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Opinion

February 20, 2018

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No guns, only roses

The recent massacre of 17 people in Florida by a former school student has reignited the debate about the Second Amendment to the US constitution and how it has been used or abused by interest groups to block any law dealing with the prohibition or control of guns.

The amendment states that: “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”. For decades, the language used in the amendment has remained at the centre of a debate regarding the intended and actual scope of this law.

For many, the emphasis in the amendment on “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” provides an individual constitutional freedom and right as citizens of the US to possess arms. According to this school of thought, denying them this right means that the US constitution is being violated. The individual rights theory, as per the constitution, curbs legislative bodies to prohibit people from possessing firearms.

In contrast to this school of thought, there are those who believe that the language employed in the preface – “a well-regulated militia” – suggests that the framers of the constitution only intended to restrict Congress from introducing legislation to do away with the state’s right to self-defence. This is referred to as the collective rights theory. It asserts that free citizens do not enjoy an individual right to possess guns and that local, state, and federal legislative bodies have the power and mandate to regulate firearms without implicating a constitutional right.

Numerous cases in various law courts have given a verdict in favour of the interpretation that all Americans have a constitutional right to possess arms. Furthermore, the courts have also suggested that the US constitution wouldn’t disallow regulations that prohibit criminals and people with mental health issues from firearm possession. As a result, keeping arms at home and using such weapons for sports, hunting or self-defence is a kind of canon guaranteed under the US constitution.

However, there are serious implications of the Second Amendment for ordinary, sensible and law-abiding citizens. There are countless lobby groups, such as the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund that believe the Second Amendment has virtually become a “suicide pact”. There are also other advocacy groups such as the extremely powerful and influential National Rifle Association (NRA), which has over five million members and has openly opposed any efforts to curb anti-gun laws within the court and outside.

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and The New York Times, the NRA and other pro-gun lobbies have been continuously spending generous amounts of money to fund the political campaigns of its like-minded politicians. During the 2016 election, the NRA reportedly spent a total of $31 million. Around $12 million was spent to support Donald Trump and another $19 million was invested to oppose Hillary Clinton. The report added that the longer some politicians have been in business, the more money they have received from these groups.

According to a Washington Post columnist, when the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791, the state-of-the-art firearm was a flintlock musket that fired paper cartridges loaded with gunpowder and a lead ball. “Given the laborious loading procedures, a skilled soldier could fire at most two or three shots a minute. The smoothbore flintlock lacked both stopping power and accuracy”. However, this is no longer the case in 21st century America where shooters like Nikolas Cruz and many others have had access to highly sophisticated arms.

According to media reports, the shooter came with an AR-15 rifle, which can smoothly fire 45 rounds per minute. It was also revealed that that AR-15 rifles and their different modifications have become the weapon of choice for mass shooters because of their accuracy and efficiency. The same model of the gun was used by many other shooters – including Adam Lanza, who used it to kill 27 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and, most recently, by Stephen Paddock to kill 58 people in Las Vegas in the worst mass shooting in modern US history.

According to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, easy access to all kinds of arms and guns has made the US one of the worst countries reeling from gun violence. There are some alarming facts and figures collected by this organisation. Every day, 96 Americans are killed with guns. The gun homicide rate in the US is 25 times higher than that of other developed countries. Every year, there are 35,141 deaths caused by guns. There are on average nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the US. Around seven children and teens are killed on average with guns in the US in a day.

Around 50 women are shot to death every month by their “intimate partners” in the US. In addition, more than half of all women who are killed by their “intimate partners” are shot with guns. Similarly, black men are 13 times more likely than non-Hispanic white men to be shot and killed with guns. While Black Americans make up 14 percent of the US population, they are victims of more than half of all gun homicides. The report further states that when a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, it increases the risk the woman will be killed fivefold. A case-control study of 11 cities found that in a domestic violence situation, the perpetrator’s access to a gun increased the risk of femicide.

The Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund also advocates that there is sufficient research to illustrate how commonsense public safety laws can reduce gun violence and save lives to a large extent. However, it is quite unfortunate that every time such incidents take place, the focus is shifted towards the social and mental status of the perpetrators instead of effective and stringent laws and regulations to control access to these “killing machines”.

At this stage, there is a great deal that needs to be done to stop this form of gun violence from occurring in the future. We can only hope that preventative measures are taken sooner than later and sanity prevails among US lawmakers to adopt suitable measures and come up with effective policies to curb gun violence. These steps shouldn’t just be taken at home. US lawmakers must also devise out-of-the-box solutions to stop bloodshed countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.

The writer is a postdoctoralresearch fellow at the GermanDevelopment Institute at Bonn, Germany.

Email: [email protected]

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