“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.”
For being a sentence long, our Constitution's Second Amendment stirs more heated debate today than any other.
We take our Constitution seriously. There is a reason President Trump’s comments on doing “whatever I want as president,” are deeply concerning. It is difficult to grapple with the reality that not every aspect of our founding fathers' words have shaken out as intended.
The Supreme Court has gone back and forth in rulings as recent as 2008 regarding the question “does the Second Amendment guarantee individuals the right to own guns unfettered by the government? However this question might be answered, owning a gun is normal in our country.
Guns here are more common than people. A report published in the CIA’s World Factbook shows that for every 100,000 American citizens, there exists 128,418 firearms. The runner-up, Yemen, has 53,144 firearms per 100,000 citizens.
America is the 12th highest in the world in overall firearm fatalities according to statistics from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. No other G8 country ranks in the top 20.
Wired.com brings these statistics together in a striking 2018 article titled “Guns in America: Our Relationship with Firearms in Five Charts.” They reported, “Even subtracting suicides, the USA's death rate from guns remains far ahead of every single European nation and nearly every Asian one.”
These statistics are troubling. It is hard to separate America’s high gun ownership, the highest in the world, from violent reality. Yet the right to own these weapons is right there, etched into our founding document.
The Second Amendment has its origins in English common law. In the eyes of those who wrote the Bill of Rights, firearm access needed to be maintained to warn off potential tyranny, should it arise
Of course, no state in this country has a standing militia. The idea of common-folk fighting off the federal government with shotguns and AR15s is a fantasy far-removed from current reality.
Instead, we are left with legally-obtained (per a 2018 the New York Times report that shows most weapons used in mass shootings are legally obtained), high-capacity, quick-firing guns with large clips that are used in many mass shootings that we hold the worldwide record.
Is the freedom to own such a large swathe of weapons worth the human cost? What moral right does a man have to his guns? Are the National Rifle Association’s constant efforts to block firearm restrictions of any kind rooted in true concern for the well-being of our nation?
Firearms are created with a single non-negotiable purpose, which is to harm and kill. When we talk of weapons for sport, collection, and pleasure, we must not forget the overarching function of these tools.
Of course, guns wouldn’t exist in a perfect world, and are often needed for self-defense. It is a fact that countries with more rigorous gun restrictions have fewer firearm deaths. From that before-mentioned Wired article:
“Despite having one firearm per every three citizens, Canada's death rate from gun violence is about one-tenth that of the U.S. (though still four times that of the U.K.). While mass shootings have been on the rise in Canada, only 223 Canadians died from firearm violence in 2016, compared with more than 14,000 in the U.S. Prospective gun buyers in Canada must pass a reference check, background check, and a gun-safety course before receiving a firearm license.”
States with looser gun laws have more gun deaths per capita, than states with tighter gun laws. Louisiana and Alaska lead the pack with the least restrictive gun laws in the nation and the most gun deaths per capita.
Perfection cannot get in the way of progress. There is no “perfect” solution to the complicated reality of American gun violence. The problem is deeper than guns.
White nationalism, online cesspools, mental instability, moral compromise, and many other factors play a part. A man with a knife cannot cause 851 injuries, which happened in the 2017 Los Angeles massacre. A man with 14 legally-obtained AR-15s and eight AR-10s can.
There are places where gun regulation can be tightened without compromising the right to bear arms, yet these actions are lost in lobbying fights and political uproar.
Hopefully, the tide is changing, and a “red flag” bill that restricts the rights of dangerous individuals owning weapons just passed the House with bipartisan support. This seems to be the exception, not the rule in the long debate over firearms.
How do high-powered, quick-firing guns make our nation a brighter and more vibrant place to live? The founding fathers were geniuses, but they were not clairvoyant.
That one sentence in our Constitution, however important it is, gives us access to weapons these men might have never imagined. Again I ask, "At what cost?"