Do We Still Need the Second Amendment?

Mar 27

Folio Weekly, March 21, 2018

Americans rarely, if ever, agree on anything. But a recent Quinnipiac survey showed that 97 percent support universal background checks for gun ownership. And yet the U.S. Congress remains paralyzed by inaction. The same Quinnipiac survey showed that nearly 7 in 10 Americans want a nationwide ban on assault weapons, including 43 percent of Republicans. And yet the Republican-controlled Florida legislature, along party lines, refused to debate the banning of assault weapons, like AR-15s, the weapon of choice for many mass shooters, including the Parkland shooter who killed 14 high-school students and three adults.

During a meeting with victims of mass shootings, President Donald Trump voiced support for arming teachers saying, “It could very well solve your problem.” A 2013 survey showed only 38 percent favor allowing teachers and school officials to be armed, with 7 in 10 teachers opposing such measures.

Allowing teachers to carry guns, as the Florida legislature recently authorized, will not solve the problem of mass shooting. Mother Jones analyzed 97 mass shootings. In all cases, the shooter was neutralized in one of three ways: the shooter killed himself, the shooter was killed by law enforcement or the shooter was captured by police. How many times did the good guy armed with a gun stop the bad guy? Zero.

School shootings are a uniquely American problem. It’s the sort of exceptionalism that ought to spur us to urgent and comprehensive action. According to the Washington Post, since 2000, there have been 188 shootings at schools and universities, with a death toll of more than 200 students; another 200 were injured.

The Academy for Critical Incident Analysis collected data on school violence worldwide between 2000 and 2010, and recorded 57 incidents in 36 countries.

Half of the school shootings worldwide during that period were in America. The 35 remaining countries combined contributed to the other half. The stats become even more glaring when you consider the fact that the U.S. population is just a bit more than 300 million people-the rest of the 35 countries on that list are home to 3.8 billion people.

Unless we accept the premise that Americans are exceptionally violent people, what explains our exceptionalism in gun violence? Gun homicide rates in the U.S. are 29.7 per million people, which is more than the next five developed countries combined! Fetish with the Second Amendment, in my view, is at the root of gun violence rates in America. The idea that the proponents of the Second Amendment envisioned a society where guns outnumber people, and where any reasonable limit on gun ownership is viewed as an assault on liberty, is anathema to common sense.

The Declaration of Independence, which preceded the Bill of Rights by more than a decade, outlined that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are “unalienable rights.” The Second Amendment remains the only clause of the Bill of Rights that has the possibility of invalidating the first of our unalienable rights-life. For most of our history, the Second Amendment was viewed as authorizing gun ownership for the purposes of a “well-regulated militia,” not a license to own the types of guns that have little to do with self-defense or hunting. It was not until District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, interpreted the Second Amendment to favor an individual right to gun ownership. And yet even the Heller decision did not curtail the possibility of reasonable regulations over gun ownership.

In a town hall meeting on CNN, Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio (with whom I disagree on most issues, including gun regulations) raised a critical point. Wanting to get assault rifles, or semi-automatics, off the streets fails to take into account that the definition of this class of weapons is vague and arbitrary. Congress can and should list different types of weapons to ban, even though some of them can be circumvented, just as with any other form of law-making. Be reminded that currently 61 percent of Americans favor banning the AR-15, the weapon of chosen for many of the mass shootings.

I am in rare agreement with conservative columnist Bret Stephens who, in a 2017 op-ed, asserted that tinkering at the margins of gun regulations will not end our national nightmare of mass shootings and exceptionally high rates of gun-related deaths.

There are two recourses-both political. First, elect representatives at state and federal levels who will have the courage to regulate guns. Second-the long-term fix-is to repeal the Second Amendment, which in a post-Heller world, appears to be a death wish inflicted upon our children. For gun-lovers and hunting enthusiasts, these changes will not mean that they cannot lawfully enjoy responsible ownership of guns. Serbia managed to come in second to the U.S. in the number of guns per capita, but it has far fewer gun-related deaths. This is partly because, without the constitutional protection of gun ownership, guns can be more easily regulated. Gun regulation is a feature, not a bug, in many other advanced democracies. Nowhere has it led to outbreaks of tyranny, as feared by those who fetishize the Second Amendment. To the contrary, a well-regulated gun regimen made societies safer and, with that greater safety, people had more opportunities to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.