“The notion that I…or the Democrats…are hell bent on taking away folks’ guns is just not true, and I don’t care how many times the NRA says it” (President Obama, PBS Newshour, June 2nd).
Greater gun regulation has been one of the most contested topics within not only American politics, but American society as well. Few other subjects of debate are more widely and fiercely polarised. In reaction to mass-shootings, the Obama Administration has placed executive orders instead of laurels, action instead of prayer, in what the President has vowed to be the politicisation of gun control. Yet still we find the President talking in town halls such as the one hosted by PBS Newshour. The question many are then asking is: in the face of so much destruction and loss of life, how do some still need convincing of the need for greater gun control? There are many traditional arguments in defence of an unrestrained 2nd Amendment. Some choose a historical argument, justifying the wide presence of firearms in American civil society as the heritage of our Pioneer Spirit and the last vestiges of Manifest Destiny. Yet undoubtedly the majority use the most sacred defence available to any American, the Constitution of the United States. It is as simple as that to many: guns should not and cannot be regulated else you will find yourself at odds with the Constitution. Thus, for the most part, we find the discourse on gun control to be a rights based one. Let’s, for a second, forget that the modern understanding of the 2nd Amendment is a product of Supreme Court judicial interpretation. The question still remains: what is the impetus, what is the reason, for the 2nd Amendment to be considered an inalienable right? In my opinion, the most tactful justification would be twofold. Firstly, as with most rights, we have the simple fact that man has such rights in virtue of his rational autonomy. The difficulty with paternalistic laws is that they always go against the basic understanding that man is inherently capable of reasoned decision-making. If someone finds it reasonable to own a gun, who are we to say no? Second, we have the notion that “to bear arms” is indeed a right, as it is directly linked to a more fundamental human right. One could argue that the right to a gun will ensure our first right to life. Therefore, to try and regulate firearms and restrict the 2nd Amendment would put lives and livelihoods at risk, and more dangerously would infringe on the most basic right to life (whether through freedom from harm through self-protection or the right to subsistence).However the best argument that I can see to counter the above justification for an unshackled 2nd Amendment is one that to many is obvious: guns are innately destructive and therefore will take life more than they give. This past year has been marred by some of the most inhuman and heinous mass shootings in American history, coming to a climaxing with the recent Orlando (Pulse Gay Night Club) shooting. A recent Gallup poll shows that as a reaction, there has been a sharp increase in gun control support with 55% of Americans in Support. Further, a CNN report found that some 67% of Americans are in favour of the President’s executive actions to increase gun ownership regulation, introduced in January of this year.
In both camps then we see that the debate on gun control is either indirectly or directly founded on the notion of protection, our collective right to life. Both of these arguments hold weight, lending an explanation as to why this systemic issue has been so prolonged. However, as the recent polls above show, there has been a shift. To an extent it is true that firearms have in many cases protected or provided for individuals. Nonetheless, with mass shootings becoming an ever more common occurrence, it has become clear to many Americans that the 2nd Amendment and gun control as they stand put more lives at risk than they protect. Every year on average 30,000 people die from firearms. To put that into perspective that is nearly the same amount of people killed in Nagasaki from the A-bomb. The point then is this: the right to a gun seems only justified under the premise that it saves lives; however at the moment, thousands of lives are lost every year from firearms. Thus it would seem there is little justification for the current standing of the 2nd Amendment in a rights-focused context. The efforts of the ‘pro-gun regulation’ camp are to fix this deficit of lives lost.As I quoted the President at the beginning of this article, no one is trying to, nor should, take guns away from law abiding Americans; instead it is my opinion that we must enforce proper regulation to ensure that guns will only ever be in the hands of responsible people. If that is done, then gun ownership will cease to be a rampant risk to the lives of others, and instead fulfil the premises of the pro-second argument. In other words, we must strike a balance whereby the right to bear arms is not unnecessarily infringed upon, yet the right to life is above all defended. Philip Smit