The inconvenient truth about the Second Amendment and mass shootings

If you really want to be a ‘Constitutional Originalist,’ you shouldn’t listen to what Republicans and the NRA are telling you

Carli Pierson
Monday 29 March 2021 18:35 BST
APTOPIX Convenience Store Shooting
APTOPIX Convenience Store Shooting

On Friday night in Virginia Beach, Virginia, two people were shot dead in yet another public mass shooting – the third in two weeks after a gunman killed 10 people in Boulder, Colorado, and another gunman summarily executed eight in Atlanta, Georgia.On Sunday, a Maryland man shot and killed his parents and two other people before killing himself.

If you Google the word “shooting” inside the US, the internet search engine’s autofill function now suggests the phrase “shootings near me”. That’s because shootings here are so rampant, so uncontrolled, that it’s practically impossible to keep track of all the violence. You only see the shootings that make the news becauseevery day more than 100 people are killed by gun violence and every month 53 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. The people doing the killing are overwhelmingly men, but not everyone is affected the same. According to Everytown Research, Black Americans experience nearly 10 times the gun homicides, 15 times the gun assaults, and three times the fatal police shootings of white Americans. Women experiencing domestic abuse are also five times as likely to be killed if their partner has a firearm.

Americans live in an upside-down world where about44 percent of people report living in a house with at least one gun, but according to one survey, more than 66 percent worry they won’t be able to afford health insurance this year. What was supposed to be the “land of the free and home of the brave” is, today, a country where anyone can get their hands on a firearm with almost no questions asked, but if you try and give water to someone trying to vote in Georgia you will be criminally charged. Our priorities are chillingly clear, but this unbridled bloodshed certainly wasn’t what the drafters of our Constitution had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.

Like clockwork, every time a mass public shooting happens in the US, Republicans (and even some Democrats) and NRA lobbyists take to the airwaves and regurgitate nonsense about “the Founding Fathers” and style themselves “Constitutional Originalists”.But if gun-loving Republicans read the entire Constitution (along with a bit of history) they’d know to read the Second and the Third Amendments together, which makes for an entirely different vision of gun rights in America from the point-of-view of their beloved Founding Fathers. 

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” Those are the succinct words of the Third Amendment – a section of the Constitution that has never been challenged in the US Supreme Court because it holds no meaning in today’s society. The two amendments were enacted into law as part of the Bill of Rights when American colonists were looking to safeguard against the tyranny they saw in Europe and at home.

You see, when the Founding Fathers wrote the Bill of Rights (including the Second and Third Amendments), they feared the mutinies they’d seen in the UK, the disarming of Catholics by King James I, persecutions of protestants in France under King Louis XV, and the repercussions of the Quartering Act of 1765, which allowed for British soldiers to stay on in the colonies as a standing army in times of peace.

For the Founding Fathers, a permanent, professional army wasn’t a stabilizing force. Instead, paid full-time soldiers were the henchmen of tyrants (foreign or domestic) and the only way to prevent a dictator from sending his soldiers to occupy your house (and all that was implied by that act) was to arm yourself if the need arose for a limited time and for that limited purpose.

Now, I am no fan of the Founding Fathers for a host of reasons, especially their appalling legacy in human enslavement. But if today they were able to look upon the country they helped shape, they would see that words intended to prevent military tyranny at the hands of an autocrat had been turned into a license for any civilian to kill any other civilian. And I am quite sure that they would be horrified at that outcome.

The Founding Fathers wrote about militias in the late 18th century because they were against professional, full-time armies. If we want to stick to the original intentions of the men who wrote the document we work so hard to interpret, then we are faced with the sticky conclusion that we must choose between armed militias organized in times of war, or a professional standing army. If we want to be “Originalists” then we can’t have both at the same time and we certainly can’t have armed civilians and law enforcement officers killing people whenever, however and for any reason they want. 

In fact, I would argue that, like the Third Amendment, the Second Amendment has no place in today’s society, considering our governmentbudgeted $740 billion dollars for national defense, including a professional army. When you have nearly a trillion-dollar military budget, armed militias are no longer necessary. 

Since the 1990’s, mass shootings have been the status quo in a country where gun rights have come to trump individual rights to safety and freedom from violence. Now, one year after the pandemic started and during a time we saw the country temporarily press pause on the bloody spectacle of public mass murder, things are clearly getting back to normal in the US. But whether Republicans like it or not, the truth is that this is far from the “normal” our Founding Fathers ever intended, or imagined, for what they hoped would become a great nation.

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