The Second Amendment is today one of the most controversial provisions in the US constitution. In the wake of mass shootings in the United States, many voices on the left are blaming the implementation of this right as the main cause and driving force behind these tragedies. They say that easy access to firearms is the main problem and that certain firearms should be banned or more strictly regulated. The right of the political spectrum argues that the main problem has its roots in mental health issues and that firearms save many more lives in the United States than what they take. In this post, I will be examining the historical background of the Second Amendment, its importance, the current debate on it, and my thoughts on the matter.
The Second Amendment was ratified and adopted on December 15, 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. Its existence heavily influenced by English Common Law and the earlier English Bill of Rights of 1689 who worded this right as “Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law”. The founding father’s belief in the freedom of religion and the American struggle against the British Empire led to a more encompassing wording in the amendment to reflect the values of a state whose power is limited by a well-armed populace. The view was that a state should not need to fear an armed populace since it should never be acting in a tyrannical fashion and vice versa a people should not fear the government because of their right to bear arms and resist oppression. Taking this into consideration the ratified amendment was written as “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”. While a debate on the wording does exist the Supreme Court ruled it to be an individual right where the second half is the operative clause (the actual protected right) and the first half is the prefatory clause (that which announces a purpose). Based on this every citizen of the United States is a part of that militia since it is composed of the people and therefore every individual has the right to keep and bear firearms.
Today the arguments for its existence are very similar to the reasons it was conceived. Many argue that it is an essential aspect of a free society since it empowers the individual to protect life, liberty, and property. It allows the people to retain a level of power against the government keeping it in check of overly tyrannical measures and ultimately the founding fathers held it to be one of the most important rights in the assurance of a republic which functioned on the principles of liberty. Therefore, the Second Amendment continues to be just as important as it was in the past. The arguments for its limitation or elimination fundamentally alter the principles on which the United States was founded and would lead to a constitutional crisis if implemented.
The right to bear arms is a crucial element of a free society only related to this problem in the fact that the assailant used a gun. We have abundant examples of all sorts of violent acts where knives, acid, and other dangerous weapons are used to commit crimes across the western world. These places have banned the use of firearms and exposed innocents by stripping them of the best self-defense tool there is. The United States would not be better off by following the examples set by other nations in the world. We should embrace the libertarian ideals of our nation and recognize that if we empower our liberties we can find solutions to this problem. A great example of this is the recent discussion of eliminating gun free zones or arming trained teachers who can take quick action to defend the lives of their students and themselves. This would remove a massive incentive the shooter has when choosing a spot to carry out an attack and increase the safety of these previously easy to target areas.
Nevertheless, the modern debate rages on and it would presumably carry on as a field of political combat in the foreseeable future. It is crucial that those in favor of gun rights continue to actively push for their rights and not cede ground to false solutions that will not fix the root of the problem. The statistics and collected evidence on the profile of these shooters point to the conclusion that mass shootings are a direct result of mental health issues that plague our society and it is crucial that we identify them and seek solutions to this unique problem. A situation like this needs something larger than a simple solution with which people can pat themselves on the back and feel good about themselves. If we do not solve the mental health crisis that affects the United States and much of the western world the consequences will be severe and felt for generations to come.