The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is the subject of much controversy. In 1791, the right to ‘keep and bear arms’ was added to the supreme laws of the USA, but this has been scrutinised in recent years. The central focus of the debate revolves around the question of whether stricter gun laws would reduce or end the poignant and continuous tragedies.
The consensus definition of a ‘mass shooting’ is an incident that involves at least four victims being shot and/or killed. Unfortunately, the US is no stranger to these situations. The first recorded mass shooting in the states occurred back in 1949, New Jersey. An army veteran named Howard Unruh, who believed that the world was out to get him, strolled through his neighbourhood and killed 13 of his neighbours (now coined the ‘Walk of Death’). According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 307 mass shootings in America through an eleven-month period in 2016, truly horrifying numbers. Furthermore, 64% of all homicides in the USA are gun related, compared to just 4.5% in the UK. Between 2001 and 2013, more people were killed by guns in the US than wars, terrorism, AIDS and drug overdoses combined, sparking the gun dispute to become more prominent.
Firstly, it is important to consider whether the Second Amendment itself has become outdated. The right to bear arms was introduced in order to protect citizens from a possible invasion, as it was only 15 years since independence from Britain was declared. The amendment states that it allowed a ‘regulated militia’ to protect the land, but in today’s society, where the USA has the second largest army of any nation, do citizens still require weaponry to protect the land? Moreover, when originally drafted, the document took weapons similar to the 1795 musket into deliberation (2-3 shots could be fired per minute) and not assault weapons such as the AR-15 rifle used today (with a bump stock, can fire roughly 400 rounds a minute, legally). This suggests that the original law put into place has gone out of date, and either needs to be repealed or seriously revised.
‘When the Second Amendment was written, the Founders didn’t have to weigh the risks of one man killing 49 and injuring 53 all by himself. Now we do, and the risk-benefit analysis of 1791 is flatly irrelevant to the risk-benefit analysis of today.’
David S. Cohen, Rolling Stone magazine.
Many argue that the US ought to take a route similar to that of Australia in terms of gun regulation. Australia had faced similar mass shooting catastrophes during the 1990s, and after the ‘Port Arthur Massacre’ in April 1996 killed 35 innocent citizens, a nationwide campaign began to restrict access to guns. Prime Minister John Howard pushed through some of the most extensive gun legislation seen in the world, leading to the destruction of almost one million weapons. In the 18 years before Port Arthur, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings. Since the tough controls were imposed after 1996, Australia has suffered 0 mass shootings, and homicide rates involving guns dropped by roughly 60%. Gun control is Australia was a clear and unquestionable success, and the USA would benefit substantially if the same approach was taken.
Therefore, as the Australian statistics dictate, gun control works. Depriving someone with murderous intentions of a weapon of war intended to cause destruction and death reduces the likelihood of that person being able to cause multiple deaths. Unfortunately, gun culture is so entrenched into the American soul that any sort of gun legislation, no matter how diluted, is unlikely. In a nation where 90 out of every 100 households own a firearm, it appears that they do not want to help themselves.
‘There are common sense steps that could reduce the lethality of somebody who intends to do other people harm’
President Obama after 2016 Orlando attack (49 people died)
By Kieran Kelly