The United States is characterized by the official data collectors as an “outlier” among nations in terms of gun deaths (40,000 in 2022) and the number of mass murders -- incidents where four or more people are killed (636 in 2022). The next/nearest country is Chile, with less than one half the number gun deaths, followed by Canada, with one-eighth.
We are all aware of some of the reasons for this: The Second Amendment to our Constitution, the well-funded lobbying efforts of the gun manufacturers and gun enthusiasts, the right-wing media, and the prevalence of guns in our society (an estimated 400 million in 2018). It’s past time to change our Constitution, and our civic culture.
This would be the 28th time that we have amended our Constitution. Over the years, we have prohibited slavery, allowed women to vote, and then 18-year-olds, attempted to ban the consumption of alcohol (to our immediate regret), and even egregiously misinterpreted our Second Amendment, which guarantees only to members of a “well-regulated militia” the right to keep and bear arms for “the security of a free state.” Nor does the Second Amendment endorse the unregulated use of weapons of mass destruction, nor give permission to “stand your ground” however you may see fit. No other country is so permissive about guns.
We often forget that the right to life takes precedence in our Constitution, and in our founding principles as a nation (e.g., the Declaration of Independence), over any other rights (although it is often disrespected in practice). At a time in our history when many innocent people, including many of our children, are being slaughtered in the name of a seriously misinterpreted Constitutional right, we should be asking ourselves “what is to be done?” (in the words of a famous 20th Century revolutionary).
The most direct and effective solution would be to repeal the Second Amendment and replace it with a much more limited and nuanced right to bear arms. Call it a conditional, or constrained, Constitutional right. Here is a tentative list of these constraints/conditions. There may be others as well:
Assault weapons (including handguns with large magazines) would be explicitly banned and subject to confiscation and fines.
Gun purchasers/owners would be required to have permits and get training in their use and safety, with fines for unsafe storage.
Guns could not be carried into any public spaces or into public demonstrations.
Guns would be prohibited to minors, convicts, or to anyone diagnosed with a mental condition that poses a danger to themselves, or others.
Police would not carry/use guns except with explicit court orders permitting exceptions for extreme danger.
When apprehended by police, citizens would be required to raise their hands to show that they are free of guns. Police, in turn, would be prohibited from physically attacking a person with raised hands. They would also be required to wear body cameras and bulletproof vests.
Having these, and perhaps other conditions/prohibitions contained in a new Amendment to our Constitution would give them moral as well as explicit legal (federal) weight. It could be transformative for our culture/society. But this will not be easy to accomplish. Amendments to our Constitution require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and ratification by three quarters of our state legislatures. That’s a heavy lift. But even trying to do so will put the gun lobby, and gun enthusiasts on the defensive. It is bound to do some good – and save some lives.