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The Right to Bear Arms: the Right to Cause Harm?

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In the aftermath of the senseless "Dark Night" massacre on Friday, July 20, the time-old debate over gun control has been regaining velocity, with organizations like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence stepping into the foreground of news media to push for more stringent gun ownership legislation.

"This tragedy is another grim reminder that guns are the enablers of mass killers and that our nation pays an unacceptable price for our failure to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," Brady Campaign President Dan Gross told USA Today. "We are outraged."

In the wake of such outrage, both proponents and opponents of gun control have been vocal regarding the degree of effectiveness a desired ban on arms would have. As a high school student studying the Constitution who attended a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises myself in California last Friday, I thought it would be interesting to look into the role of registered guns in massacres and see how the Second Amendment, which underscores the right to bear arms, holds up in today's social context.

REGISTERED GUNS CONNECTED TO MASS MURDERS

With an AR-15 assault rifle capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds a minute, a 12-gauge shotgun, and two Glock pistols in tow, alleged gunman James Holmes committed the largest massacre in the history of this nation on July 20, using legally purchased weapons. Sources suggest that Holmes had been stockpiling his arsenal for months prior to this attack. Similar was the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman behind the colossal Virginia Tech massacre, who also used licensed weapons when committing atrocity.

Countering many wishes to enact greater constraints on gun purchase, Northeastern Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy James Alan Fox argues on CNN, "Tighter restrictions on gun purchasing -- for example, eliminating multiple gun sales and closing the gun-show loophole -- may help reduce America's gun violence problem generally, but mass murder is unlike most other forms of violent conflict."

I personally view a reduction in America's gun violence problem as a necessity that could in turn bring an end to mass murder -- and even if we are only reducing gun violence, isn't that something to welcome? There is always a margin for error, but looking at the legality of weapons used in the two largest massacres known to this country tells me that each massacre could have been smaller in scale, if not eliminated altogether had tighter restrictions or a ban been implemented.

PRESSURE TO TOE THE PARTY LINE

A topical issue that often denotes a person as a member of the Republican or Democratic Party, the gun control argument appears to be one that doesn't completely transcend filial and party loyalty.

I say this having made observations of my peers, many of whose mindsets are tainted by their parents' views. As they rote repeat standpoints on gun control in civics class, they are unknowingly inhibiting their own ability to judge an issue.

Equally pronounced is loyalty to one's political party, a trend I'm currently researching at the UCLA Department of Political Science. I've noticed such party loyalty in presidential candidate Mitt Romney's actions, as he signed a permanent assault weapons ban into law as Massachusetts's governor in 2004, saying, "I believe the people should have the right to bear arms, but I don't believe that we have to have assault weapons as part of our personal arsenal." Stepping back from his stance against assault weapons, Romney currently believes that the U.S. needs no additional laws to restrict the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Maybe Romney isn't taking a stance against assault weapons because it could cost him support among several Conservatives, who have historically been against gun control, whereas he was already firmly seated as Massachusetts's governor at the time of his 2004 legislation.

When the Wall Street Journal requested that Romney comment on the fact that Holmes used an AR-15 assault rifle in last Friday's massacre, the Republican presidential hopeful stayed silent.

THE ROLE OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT TODAY

A key argument against gun control is preservation of the Second Amendment, which explicitly propones the right to bear arms. However, the words of Dennis Henigan, the 2003 director of the Brady Campaign, resonate with me. In archives of a debate on the constitutional issues of gun ownership at Harvard Law School, he asserts that the Second Amendment "does not apply today because a militia no longer exists, eliminating the rationale for gun ownership."

This makes me wonder if an 18th-century construct can be completely relevant in this modern era. Don't get me wrong -- I believe the Constitution is the most fundamental establishment on which this nation was built and admire how it unites the U.S. with core principles. But I doubt Madison ever had to worry about mass murder at the movies. He also believed in broad interpretation of the Constitution, so we can't know for certain that he wouldn't concede to some sort of tightening of gun purchasing laws if he were alive today.

A valid point that goes in tandem with the Second Amendment argument is that if gun control were implemented, "bad people" would still acquire weapons and "good people" would be left defenseless. However, my question is where does the distinction lie? Holmes wasn't a registered criminal. Neither are most mentally disturbed killers who commit mass murder. Until we can come up with a way of knowing who is "good" and who isn't, I think that Rousseau's social contract applies -- we surrender some freedoms (the right for every citizen to bear arms) in exchange for protection of our natural rights (paramount of which is "life").

The notion that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," commonly contended by those strict believers in our Second Amendment rights, is essentially true. However, guns sure do facilitate the act, don't they?