With the continued epidemic of mass shootings in the United States, the rest of the world looks at the global super power with both concern and confusion. Why and how is this happening only in America?
Gun ownership and mass shootings are much lower in European countries as well as Canada, Japan, South Africa and Australia. So why do American’s cling so devotedly to ownership of any type gun for all, even in the face of mass killings by deranged people with military-style assault weapons?
It all comes down to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, and its many interpretations since. written by James Madison and ratified in 1791, as part of the U.S. Bill of Rights]So let’s put it out there now for your own personal interpretation:
“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.”U.S. Constitution Second Amendment
So there you have it, 27 words, pretty simple, right? Hardly, when it comes to a modern interpretation 230 years later. Both sides of the US Gun Rights vs. Gun Regulation debate often mention the noble intentions of the U.S. ‘Founding Fathers’ in their arguments. These would be the first patriots who lead the fight against Britain for independence, and later built its modern democracy. We are talking about such familiar U.S. names as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
Having lived under British colonial rule for decades, these now independent leaders sought to put in writing a “Bill of Rights” for all its new citizens. One only has to look at the First Amendment of the US Constitution to understand their mindset at the time.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the right of the people peaceably to Assemble, and to Petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
These were all the things Americans were often forbidden or even imprisoned for under British colonial rule. They wanted to guarantee freedom of Religion, Speech, the Press, Assembly, and Petition. When it came to the 2nd Amendment, they were still stinging from the War for Independence [1775-1781]. They knew it was the ‘Minutemen’ (civilian militias) that often made a difference, along with the Continental Army, under General George Washington.
Hence the reference to a ‘well-regulated militia‘ to secure liberty. But the 2nd Amendment does not stop there. It then mentions the right to bear arms. So let’s think back to the frontier state of the U.S. in 1791. Of course families needed rifles for hunting game, or to defend themselves again hostile Native American tribes, not to mention another potential war with Britain (which did in fact take place in 1812).
So those Founding Fathers decided to put the right to bear arms in their Bill of Rights. Now fast forward 230 years. America fought and won two World Wars and the musket evolved from the single-round flintlock of the 1700’s to far more modern weapons like the military style AR-15. So to the non-Americans reading this blog post, here is where the interpretation piece comes in.
Does the US 2nd Amendment now mean the right for any person, to bear any and all modern-day arms for self-defense, hunting, or simply if one is a ‘gun enthusiast?’ Everything from a Glock pistol all the way up to a military-style assault weapon with a high capacity magazine? Gun advocates, like the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), say yes of course, and arm is an arm. The 2nd Amendment says nothing about the type of weapon.
Those that want gun regulations say of course not. There should be sufficient background checks to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and the mentally ill. Military style assault weapons with high capacity magazines crosses the line for either hunting or self-defense or collection. And with the divided political parties in the U.S. Congress [Republican vs. Democrat], and ever-changing White House Presidents, very little has been done in the way of gun control. The only repeated phrase on used by both sides is the often heard mantra for ‘Common Sense’ gun regulations.
But what does that mean? One person’s common sense is another person’s nonsense.
So it has unfortunately allowed the perpetrators of the US Mass Shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Charleston, Parkland, El Paso and countless others to obtain weapons and fall through the cracks. One would think tighter U.S. gun regulation would come after such terrible tragedies. But in fact, just the reverse has happened – there are now ‘concealed carry‘ and ‘open-carry‘ gun laws in the majority of U.S. states.
The NRA has evolved from a simple rifleman’s association to a very wealthy and extremely powerful lobbying organization. It began in New York State in 1871 as a way to improve marksmanship through friendly competitions. In 1938, it actually backed the Federal Firearms Act which added license requirements on gun manufacturers, importers, and sellers.
The NRA was non-partisan back then, and supported hunters and sportsmen. Then in the mid-1970s, under new leadership, it formed a lobbying arm and political action committee (PAC), aligning itself primarily with the conservative arm of the US Republican party. The NRA today supports both gun owners and gun manufacturers. They use their considerable power and money to oppose any and all gun regulations and get pro-gun candidates elected in primaries.
So what is the solution for the United States? Is there any possible compromise? Stricter or looser background checks for gun buyers? Open carry laws in every state, or gun buy-backs, like Australia is doing? Just hunting rifles or military style AR-15’s as well?
The Founding Fathers were rarely unified in their thoughts, yet for over 200 years, the 2nd Amendment was interpreted by Congress and the courts as regulated private gun ownership, the right to bear and shoot that gun, in the defense of oneself and the nation. They’d hardly recognize the quagmire of today’s corporate politics.
I’ll leave you with a quote from U.S. President Thomas Jefferson in 1823, thirty years after the Bill of Rights was ratified, and shortly before his death:
“On every occasion [of Constitutional interpretation] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, let us conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”President Thomas Jefferson, 1823
For more by historical writer Paul Andrews, click on BOOKS in the main menu.
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