Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes, 59 seconds.

26 children and teachers should not have died at Sandy Hook, 12 moviegoers should not have died in Aurora, 32 students should not have died at Virginia Tech, 11,078 Americans should not have been murdered by firearms in 2010, and 19,392 Americans should not have committed suicide by firearm in 2010. 

Americans are united on the topic of gun violence: We want less of it. We all wish we could have stopped the tragedies listed above. What we don't agree on are the policies for saving lives and stopping gun violence. And we also disagree on the meaning of the second amendment. So which policy direction is supported by the constitution and saves American lives? I'd argue that the second amendment supports greater gun control, and that international statistics show that gun control works to reduce gun violence. 

The Second Amendment - 1789

Much of the debate over gun control in the United States centers on this sentence, written in 1789:

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.

The context? We had just fought a major war on (newly) American soil, the most popular gun was a musket which could fire 2-4 rounds per minute, and most of the Western US was unexplored by white settlers.
Today? We haven't had a major war on American soil for 150 years (The Civil War), Adam Lanza fired 154 bullets in four minutes in the Sandy Hook shooting, and the entirety of the US has been mapped and pacified, for better or worse. 

Yet somehow we have more guns, and more powerful guns than ever before. 



The Second Amendment Since 1789

Though the context of the Second Amendment is important, the modern gun debate is only 50 years old. In Battleground America, Jill Lepore recounts the fascinating history of American gun laws and the Second Amendment. In the section marked by the font change and brackets, I'm paraphrasing and shortening her writing.  (Please see the original article for sources and further information.)

[For the 180-odd years following independence no amendment featured less in court cases, besides the Third. Many states and cities outlawed the concealed carrying of weapons, the N.R.A existed as primarily a hunting and sporting organization, and in the 1939 the Supreme Court voted unanimously that the Second Amendment “is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state.” 

The modern gun debate started in 1963 with the assassination of President Kennedy. As Lepore explains, "Gun-rights arguments have their origins not in eighteenth-century Anti-Federalism but in twentieth-century liberalism." As civil rights activists began to use the courts to assert their claims for equality, gun rights activists did the same. In the 1970's, the N.R.A launched a campaign to assert that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own a gun, rather than the people's right to form militias for defense of the country. In 1977, the N.R.A began a campaign to change the common interpretation of the Second Amendment and changed its motto to “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.” (It had been “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.)

In the words of former Chief Justice Warren Burger, what followed was, "one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” The N.R.A. funded law review articles sympathetic to its interpretation of the Second Amendment, a re-written history of the Amendment was commissioned by a congressional subcommittee entitled “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” and by 1991 more Americans were familiar with the Second Amendment than the First.]

Hats off to Ms. Lepore for the history lesson, which provides background and context for this discussion. 




Applied Constitutional History

If you followed the history above, a lot of the concerns from gun rights activists start to fall apart. Here are some that I've picked from the comment sections of gun control articles:

"Unlike the UK and Australia, America was founded on a constitution, a bill of rights. This is the foundation of our country, what happens if we start tearing at the foundation? The whole thing could, and probably would collapse."

Thank you for agreeing with the above constitutional argument. The foundation of our country was built on the people’s right to form a militia to defend the country, not on the right to unchecked personal gun ownership. We have started tearing at this foundation, and are feeling the ramifications.

"Firearms ownership is a right as enumerated in the US Constitution. If you desire to engage in an argument over 'gun rights' than argue all you want over the wisdom (or lack of) of our Founding Fathers."

As has been explained, saying that guns rights activists are living out the Founding Fathers intent is both historically inaccurate and dangerous. We certainly have a right to form militias and arm ourselves to defend our country from attack or invasion, but the historical argument for the right to private gun ownership outside of sporting and recreation falls apart.  


Gun Control Works in Australia

In 1996, 35 people were killed in a mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia. In the following months the Australian government, led by conservative President John Howard, a George W. Bush ally, acted swiftly to enact sweeping gun control legislation. Fighting opposition from conservative groups including the NRA, laws were passed that severely restricted the legal ownership of self-loading rifles and shotguns and tightened control on their legal use. 

But Australia is no gun-free hellscape. Today 5.2% of Australia adults still own guns. All prospective gun owners must go through a background check, give a reason for owning a gun, and have it registered to the owner. 

The laws have saved lives. Gun control worked, and here are the stats. There have been no massacres since the one in 1996 (after the 13 in the preceding 18 years), and there was a significant decline in the suicide rate (without an increase in non-firearm suicides). The law did not have a significant effect on the country's already low homicide rate.  A conclusion? Lives were saved. More people are alive today because Australia passed strict gun control laws. 

