Yet another school shooting in America. Sixteen children and a teacher murdered by a former pupil, who callously set off a fire alarm, knowing that would bring many victims straight to him.
The eighteenth school shooting this year – and we’re barely seven weeks into 2018. To call this a serious problem is to completely understate the very, very obvious. And yet there are still many people who won’t even consider talking about the clear need for stricter control on these weapons.
They try to deflect. They talk about mental illness being the cause – as if other countries are all so very sane. They talk about video games and movies being excessively violent – as if we don’t get the very same material. They talk about criminals still getting guns if the ‘good guys’ can’t. They talk about only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.
All utter rubbish, of course, as we’ll discuss. But there’s one thing that they all talk about, which they believe somehow negates any gun control debate. Their precious second amendment.
So let’s take a look at what this actually says…
“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.”
It’s necessary to pop into the way-back machine to understand the thoughts, environment, and intent behind these twenty-seven words.
In the aftermath of the US War of Independence, America was a very different place to the nation it is today. They had no standing army, no police force, no central means of defending themselves against multiple real threats – the renegade Brits that they had just overcome, other Americans who remained loyal to the Crown, and – then as today – fear of attack by ‘those pesky natives’.
As an attempt to formulate some kind of security structure in this potential vacuum, the Congressional Convention in 1787 proposed that Congress should have the power to raise a standing army and navy, of unlimited size. This caused a rift between anti-federalists and the new government, and so compromises began to take place so that a US Bill of Rights could be adopted, replacing the hated British legislation that still held sway.
One of the key elements in this series of compromises was the fear that, with an armed military force and an unarmed population, it would be too easy in the early days of the nation for the military to take over states by force. As such, the argument for an armed population – for defence of the nation – raged on.
Eventually, after several years and many iterations, the wording was adopted in 1792 as laid out above. The US now had two things – a standing army, albeit under some serious restrictions, and a population with the ability to possess guns, for the express purpose of forming a well regulated public militia force, should the need arise and should the standing army become more of an occupying force than a protecting force.
Let’s pause a second, and consider the phrase ‘well regulated militia’. What does that actually mean?
The term “regulated” means “disciplined” or “trained”. In fact, the US Supreme Court has even defined the phrase “well regulated” as implying the imposition of proper discipline and training.
So as far as the second amendment is concerned, a well regulated militia, is a force of trained, disciplined people, working in protection of their nation against aggression of government.
Over the years, between 1888 when law review articles were first published in the US right up to 1959, every single review article that references the second amendment concluded that it did not guarantee an individual the right to own a gun.
So let’s bring this back to the present, and try and reconcile that with the way that these 27 words are being misinterpreted today.
Well – that in itself is a challenge, because the second amendment isn’t even being used in its entirety.
In the lobby of the NRA headquarters building in Fairfax, Virginia is the second half of the amendment only, emblazoned in gold letters across a wall. They are – unsurprisingly – very keen to declare that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” but conveniently ignore the qualifier about a well regulated militia being necessary. And here’s why…
In 1977, the NRA held it’s annual meeting. People still refer to that meeting today as the “Revolt in Cincinnati”. The leadership of the NRA had decided to move it’s headquarters to Colorado, signalling a retreat from politics. More than a thousand angry pro-gun, pro-republican rebels showed up at the annual convention. By four in the morning, these dissenters had voted out the entire leadership, and activists from factions called The Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee forced their way into power.
The new leadership was overtly dogmatic and ideological. They started to ferment unrest against federal control in many areas of life, such as taxation and land policies. And, as an attempt to remain in power, politicians adjusted their stances on these matters to keep in with the new zealots.
Back to the law, then. In 1960, articles began to appear that strongly argued that the amendment, as written and as accepted for over 160 years, didn’t mean what it always had. I guess Hollywood must play a part in that shift, with their westerns portraying the concept of ‘a good guy with a gun’ to the masses. White hats and black hats, and all that.
Initially, the legal articles didn’t make much difference in the shift of public opinion, but as soon as the radicals at the NRA came to power, that started to change as they combined massive investment in lawyers (to argue their case in law review submissions), political lobbying (together with the promise of backing and financial incentives for politicians that aligned themselves with NRA thought), grants to write pro-gun book reviews, and the establishment of many organisations, such as ‘Academics for the Second Amendment’. Massive amounts of money, pressure, and coercion from the NRA and their activists brought about a seed change in the way that most Americans now view the second amendment.
It’s ironic that most of the people yelling “SECOND AMENDMENT!!!” don’t even realise that they aren’t supporting the constitution, but the NRA bastardisation of an ideal.
And it’s tragic that – unless this changes once again – these same people will defend the rights of people like Nikolas Cruz, who murdered seventeen people at a school in Florida on Feb 14, 2018. They will defend the rights of Stephen Paddock, who on October 1, 2017, murdered 58 people and injures 851 others in a ten-minute shooting spree from a hotel room in Las Vegas. They will defend the rights of Adam Lanza, who on December 14 2012, walked into the grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing twenty children aged between six and seven years old, as well as six staff and his own mother.
They cite mental illness. They cite influences of video games and movies. They cite all manner of things.
They cry that if you take their guns, only criminals will have guns. Personally, I’d far rather the police arrest someone for owning an illegal gun, than arrest them for massacring seventeen people. Because – and this is very important – all of the people I named above were legal gun owners, right up to the point when they became murderers.
However, gun supporters never cite the one thing that would have absolutely prevented these atrocities.
It’s impossible to kill 58 people and injure 851 others in 10 minutes, from a 32nd floor hotel room across the street, without the guns to fire.
It’s impossible to walk into a school and murder seventeen people if you don’t have the weapon to do so.
It’s impossible to massacre twenty children barely starting their school life, if you don’t have the means to deliver that death from the barrel of a gun.
Yes, health issues need to be addressed (although with Mental Health funding in the US being gutted at the moment, and restrictions on mental health suffers owning guns being lifted, it’s hard to see anything going well there). But we all have mental health issues in our countries. Only America arms their mentally ill. And that must stop.
Survivors of the attack in Florida are vocalising their anger towards the laws that failed them and their classmates. One can only hope that their voices are as loud, and as persistent, as they need to be. Because if they aren’t listened to, then all we are doing is waiting for the next time.