An Exercise in Futility: Gun Reform
On October 1st, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, shooting over five hundred people, killing just under sixty. One man, bent on violence, ruined the lives of hundreds. This man should not have had a gun. Nothing is going to get done about this.
Context is important. People hate me when I talk about gun control. Conservatives think I’m trying take their guns, and Liberals think I’m just another hick who loves violence. I believe in strict gun control, yet I am a supporter of gun rights. I was born in South Carolina, raised in a culture highly supportive of the Second Amendment. When the time came, I became a gun owner. I practice gun safety and believe that everyone should. I’ve heard plenty of humorous explanations from my fellow Southerners supporting the Second Amendment. The idea that an unorganized gun collector in the rural south is going to fight off the wave of a “tyrannical government” is ultimately pitiful, both in its paranoia and its underestimation of the “tyrannical government’s” fighting force. So, establishing that I am not a hick: in a society as advanced as ours, I see only one justification for gun ownership. We are not safe from crime.
The average police response time across the country is ten minutes. This is pretty fast compared to other nations. This still does not prevent violent crime. In order to protect one’s self, sometimes a firearm is necessary. The police are not able and will not be able to always prevent violence, a fact illustrated by persistent, albeit decreasing, crime rates across the country. In 2016, Washington, D.C.’s violent crime rate was just under 10%. Across my home state, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s (SLED) most recent statistics show that 16% of people were victims of violent crimes in 2015. That’s too high for my comfort. When the most highly policed city in the country, D.C., also boasts the fifth highest violent crime rate per capita, I feel the need to protect myself.
The unfortunate reality, demonstrated even further by the most recent tragedy, is that we are not safe. People do still need the ability to protect themselves. However, this by no means indicates that gun ownership should be laissez-faire or that five hundred people should suffer the consequences of a hands-off approach to gun legislation. Is it so unattainable to imagine a balance between two aspects of public safety? Is this problem unworkable? In the light of the landmark Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), it is reasonable to think that this problem will persist.
The Supreme Court had for a long time taken the stance that arguments about the Second Amendment only applied to “well-regulated militias” culminating in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 178 (1939). In D.C. v. Heller, a case where a security guard challenged a D.C. ban on gun ownership of handguns made after 1976, the Supreme Court stated unequivocally that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own firearms for self-protection. Dissenting opinions aside, the 5-4 decision distinguished the Second Amendment as a right to protect yourself and your home. The opinion also established that regulation and control of firearms as perfectly permissible, so long as it does not violate Second Amendment rights. In a subsequent case Hightower v. City of Boston, 693 F.3d 61 (2012), the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals held that it is perfectly reasonable for a state to regulate the carrying of firearms outside the home. Thankfully, there is no Constitutional guarantee to unlimited and untethered gun ownership. However the problem is unfortunately left to the legislative branch, in a time where we are witnessing one of the most divided legislative bodies our country has hosted. So, while I would love a clearly worded Supreme Court order establishing the necessity of gun regulations to protect the American citizenry, that isn’t the duty of the Judicial Branch. Legislative reform seems like our only hope. God help us.
This legislative divide is the biggest thing in the way of saving lives (that, and the gun lobby’s purchased indifference). Arguments surrounding the need to reform the Constitution before you curtail gun rights ring hollow. The idea that the government shouldn’t put its hands-on gun rights is laughable. Assuming I am right, and there exists this inalienable right to protect yourself using a firearm, it should mean next to nothing for regulation stemming from the goal of public safety. The government has not stayed its hand in regulating and controlling any other inalienable rights for the sake of public safety. The First Amendment Right to free speech is curtailed by public safety concerns. The right to farm and sell food is inalienable under the idea of a person’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, yet we let the FDA decide what practices are unsafe for the public. The concept of Congressional tailoring of an inalienable right is not new.
The government controls, regulates and monitors all of these things. Just like seatbelts and airbags, the technology to make guns safer exists already. The right to bring a gun outside of your home is already regulated, it is just poorly regulated and poorly-enforced. The steps to legislating this issue are more attainable than most gun advocates would have you believe. The Australian success in enacting strict gun restrictions is frequently cited by proponents for gun control. While Australian regulation is not directly applicable to our country for a number of reasons, it shows the attainability of such an approach. America can do this, but I doubt we will.
With the foundation for potential change laid, I now choose to shrug and walk away from the argument for gun reform. I am not sure any amount of horror will change the way the country regulates firearms. Right now, the odds are stacked far too heavily against successful legislation of this issue. Conservatives control the Executive and Legislative branch, and the gun lobby is still thriving. Recent legislative efforts to remove bump-stocks from the open market both are at worst a weak placation and at best merely bring gun regulation back to the point where it was before the jerry-rigged automatic-fire technology existed. Lastly and most critically, cognitive dissonance is a persistent infection. Given time, the pendulum on this issue may swing and we could see real reform, but it will take years and millions of dollars. The pendulum swings too slowly for the five hundred people in Law Vegas. I hope that I will eat my words, but I doubt much will get done about the serious issue of gun violence in this country.