It is high time for commonsense gun control legislation. It’s been high time since Sandy Hook and Pulse Night Club, since Aurora and Tucson, since Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. It’s been high time long before our nation’s collective consciousness developed that quiet, whispering paranoia that wonders, “What if the next shooting is this movie theater, this classroom or this concert? What if it’s today?”
Gun control legislation is popular among the voting public — more popular than almost any proposed legislation in the public sphere. Social scientists overwhelmingly rule that many forms of legislation, ranging from background checks to outright bans of certain firearms, work to reduce gun violence. Nations similar to the United States (the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the list goes on) have enacted gun control and have seen dramatic drops in gun violence.
Yet, thanks to decades of political cowardice, the dangerous orthodoxy of Second Amendment absolutists and the successful organizing efforts of the National Rifle Association, meaningful gun control legislation remains unenacted. The choice to not pass gun control represents a massive, pathetic failure on the part of our elected officials.
As of Oct. 2, 2017, the date of the devastating mass killing in Las Vegas, there have been 271 mass shootings in this year alone — more than one per day. We have allowed civilian spaces to become active war zones, a phenomenon unimaginable only a few decades ago. Worse still than these rattling episodes of domestic terrorism is the daily onslaught of interpersonal violence that permeates our culture.
According to the Brady Campaign, every day in the United States, 46 children are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidental shootings, and police shootings. Seven of these children will die. Including those over the age of 18, those numbers rise to 315 people shot every day and 93 deaths. These numbers are astronomically higher in the United States than they are in comparable nations. Our nation is exceptionally violent, enabled by things like gun-show loopholes, limited background checks and other unfounded spaces of deregulation that only serve to make these acts of violence distinctly more possible.
But that does not mean that our nation must remain this way. Gun control is possible, necessary and constitutional. The concept of an unfettered individual right to a firearm is a fantasy, and the concept that this “right” goes back to the founding of our nation is ludicrous. Instead, this concept is less than 10 years old. The Supreme Court did not interpret the Second Amendment as necessarily protecting individual gun ownership until a 5-4 decision in “District of Columbia v. Heller” in 2008. The majority decision, penned by the famously right-wing Justice Antonin Scalia, overturned decades of thinking on the interpretation of “well-regulated militia.”
As pointed out by Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissenting opinion, the Second Amendment is written as a collective right. Readings that stretch this collective right to an unlimited individual right are not originalist, but extremely expansionist. Scalia’s majority opinion couched a pro-gun ideology in a supposedly originalist reading of the Constitution, and this ruling must be overturned. On top of that, we must move away from the misconception that an individual’s unlimited right to own a firearm has always and will always exist within the United States. This misconception is a falsehood, and benefits the agenda of radically right-wing Second Amendment absolutists.
Democrats have work to do on our gun control stance as well. We must stop prefacing our desire for gun legislation with fiction about our passion for sportsmanship and self-defense — did anyone really believe John Kerry felt comfortable holding a rifle, or that Barack Obama was an avid hunter? More than this, we must turn away from weak, symbolic legislation that is more harmful than effective. Such laws include the proposed “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which aimed to keep those on the “No-Fly” list from purchasing a firearm. These forms of gun laws do little to protect us from violence, and do much to encourage the monitoring and incarceration of people of color.
Ultimately, on a more existential level, we must address the cultural phenomenons that encourage gun violence and promote this zealous attachment to weapons. Why does our nation, more than any other Western nation, associate violence with strength? Why are weapons tied to manhood? Why have weapons of war slowly but surely seeped into police forces, and then into civilian life? And why are so many Americans’ identities and values so closely tied to their possession of guns?
It’s high time we re-evaluate not only the lack of constitutional and legal grounding for modern gun policy, but also the cultural and moral background that positions some activists to push so adamantly for total deregulation of gun policy.
ARI GOLDFINE is a College junior and the vice president of Penn Democrats.
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