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.