The Second Amendment: America’s Relationship With Guns

The recent high school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida has once again brought up the polarizing issue of the Second Amendment across the United States. In a police report released on Thursday, Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspected mass shooter responsible for the killing of 17 people on February 14, has confessed. He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, and was ordered to be held without bond. Cruz’s attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is the deadliest school shooting in modern American history since 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The survivors have banded together, many of them high school students, to create the Never Again movement to push for more extensive gun control. Their twitter page has become verified and has gained over 90,000 followers. A planned protest called ‘March For Our Lives’ will be held in Washington, D.C. on March 24, to help promote this cause and bring widespread attention to the issue in the capital.

The U.S. is typically seen as the most developed nation in the global economy, however, its love affair with guns, and the associated consequences that come with it, have set it apart from nearly all other developed countries. Even former President Barack Obama highlighted this in his statement on gun control following the 2015 Charleston church shooting by saying, “Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun… at some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries…with this kind of frequency.” Gun rights are routinely justified through the Second Amendment’s ‘right to bear arms,’ which was added to the Constitution in 1791. Many would argue that this is an out dated, unnecessary element to the U.S. Constitution that bears no relevance to modern day society.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, the total number of incidents related to gun violence in 2018 alone is 7,697. Of those, the number of deaths is currently at 2,117. There have been 34 mass shootings so far this year and 246 unintentional shootings, showing that gun safety is a pressing concern. The average number of firearms per 100 people in the U.S. is a staggering 89, according to the Small Arms Survey carried out in 2007, making America the top gun owning country per capita. To compare, it is above countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iraq in terms of civilian gun ownership.

A staggering statistic brought up by David Hemenway in his book, Private Guns, Public Health, states, “Since 1960, approximately five hundred thousand Americans have been murdered with guns. To put that number into perspective, more Americans have been murdered with guns in the past forty years than were killed by all methods in all wars in the twentieth century – in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.” This succinctly puts gun use in the U.S. into perspective and highlights the scale of the problem. This appears to be an exclusively American problem as “The U.S. rates of death and injury due to firearms and the rate of crimes committed with firearms are far higher than those of any other industrialized country.” There are more mass shootings in the U.S. than any other country in the world. A 2016 University of Alabama study found that the U.S., while only making up 5% of the world’s population, contains 31% of mass shooters globally. Perhaps the U.S. isn’t as developed as it is so often projected.

The New York Times reports that the AR-15 rifle used in the attack was bought legally at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Florida, as stated by a federal law enforcement official. It has been discovered that Cruz bought the gun a year ago, in February 2017. A special agent responsible for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami found that “No laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon.” To think, in a country where the legal drinking age is 21, it is perfectly legal for an 18-year-old to purchase a semi-automatic rifle that is capable of killing 17 people in a relatively short period of time. This is a huge security problem for America, and desperately needs to be grappled with.

Gun violence has continued to plague American society, partially based on the power and influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This recent horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Florida has created the Never Again movement, which has built momentum behind gun control, and aims to reduce the influence of the NRA in American politics. It is well known that the NRA makes considerable donations to many Republican politicians’ campaigns in exchange for favourable legislation and their support towards the Second Amendment. The NRA’s classic response to any mass shooting, as articulated by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre on Thursday, is “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” However, this logic is greatly flawed, and could create far more problems than it would solve. Trump has articulated his support for this approach in suggesting teachers should be armed, in preparation for such events. He states, “When we declare our schools to be gun free zones, it just puts our students in far more danger,” later adding, “People that are adept with weaponry and with guns — they teach. I don’t want to have 100 guards with rifles standing all over the school. You do a concealed carry permit.”

A double page advertising spread featured in The New York Times has been paid for by two gun control groups, showing the names and telephone numbers of all members of Congress who “take NRA money but refuse to take action to pass gun safety legislation.” The advert also shows details of how much money each Congress member has allegedly received from the NRA over the course of their career, aiming to provide a level of accountability. The NRA and other gun rights organizations together spent up to $54 million in the 2016 election in support of candidates they approved of, according to The Independent. Next to the list is a photo of students evacuating Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the mass shooting with the words “We are the children. You guys are the adults… Get something done,” said by the 17-year-old survivor, David Hogg. The advert was posted on Wednesday; the same day survivors of the Parkland shooting marched to the state capital Tallahassee, to demand a ban on assault rifles.

A growing number of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and George and Amal Clooney, have donated, some up to $500,000, to the upcoming ‘March For Our Lives’ protest. This adds momentum to the gun control movement and gives the ability to make a real impact. With younger generations challenging the political make up of the American Constitution, change could be in the cards for United States, making it a more safe country, and allowing it to catch up to many other developed nation in an area it has been seriously lagging in.