Spencer Small | A call to (un)arms


Guest Column | Opponents of gun control misinterpret the Second Amendment




In the wake of the Aurora, Colo., shooting, the issue of gun control has resurfaced in a big way. But it looks like nothing is going to change.

Since 1968, the number of Americans that have been killed by guns in the United States exceeds the number of U.S. combat deaths in history. Yet studies show the number of Americans who favor stricter gun regulation continues to decrease, with the majority now favoring either less regulation or no change in gun policy.

Every moral person is sympathetic toward the unfortunate events of last week, but it appears there is a divergence in opinion as to whether or not this represents a problem worth fixing.

Supporters of tighter gun control will rattle off death statistics until the cows come home, but these tirades seem to fall on deaf ears. The opposition relies on speculation that criminals will always be able to get guns regardless of policy and of course their trump card — the Second Amendment. Our right to keep and bear arms is in the Constitution. End of debate, right?

We should all be familiar with the practice of hiding behind (a misinterpretation of) an antique text — it fuels many political debates.

For example, religious fundamentalists use a line from the Hebrew Bible to argue against same sex marriage. And I don’t think I’m making any unfair assumptions when I say parts of the Bible are largely out-of-date.

Even though the Constitution came several thousand years later, it is still several hundred years old.

“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.” This is, word-for-word, the Second Amendment.

In “The Unabridged Second Ammendment,” J. Neil Schulman interviews grammar expert and journalist Roy Copperud to help him explain the exact wording of the amendment. Through syntactic analysis, Copperud concludes the right to keep and bear arms doesn’t depend on the existence of a militia. The right is “assumed to exist and to be unconditional.”

But this is a technicality, a loophole. Supporters and foes of gun control can spin the amendment any way they want to. Even though the militia clause may not be binding or exclusive, it is still tremendously important because it reveals the motivation behind the amendment: so everyone could get a gun to defend themselves and their country if the United States were threatened by attack.

Since the Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812, the United States has been invaded by a nation other than itself only once — when the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska in 1942. One civilian was killed.

Since it’s highly unlikely angry Redcoats are going to pop back up on our shores anytime soon, it’s time to rethink our gun legislation. And the number one obstacle is fear.

Fear, sadly, still greatly drives public opinion. But what if there were less to fear? There could be, with more restrictive gun laws in place. For now, it’s far too easy to get guns.

I am not calling for a complete ban on guns. When I say tighter regulation, I mean things like a federal ban on assault weapons, a ban on high capacity magazines or clips, a limit on the number of guns a person can purchase in a given time frame and more-aggressive background checks.

People who say stricter gun laws won’t prevent shootings need only look as far as Australia and Great Britain, where strong gun control measures resulting from senseless acts of violence have led to significantly lower gun-related deaths.

The Harvard School of Public Health has conducted extensive research on the correlation between gun availability and homicide. They found that across high-income nations and across states, more guns mean more homicide, and lower gun availability means fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

There has to be a reason that among the wealthier nations, the U.S. is among the worst in gun deaths.

Some argue there are cultural factors contributing to the elevated gun death rates in the U.S. But given that Americans are not naturally more prone to gun violence, that explanation can only go so far. Gun control is just too loose. But it still isn’t popular.

One big problem is that whenever Americans hear the words “government” and “regulation” together, they get frightened. There’s that pesky problem fear again. Politics and the upcoming election make it even worse. The left side is not pursuing tighter gun control because they’re afraid of losing gun enthusiasts. And the right side is pandering to their NRA card-carrying constituents — not to mention the massive NRA lobby.

But this is a matter of life and death, and people should be able to see through all the partisan nonsense.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Tightening gun control won’t end crime. But if you take a murderer’s gun away, he must find another means of killing, and it will almost certainly be less effective. If the repercussions of tighter gun regulation make it more difficult for law-abiding shooting enthusiasts to add to their extensive gun collections, so be it. It’s a small price to pay for the positive implications of less unnecessary dying.

The shooting in Aurora should have reminded us of that. But it didn’t.

Spencer Small is a rising College senior from Lancaster, Pa., and a staff writer. His email address is smallsp@sas.upenn.edu.

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