Carly Greenfield is a Second year International Relations student in the War Studies department at King’s College London. Her main interests center around conflict resolution and corruption, with a special focus on the Americas.
Amendment II: 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.
No mass shooting in our time will end the American people’s’ freedom to possess firearms. This is not a radical opinion: while our European peers may balk at a citizen’s ability to buy a gun, it is ingrained in American history that an individual has the right to protect themselves, likely from the state itself. There are multiple reasons for keeping this right in place, but in my mind, the way to understand our 2nd amendment is through the history of the formation of the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a lobbying group, and the American culture of individual freedoms.
The right to bear arms is included in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights spells out the first 10 amendments to the American constitution, and was necessary to the constitution being passed. They encompass the freedoms that each American citizen has and that the government cannot condemn. Of course, each amendment has limitations, but overall, they are not to be heavily doctored. For instance, within this same bill exists the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and to a “speedy and fair trial.”
After the Revolutionary War, the American colonies were wary of a strong central government and the Bill of Rights was a way to limit Federal power over individual states. It is important to remember that the United States did not form like other countries did: each state still had vast influence over its own territory and the federal government was rather weak, especially compared to European states. There were even arguments held over having a central bank or a federal debt. This history affects present day gun legislation because it means that most gun laws are decided at the state level.
Gun laws vary drastically from state to state, and in Florida, where the deadliest mass shooting in history recently occurred, buying a gun is not made difficult. According to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), there is no permit or registration necessary to purchase a rifle, shotgun, or handgun. While there is a permit to carry and a 3-day waiting period installed to buy a handgun, and background checks are installed for every firearm purchase, an AR-15 style rifle used in the Pulse shooting in Orlando can be purchased the same day as the handgun. This is exactly what the shooter did, and he passed Florida’s background checks.
Even though Omar Mateen, the shooter, had been interviewed on three different occasions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), no charges were brought against him and therefore he was still allowed to purchase the guns. Because the right to bear arms is seen as a civil liberty protected through the Bill of Rights, Mateen could not be denied his rights without any proof or through the American judicial process. If we believe the right to bear arms is an individual freedom that must not be infringed upon, then we cannot ask the FBI to only infringe upon the rights of those they consider terrorists. Americans do not have access to the FBI terror watch list, they do not know how they end up on the list or are removed from it, and do not face a jury of their peers to confirm their guilt. Due to the usurping of the judicial process, the legislative branch of the federal government, mainly Republicans in Congress, have refused to give the federal government the power to block gun sales to potential terrorists.
The NRA plays a heavy hand in this. The lobbying group has over 5 million members and boasts a strong financial wing to both combat anti-firearm politicians and donate money to campaigns that will further their cause. This has led to congressmen receiving millions in donations from the NRA to keep gun laws loose. They are against any type of national firearm registry, for fear of something similar to the Nazi Germany seizing of guns, and believe that terrorists and ‘bad guys’ will get a hold of guns whether the government wants them to or not, so limiting gun sales only hurts legally abiding citizens who want to protect themselves. The amount of money that the NRA can spend influencing politicians is unlimited, according to the Supreme Court.
In 2010, the Supreme Court decided on Citizens United v. Fec, which gave corporations the right to act as people; a corporation can donate as much money as they want to any given cause under its ‘personal freedoms.’ This allows the NRA to put on millions in contributions along with target ads against certain congressmen and women that are seen as trying to limit the scope of the 2nd amendment.
Finally, the 2nd amendment will not be abolished because of American culture: it is focused on the freedom of the individual citizen and not of the collective. While this oftentimes infringes upon the civil liberties of minority groups like African-Americans and the LGBT+ community, America at large has yet to pull away from this ideal. Our country has about as many guns as people, both over the 300 million threshold. The infamous ‘Don’t tread on me’ flag, pictured below, has been held hostage by the Tea Party in recent years but represents a wider swath of the American public: there is general distrust of the federal government and individual freedoms are not to be infringed upon, which includes a citizen’s right to own a firearm.
This culture is changing, of course, as more and more people call for gun control legislation after the onslaught of mass shootings in recent years, but we have to ask the question: is the death of 49 people in a gay club like Pulse really going to change it? Why not 27 six and seven year olds at Sandy-Hook in 2012? Why not 32 college kids at Virginia Tech in 2007? What makes this shooting different?
In truth, it is not so different when only looking at the guns. It is a hate crime, similar to the shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina just last year, but the gun culture will not change so rapidly. The continued calls for more guns versus less guns has only further polarized the gun debate, and partisan politics has never been a stepping stone for radical change. The largest mass shooting in American history will not lead to an abolishment of the 2nd amendment: we have yet to even limit the sale of semi-automatics. Baby steps, America.