The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written 225 years ago in 1791. Fast forward to 2016, and Americans are faced with a horrifying reality: Over 108,000 people in the United States were shot last year, and there were 372 mass homicides. These extraordinarily high rates of gun violence are due to some Americans’ unwillingness to interpret the Second Amendment in a way that is applicable to the present day.
The Second Amendment states, “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.” Gun enthusiasts take this to mean that they have the unrestricted right to own and carry as many weapons as they desire. However, the amendment clearly states that arms are carried to ensure “security”; in other words, for defense. Defending one’s self does not call for an automatic weapon. The Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment in a time when guns were far less harmful and destructive than they are today. Owning a musket that must be continually reloaded before firing is not the same as owning a semi-automatic rifle that can fire multiple rounds of bullets within seconds. Therefore, Americans’ conception of “defense” must be changed as technology advances: an assault weapon is not a defensive measure.
Deaths in the United States due to gun use have reached unimaginable proportions. In 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. In October 2015, nine people died and seven to nine others were injured at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. In December of that year, 14 people were killed and more than 17 injured in San Bernardino, California. In fact, according to the Brady Campaign, every day 151 people in the United States are shot in some kind of assault. Yearly, more than 30,000 people die due to gun violence, and more than 75,000 are injured.
In stark contrast, the number of people who report using a gun in self defense or in a justifiable homicide annually is less than 300. Of course, one cannot deny that guns can theoretically be used to save lives, but the vast majority of gun violence in the United States is unjustified and results in deaths of innocent civilians.
Interpretations of many amendments to the Constitution have changed over the years in order to adapt to the present day. The same thinking must be applied to the Second Amendment. The right to “bear arms” cannot remain an unlimited right when “arms” refers to semi-automatic weapons capable of firing 12 to 15 rounds of bullets per minute. Securing further gun control legislation is not a means of infringing on people’s rights. It is an assurance that citizens can enjoy all of their other rights and freedoms by being alive and safe.
Gun violence has become one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Unlike some of the other causes, we can fix this.We can start by implementing violence prevention plans in cities, ensuring accessible mental health treatment, and funding the Center for Disease Control to pursue further research on gun violence. We can insist on mandatory training and licensing for all gun owners. Most importantly, we must implement sensible gun laws, including banning high-capacity magazines, expanding the 24-hour background check to make it universal, and reinstituting the assault weapons ban.
Gun control can as surely end gun violence as getting a flu shot will prevent someone from getting the flu: not perfectly in every case but, overall, extremely effective in protecting the individual and society.