Other Gun Rights Arguments


So we've figured out that the Second Amendment wasn't what we thought it was, and seen one example showing that stricter gun laws can save lives. What other arguments exist against gun control? These arguments are all pulled from pro-NRA websites or pro-gun rights comments.

“Chicago is #1 in the country in the area of your so-called "gun-control," and guess what? They lead the country in being the state with the highest gun crime in America!!!!!”

Exactly, which is why we’ll need national gun laws to be comprehensively changed. It’s not going to work to just restrict them in one city, or even one state.

“When guns are taken away from the populace, only criminals, including criminal governments, will have guns.”

This is why we have a military and a police force that can deal with criminals and criminal governments. No one is proposing we disarm our military. And having less guns in the populace will mean that criminals have less guns as well. 



“The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  

Yes, and police officers and soldiers will still have guns to fight bad guys. So will normal, everyday people. They just won't have automatic rifles.

This "more weapons are good thing" also only works in the short term, and it's the same thinking we used to rationalize the stockpile of nuclear weapons in the 1980's. But even Reagan saw that idea as a terrible necessity: 

“It is my fervent goal and hope…that we will some day no longer have to rely on nuclear weapons to deter aggression and assure world peace. To that end the United States is now engaged in a serious and sustained effort to negotiate major reductions in levels of offensive nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of eliminating these weapons from the face of the earth.”
Ronald Reagan

Insert guns instead of nuclear weapons and his quote still makes sense. The logic of more weapons making us safer, taken to the extreme, would result in a society where everyone walks around carrying loaded weapons. That doesn't sound like a place where I'd ever want to live. Gun violence in the US has fallen over the last 20 years, and the way to keep that going is not more guns, but less. 


“We need guns to protect our constitution...in case we ever have to abolish this government...not saying that I want to.”

First, we'd all get shellacked by the US Military (Hoo-rah). Second, if we ever had to literally take up arms against the US Government there wouldn't be an America worth saving.


Proposed Reforms

Let’s restrict access for criminals and the mentally ill, and reduce the availability of weapons that are excessive for sporting and recreation. If we followed Australia's example, all prospective gun owners would have to go through a background check, give a reason for owning a gun, and have it registered to the owner. Like Australia, the UK, and much of Europe, we could also ban the guns doing the most damage - hand guns and semi-automatic rifles. 

Of course these reforms don't cover societal issues around violent games and movies, and mental health. But it’s impossible to solve gun violence without addressing the gun part. By thinking about these deeper issues, sometimes we miss the one staring us straight in the face.

Final Thoughts

I firmly believe America should continue our proud tradition of safe gun ownership for sporting and recreation. I do not believe that the founders intended private ownership of guns for people to practice daily self defense or be para-military vigilantes, and I’m convinced stricter gun control laws can help us reduce gun violence.

99% of the debate over gun control is a product of fear-mongering and the distortion of the founder's intentions by the NRA and other lobbyist groups. The idea of the Second Amendment guaranteeing an individual's right to bear arms for daily self defense and para-military vigilante action came from the 1970's, not the 1770's. We've been duped by gun lobbyists serving their own self-interests. I've proposed a few simple and proven gun control solutions that are common sense, continue private gun ownership for sporting and recreation, and save lives. 

Yes, they include owning less powerful guns (maybe we go back to muskets?) But these laws will also save lives and result in continued gun ownership and no loss of personal liberty. I want to live in an America that’s open, welcoming, safe, and prosperous. I want less gun violence, just like every other American. I want less parents to lose their children. I want an America that implements sensible gun control.  

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Kurt Berning



***APPENDIX***

Gun Control in Australia

Jon Oliver's Austrlia Mini-Series(A MUST WATCH!): http://www.thedailyshow.com/collection/425876/john-oliver-in-australia/425593

http://www.factcheck.org/2009/05/gun-control-in-australia/

The Final Paragraph of Ms. Lepore's article: 


"One in three Americans knows someone who has been shot. As long as a candid discussion of guns is impossible, unfettered debate about the causes of violence is unimaginable. Gun-control advocates say the answer to gun violence is fewer guns. Gun-rights advocates say that the answer is more guns: things would have gone better, they suggest, if the faculty at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Chardon High School had been armed. That is the logic of the concealed-carry movement; that is how armed citizens have come to be patrolling the streets. That is not how civilians live. When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left."


Long-Form Articles about Gun Control 



Serial Number A301256 by David Finkel
The story of a gun.


After Newtown Shooting Mourning Parents Enter Into the Lonely Quiet by Eli Saslow