By: Olivia Bell-Cohen
In 1791, Americans ratified the Bill of Rights consisting of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The Second Amendment addressed the right to own weapons, and provides: “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.” In recent decades the issue of whether the Second Amendment is outdated has turned into a heated debate. This narrative will examine why the founders included the Second amendment, how the issues around gun ownership and violence have changed, and whether there remains any justification for the Second Amendment in modern society.
It is helpful to examine the original intent of the Second Amendment. The purpose was to prevent the new federal government from taking arms away from state militias and replacing them with a national military force. Over coming Delusions About the Second Amendment, by Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University. The founding fathers idea with the right to bear arms was also intended to enable white male citizens to arm themselves against slave rebellions and Indian attacks. None of these reasons are relevant today, as the United states abolished slavery over 140 years ago and Native American attacks are clearly no longer an issue. A national military, and law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local level are tasked with protecting the people. There is no place in our current society for local militias or for arming regular citizens against each other.
The Second Amendment was a political response to security situations that occurred over two centuries ago and is not an accurate representation of our current need of firearms. Huffington Post Strategic Analyst Edward Corcoran believes, “the Second Amendment was a reflection by politicians two hundred years ago of what would be appropriate for America in society at that time. And that society was fundamentally different. We continually shift our views and culture as Americans and we ought to be reforming our laws to reflect our changing values as we become a more progressive country.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.” Jefferson makes it incredibly evident that we cannot depend on laws that were made under entirely different circumstances. Our founding fathers believed only white landowning protestants over the age of 21 should vote, so it is clear they certainly did not intend for people of color or women to bear arms. However, as times have changed, we amended our Constitution. As Thomas Jefferson said “laws go hand in hand with progress.” Justices of the Supreme Court acknowledge that the purpose of the Second Amendment has long disappeared. Justice John Paul Stevens has written that the amendment should not block the ability of society to keep itself safe through gun control legislation. Sachs article, Huffington Post, The fallacious appeal to tradition that the NRA has used for the past 144 years to block gun control must draw to a close as we begin to better understand the part guns play in instituting violence in America.
The NRA’s biggest argument for their position against gun control is that gun control infringes on our liberties and disintegrates the freedoms we have as American citizens. However, They have absolutely no problem infringing the rights of minorities or anyone who is different. Other current news events are the wars on abortion and marriage, subjects which the NRA have repeatedly publicly announced their disapproval of, these are also ‘liberties’ that have been infringed; the difference being gay marriage does not murder people.
Another important reason for rejecting the Second Amendment right as an argument against gun control is the tremendous contrast between the firearms available in 1790, and the weapons of mass destruction available today. Edward Corcoran emphasizes the vast differences in the firearms themselves, stating, “Guns are no longer single-shot, muzzle-loading weapons firing low-velocity lead balls. At the time, modern weapons were not even dreamed of: rapid, even automatic, fire weapons with high-velocity, high-lethality bullets.” In addition, the mass manufacture of inexpensive guns was still off in the future. Modern weapons present a far greater threat than 18th century guns. Allowing automatic handguns to be carried by a citizen is far different than carrying a single-shot musket. The most popular guns involved with firearm-related murders and suicides are handguns. These weapons are specifically designed for murder and possess no useful purpose for hunting or self defense. The semiautomatic assault rifle used by the man who shot 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut in 2013 can fire 30 shots without stopping. The killer managed to fire over 150 shots in five minutes. It has become far too easy for unstable and violent people to reach for fatal weapon to solve their problems. The amount of easily accessible weapons available is ridiculous and must be changed before our infatuation reaches the point of no return.
Gun death statistics show a frightening trend. While automobile-related deaths have ranked number one in U.S. death tolls since the 1900’s, Bloomberg News writers Chris Christoff and Ilan Kolet report that, “Shooting deaths in 2015 will probably rise to almost 33,000, and those related to autos will decline to about 32,000, based on the 10-year average trend. For the first time ever, firearms are predicted to be the number one cause of accidental death in the United States.
Gun ownership may also soon outnumber people. According to CNN, in 2009 there were 310 million non-military guns in the US, which has a population of about 320 million. The contrast with weapons of the 1700’s is severe and the deadliness of modern guns is unquestionable. The founding fathers could not have anticipated the extensive damage and mass killings a modern firearm can cause.
Not only is the safety of Americans decreasing due to rising gun ownership, but firearm-related hospitalizations are becoming a big problem for our healthcare system. Nearly 20 children each day are hospitalized due to firearm-related injuries and 87 people are killed. According to a report by Urban Institute, nearly 80% of gun violence treatment costs are shouldered by taxpayers. Hospitals have reported that the U.S. spent around $630 million in 2010 alone treating victims of gun violence. Medical costs for gunshot wounds total more than six million dollars a day. Nonfatal gunshot wounds are the lead cause of uninsured hospital stays in the United States. In 2010, guns became the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths in hospitals nationwide and continue to rise at an alarming rate alongside the acceleration of gun possession per capita. This illustrates an unequivocal connection between the guns per person and the climbing total of firearm-related deaths. Gun violence places a huge burden on America’s healthcare system.
Many lawmakers, including previous advocates for gun rights, have said it is time for the nation to take a look at its gun control laws, including California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein who introduced a bill to ban assault weapons in 2013, but it was defeated by Congress. Others have tried to eliminate what is known as the “gun show loophole” which allows for private sellers at gun shows to sell firearms without conducting a background check on these private buyers. Not only is this an exemption from national law but it is a fast and paperless way for criminals to purchase guns without proper background checks and registration.
Our modern society simply cannot afford to continue our current situation, emotionally or economically. If stricter gun control was implemented we could not only save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in health care, but we could commit our money to more critical causes: educating our future generations and reversing our deadly history of gun violence in America. The Second Amendment was created as a response to situations that are no longer relevant. As many pro gun-control advocates argue, in order to make progress on health and safety and strive for excellence, we must adapt our outdated interpretation of the Constitution to accommodate a generation with much different priorities. The lessons from the tragedies in Newtown and Columbine are clear: we need to have reasonable gun control in America, and therefore the Second Amendment should be repealed or re-interpreted to allow for gun control. We can no longer use this outdated Amendment as an excuse to make gun ownership more important than the health and safety of our children and citizens.