Warriors on the Issues: An overview of the American gun addiction
Charleston. San Bernardino. Orlando. Newtown. Mix together a lunatic, an AR-15, and a vacillating Congress: suddenly, a city, once an ordinary destination, becomes a one-word reminder of unimaginable pain and trauma. The toxicity of the gun debate originates from its inextricable entanglement in the American lifestyle; many would postulate that to criticize the cultural staple of guns is to condemn the country, culture, and most unforgivably, the Constitution. The repudiation of these charges is the only way to begin any discussion about guns in America.
It surprises many to learn that while the Second Amendment is hotly debated today, it was largely ignored for the first two centuries of America’s existence. Maybe less surprisingly, the story of the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association intersect significantly. Until the mid-20th century, the NRA advocated for “firearms safety education, marksmanship training, [and] shooting for recreation,” even supporting the first federal gun control measure in 1943. But by 1977, the largely apolitical group was commandeered by fringe gun activists, who began to offer enormous financial contributions to pseudo-scholars, politicians, and legal activists. Soon enough, politicians (most notably, President Reagan and Orrin Hatch) adopted the judicially suspect claim that the Second Amendment guaranteed the individual right to own a firearm.
Subtly, slowly, and persistently, the pro-gun fringe influenced public opinion: in 1959, 60% supported banning handguns; in 2015, only 27% thought the same. This ideological escalation continued until 2008, when the Supreme Court definitively ruled the Second Amendment had been accidentally misinterpreted for over 200 years. In short, be wary of those who cling to the Second Amendment as a nonnegotiable historical reality: activists have taken advantage of the amendment’s ambiguity and implanted an agenda that no founder would condone. Lincoln made the distinction more succinctly: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”
But putting history aside, the ultimate frustration of this discussion stems from those who believe parroting “Second Amendment!” is more productive than rationally examining the problem of guns in America. In Connecticut, where the echoes of the evil committed in Newtown are still audible, does anyone have the audacity to say that the status quo is acceptable? The average American’s answer is, increasingly, no. Ninety-two percent of Americans support universal background checks. Eighty-seven percent don’t want those on the no-fly list to be able to purchase guns. In our hyper-partisan climate, this is consensus. So after the Senate easily defeated Senator Chris Murphy’s bill that would accomplish the latter, one is forced to consider whether the latest casualty of America's gun addiction is democracy itself.
If one looks around, they'll find that the gun epidemic is almost uniquely American. This should demonstrate to any reasonable person that those policies employed in other Western nations must be more effective than our own (the U.S. death rate from gun homicides is 31 per million; no other industrialized European nation has above 5). Many would instantly retort that these cultures are too dissimilar to compare, but it is paramount to recall how the epidemic initially began: subtle, slow, but persistent reshaping of public opinion. This is why Senator Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster and the Democratic sit-in are much more than, as Paul Ryan would (hypocritically) declare, a publicity stunt: they’re loud, unapologetic protests to the lunacy of our inaction.
“Thoughts and prayers” are nice, but if we all were to redirect some of those thoughts to the issue of gun violence itself, we wouldn’t have a country where a dozen dead black churchgoers or a class of murdered 5-year-olds or 50 slaughtered at a gay nightclub are met with a vulgar, indifferent Congressional shrug. The next time a congressperson offers only to think about a tragedy, follow their lead and think about voting for someone else.