With every new mass shooting in America comes a new wave of discourse surrounding violence and gun control. Many Americans are unified in the decision that some form of increased gun control is necessary to remedy the violence epidemic. At this point the question that causes the most controversy and divided opinions is how do we pass effective gun control legislation while still upholding the right to bear arms guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Second Amendment?
The Constitution is America’s oldest and most fundamental piece of legislation. Because of this, most of its mandates remain unquestioned, and debates surrounding policy often revolve around whether potential new laws align with the founding fathers’ intentions, as stated over 200 years ago. But what happens when we put tradition aside and critically examine the efficacy of these laws in the context of modern America? When such an examination is applied to the Second Amendment, it simply does not stand the test of time. It may be an integral part of our country’s political framework, but the logic behind this amendment is antiquated and is no longer sound today.
When our country’s founding fathers drafted the Bill of Rights over two hundred years ago, they did so in response to issues that were salient and pressing at the time of writing. Given that America was the first modern democratic nation, its constitution needed to focus in many ways on laying the philosophical foundation for democracy. This foundation included several ideological principles such as the right to free speech and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure that still make sense for our democracy as it exists today. These laws were intended to guarantee freedom from oppression and the protection of natural human rights. They were created as safeguards against the potential of government corruption and still remain effective barriers between the state and its citizens.
The Second Amendment was also created to guard against an oppressive government; however, it differs from other amendments because the conditions that form its logical basis no longer exist in America. The amendment’s wording is as follows: “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 essentially means that the right to bear arms stems from the militia being an effective tool to fight back against the state if the state begins restricting the freedom and rights of its citizens.
In the context of a fledgling democracy in the late eighteenth century, the right of citizens to bear arms is a plausible solution to the threat of government corruption which worried the founding fathers. The country was new and did not yet have a formidable military of today’s power and organizational capacity. The Revolutionary War had just been won by a ragtag army of soldiers fighting against the powerful British government, so it made sense to the founding fathers that the same strategy could work if the new government became oppressive.
In modern America, however, it is comical to imagine the state being overturned or even bothered in any way by individual citizens possessing guns. Armed with a powerful executive branch and the largest military in the world, the U.S. government today would easily and rapidly exterminate any such attempted rebellion. If the purpose of the right to bear arms is for citizens to have a method of usurping an unjust state, then that right just does not apply under modern conditions.
Gun enthusiasts today never fail to point to the Second Amendment as the ultimate case for why they should be able to own weapons that can realistically never be used to rebel against a corrupt state as the amendment intended. In terms of the actual ethics of owning guns and what restrictions ought to exist today, there are still many questions that need to be considered. I’m not necessarily advocating for an all-out ban on firearms in America, but I do think that we need to stop justifying their continued presence with a piece of legislation that employs faulty logic in its declaration.
Just because a law has been around for centuries does not mean its rhetoric is untouchable.
For those who do support the right to bear arms, do not simply point to the Second Amendment and declare the argument finished when someone asks you to justify your perspective. Think about gun ownership in a modern context and why it makes sense, in your view, for citizens living in today’s America to possess this right. I am open to hearing arguments for or against gun ownership, but if those arguments involve the Second Amendment, I am inclined to think that the person advancing them is not thinking critically about their beliefs. Just because a law has been around for centuries does not mean its rhetoric is untouchable.
Laurel Rinehart wants a critical examination on what the 2nd Amendment means in the 21st century.