continue to play politics, letting lobbyists and dogmatic party platforms shape our national policy, they are ignoring 91% of Americans. I say, that because they refuse to act, further gun-violence should be blood on their hands.