On April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado, two students at Columbine High School carried out a murderous rampage that left fifteen dead and millions in shock Exactly one month later, a suicidal fifteen year old from Heritage High, in Conyers, Georgia opened fire into a crowd of fellow students, injuring six. Following this, Orthodox Jews were attacked in Chicago during July, a community center in Los Angeles was hit in August, and there was shooting rampage at a Baptist church in Fort Worth Texas this September (Weiss 1). This Tuesday, in Honolulu, Hawaii - A Xerox Corp. repairman, shot and killed seven of his co-workers in the worst killing rampage in Hawaii's history (Gordon 1). Shockingly, Wednesday morning, a gunman camouflaged in a trench coat and sunglasses burst into a Seattle shipyard and shot four people, killing two (Wolk 1). The list from this year alone goes on and on and the headlines bleed through statistics. By the numbers, violent crime has dropped for the last seven years. But month after month, even week after week, the nation has been assaulted by horrific stories of innocents attacked or slain. This multitude of recent tragedies involving firearms has focused national attention, once more, on the controversial issue of gun control and the Second Amendment, a debate that always stirs up passionate emotions and intense opinions. Because opponents of gun control reject any law that bans or restricts guns in any form as unconstitutional, they ignore all legal history and modern implications surrounding the Second Amendment..
The most misunderstood provision contained in the Bill of Rights is this Amendment which states as follows: "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" (Bijlefeld 3). Two interpretations of the Founding Fathers' words exist. Primarily, the belief held by the National Rifle Association and other members of America's gun lobby, that the Second Amendment guarantees every American citizen the right to own any number or kind of firearm. Secondly the conviction of gun control activists, that the Second Amendment was meant to guarantee a collective rather than an individual right to bear arms. So, when the occasion arose that Americans found it necessary to band together to defend their rights, they were constitutionally guaranteed the right to own the firearms they needed for that purpose (Kruschke 4). The latter of the interpretations seems to make the most sense when looked at in the historical context in which it was written. "The purpose of the Second Amendment was to guarantee the States' ability to maintain independent militia composed of state residents available to be called upon to defend the country should it's security have been threatened" (Sugarmann 265). The Founding Fathers reliance on state militias to perform this military task was rooted in their deep distrust of the standing federal army (Sugarmann 265). Considering that the United States is now the most powerful nation in the world, the notion that its federal army needs civilian reinforcement is most definitely antiquated. Yet another historical flaw lies in the definition of the word "arms." In 1787, when the American Constitution was signed, this term referred to bayonets, muskets and spears, not to today's high powered machine guns, handguns and "Saturday Night Specials" designed for solely for crime and built to kill. The original purpose of the Second Amendment is simply irrelevant in today's world.
The NRA has for more than 120 years been the most visible defender of "the right to bear arms," (Sugarmann 15) and has upheld the notion that what is needed is not limitations on the ownership of firearms, but a more vigorous prosecution of criminals (Kruschke 15). However, statistics show that harsher punishment has little effect on crime rates. This proposed solution also does not even attempt to touch the issue of unintentional deaths by firearms, the fifth leading cause of death for children fourteen and under (Pike 1). Gun control activists argue that prevention through reducing firearm availability is the key to a safer society. Guns are known kill more people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four than all other natural causes combined (Pike 1). According to the FBI, if guns were not so readily available, and further restrictions were made on their ownership, many of these fatalities could be avoided (Kruschke 17). Strangely, the NRA fails to recognize any link between the increasing bloodshed in America and it's own philosophy.
Likewise, the unconstitutionality of gun control can easily be discredited. American citizens have many constitutionally guaranteed rights that are nonetheless regulated. For example, every person living in the United States has the constitutional right to free speech. However, one is prohibited from yelling the word "fire" in a crowded movie theater, without just cause, for obvious safety reasons. Similarly, there must be strict air wave regulation in radio broadcasting, because it would be impossible to communicate if everyone had unfettered rights to the frequencies (Kruschke 5). By analogy, the federal government has the right to impose certain restrictions on gun ownership and use even if the right to own firearms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment (Kruschke 5).
International comparisons are by far the greatest argument towards the movement of stricter gun control in America. "The murder rate in the United States surpasses that of every other industrialized country in the world" (Bijlefeld 117). In 1990, handguns were used to murder twenty-two people in Great Britain, sixty-eight in Canada, eighty-seven in Japan and 11, 719 in the United States (Bijlefeld 117). In Washington D.C, the number of murders that occur in one year is fifteen times greater than in Northern Ireland, a nation plagued by terrorism. This level of handgun violence does not exist in any other developed country (Bijlefeld 117). Why is there such a large discrepancy between these nations? For one thing, in Germany, France, Canada, Britain and Japan, handguns are essentially banned from the general public (Bijlefeld 117). The effectiveness of this rigid gun control is demonstrated in a study comparing the rates of firearm violence in Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia. The two cities in question, are less than three hours apart by car, are culturally similar in many ways, and have similar rates of crime. Yet in contrast to Seattle, firearms are strictly regulated in Vancouver. The result: citizens of Seattle are at almost five times greater the risk of being murdered with a handgun than those in Vancouver (Bijlefeld 118). It is clear that handgun regulations work when presented with the following: within three years of the Washington, D.C, law banning the sale of handguns, the murder rate dropped twenty-five percent, and in South Carolina, after handgun laws were tightened in 1975, the murder rate fell twenty-eight percent (Kruschke 22). This evidence discounts the ideology of opponents of gun control such as the NRA, and indicates that the initiation of a tough firearm legislation would cause a drastic drop in the number of murders and accidental deaths involving guns.
This fall, President Clinton ordered the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide fifteen million dollars for public housing agencies and local police departments to buy back guns in America's inner cities. A move most definitely motivated by the many recent tragedies involving firearms. The White House also reports that its anti-crime efforts and gun control strategies have been effective in stopping an estimated 700,000 illegal gun sales (The Associated Press 1). The United States is taking action, but still not enough. One example of legislation that needs to be changed is the enforcement of State Child Access Prevention laws that require gun owners living in households with minor children to store their guns locked and out of reach of children. Presently, only seventeen states have CAP laws. This is a great indication to how much nationwide regulation of firearms needs to change. A rigid new set of gun control laws would lower the number of murders and accidental deaths associated with guns each year (The Associated Press 1).
The United States of America, witness to the recent innumerable senseless acts of violence, and preventable accidents involving guns, is focused once more on the controversial issue of gun control and the Second Amendment. Though some defend that any law that bans or restricts guns in any form is unconstitutional, the legal history and present circumstances surrounding the Amendment discount their ideology and indicate that the initiation of a tougher gun control legislation would cause a drastic drop in the number of murders and accidental deaths involving guns in the United States. The Second Amendment is outdated and should be revised to suit today's modern world, which sadly, reflects a much more violent American society than in the eighteenth century, when the Constitution was first signed by the Founding Fathers. As politicians and activists debate the question of what the Second Amendment really means, the death toll continues to mount. This leads one to question: which town will be next? And can we as individuals do anything to stop the cycle and initiate change?