What does it mean for this country if we recognize that our Constitution isn’t timeless? What are the consequences of accepting it as flawed? Whether we like it or not, these are questions we need to ask if we are to effectively advocate for gun control, an act of advocacy I believe to be necessary.
America has a gun problem unparalleled elsewhere in the developed world. We live in a country where mass shootings are a near weekly headline and where you are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun than you are in Germany or Australia. Just driving a few hours north and crossing the Canadian border decreases your likelihood of being shot sixfold. If you live in a state with more guns, your chance of being exposed to gun violence increases, even if it’s domestic aggression or suicide. The statistics are clear: the abundance of gun violence here is, at least in part, due to the sheer abundance of guns. The more guns a country has, the more gun-related deaths it experiences. More guns simply don’t equate to less violence. This is no longer up for debate.
While it would be academically dishonest to simplify our epidemic of violence down solely to the availability and abundance of guns, they play a disproportionately large role and must be addressed. If mass shootings are a mere consequence of American liberty, American liberty is flawed.
An oft-cited example for effective gun control is Australia, which implemented sweeping measures after a mass shooting in 1996 that shocked and horrified the country. There has not been another mass shooting in Australia since, and overall gun homicides have decreased by roughly 60 percent. There was resistance to the policy, especially from rural inhabitants backed by gun-right advocacy groups, but the resounding response to the 1996 shooting was clear and decisive: guns make an industrialized society less safe. In the wake of every mass shooting here in America, you’ll undoubtedly hear somebody ask, “Why can’t we be more like Australia?”
It is our ideas of American liberty that make it nearly impossible to learn from these global role models. American gun-culture is deeply rooted in the fabric of American life. The pervasive assertion that gun ownership is a pinnacle of rugged individualism and personal freedom is championed tirelessly by immensely powerful interest groups like the National Rifle Association, who have tapped into our fervor for freedom to synthesize obscene profit and political clout. Beneath all of this, however, lies the U.S. Constitution, the foundation upon which anti-gun control advocates stand. Our Second Amendment is an integral part of the Bill of Rights, positioned next to an assurance of religious freedom and freedom of speech (rights we typically wouldn’t question), and we uphold the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Many Americans assure us that the document remains applicable to all aspects of our legal system despite its age. The genius of our founding fathers, we are told, is timeless.
Therefore, we must recognize that by advocating gun control and dismissing the Second Amendment as outdated, we are inherently questioning the continued validity of the U.S. Constitution. Yes, the Constitution was created with the possibility of amendment, but so far we have yet to truly amend the writings, and the principles, of the founders themselves. Doing so would expose a vulnerability in our entire system of government. If we admit the founders’ insight on civilian weapon ownership was not timeless, why should we continue to accept their other insights as such? Do we begin to question the democratic value of the U.S. Senate? Do we rebuke their beliefs and abolish the Electoral College? At what point do we suggest an entire rewrite of the U.S. Constitution? After all, it was written by a group of old white men, of whom many owned slaves and advocated for slavery. How timeless is their insight, after all?
I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions. However, these are questions I’m both willing and excited to ask. If gun control is a slippery slope in constitutional law, let’s get out the sleds and slip away.
For gun control advocates, we must understand the implications and magnitude of our proposed policy changes before we engage in dialogue with our opponents—we’ll be doing ourselves, and them, a disservice if we don’t. Likewise, we must recognize that maybe our opponents are not always speaking out of an irrational fear of gun confiscation or government tyranny, but rather a rational fear of constitutional meddling on a scale we’ve never seen before. We must address that fear, not shy away from it.