As Winston Churchill famously said, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing -- after they have tried everything else." It was a backhanded compliment about our ability to find the courage to do what is necessary, and time and again, Americans have risen to the challenge.
Except on gun control.
It should dismay us greatly that even after the Newtown tragedy, which claimed the lives of 20 young children, and the countless gun related deaths since -- including this week when a gunman went on a rampage at a FedEx facility in Georgia, we have been unable to enact stronger laws to prevent the reckless marketing and sales of guns by manufacturers and dealers. Even basic measures such as expanded background checks and restrictions on the sale of assault weapons have failed in Congress, and we seem to be no closer to making progress on this issue than before Newtown.
When even the massacre of children doesn't move us, it is time to ask why we have become so ineffectual and unable to do the right thing. A big part of the answer lies in our blind adherence to the Constitution, and more specifically, the Second Amendment, which codifies the right to bear arms. Even gun control advocates who recognize the urgent need to do something are so scared of appearing un-American that they routinely sidestep the core issue of whether the Second Amendment makes sense anymore and even wind up bolstering the other side's cause in some cases.
This, of course, is exactly what gun companies and the National Rifle Association count on to continue their policy of bullying America into submission on guns. As long as we are afraid to question the sacred cow of the pro-gun movement, there cannot be meaningful progress on gun control.
So does the Second Amendment really serve a useful purpose in modern society and should it be modified to suit our times?
The answer to the former depends on whether you imagine that the Second Amendment somehow protects Americans from a tyrannical government. It does not. No matter how many weapons private citizens stockpile or even what type of guns they own, a private militia can never match the firepower of the U.S. government. Simply put, if our government ever decides to suppress the citizenry by force, privately held guns won't be the factor that makes a difference.
With this in mind, the central purpose that the Second Amendment once served is no longer applicable, and therefore neither is the Amendment in its current form. Even gun control advocates are not opposed to private citizens keeping a handgun at home for personal protection or hunters owning a rifle, but those exceptions can be covered without the overarching sweep of the Second Amendment.
Also, as much as the pro-gun movement would like you to believe, there is no real evidence that more guns in the hands of private citizens protects society from violence. The popular idea (amongst some people) that if every person was armed, criminals could be neutralized more easily or be less likely to commit crimes in the first place is absurd and more the result of an effective media campaign by the NRA than a real fact. The presence of more guns in society simply raises the danger of more people being hurt and we don't need statistics to recognize that.
Ironically, the problem with the Second Amendment is that by being so broad, it actually makes it vulnerable to interpretation and sets up the conflict between the right to bear arms (reasonable) and the ability to pose a serious threat to civilized society (unreasonable). Limiting its scope, therefore, could strengthen the spirit of the Amendment by removing its undesirable consequences.
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently suggested adding the words "when serving in [the militia]" to update the Second Amendment but that won't necessarily work either since the definition of 'militia' itself is debatable. It's time to stop quibbling over words and make the Amendment as specific as possible to avoid subjective interpretations leading to deadly consequences for our nation.
To summarize, if we want meaningful gun control in America, we first need to remove the all-encompassing shield of the Second Amendment that the multi-billion dollar gun industry and its lobbyists routinely hide behind to ply their weapons. Only without that artificial protection can we begin to have a real debate about the type of gun laws we need.
I know that many will bristle at the notion of modifying our Constitution but as an evolved nation with civilization and peace as our guiding principles, we are actually obligated to rethink anything that derails those principles - no matter how appropriate the Second Amendment may have been when it was adopted in 1791. If the essence of America is freedom, then we also need to be free of blind ideology, needless paranoia, and the fear of questioning our Constitution - which was written by free-thinking Americans who had no problem questioning their own status quo.
One such free-thinking American today is former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time advocate of gun control, who recently pledged $50 million of his personal capital to take on the destructive influence of the NRA. Predictably, the NRA is trying to use that to make Americans afraid of what could happen to their guns, but let's not be fooled by them.
Support Mr. Bloomberg on his mission instead.
Sanjay Sanghoee is a writer and commentator. He has written extensively about gun control since the Aurora, Colorado shootings and is the author of two books. Follow him @sanghoee.
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