We have an obvious gun violence problem. I’m definitely not the first and definitely won’t be the last to tell you that. There have been 30 mass shootings in 2018, and it’s only mid-February. At this point, mass shootings have become so normalized that I’m numb to news stories about them. I feel like I’m always hearing about another one: Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, and now Parkland. People grieve for a few days, argue amongst each other, call for change, and then forget and move on with their lives.
Politicians are going to send their thoughts and prayers to the victims’ families and friends. Those platitudes aren’t going to fix anything. When presented with the opportunity to make policy changes, these politicians refuse and say things like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people with guns,” or “gun control just takes the guns away from law-abiding citizens while criminals run rampant,” or “tragedy isn’t an excuse for the government to infringe upon your rights.” This is disgusting, and something has got to change.
Now, I support the Second Amendment. I’m not as fervent of a supporter as I used to be, but I still believe the legal right to bear arms derives from the natural right to self-defense and that people have the right to defend themselves, their families, and their property with a firearm. Repealing the Second Amendment would be both politically impossible and undesirable.
But the right to bear arms is not absolute, and it’s evolved over the last two centuries. The Founding Fathers probably didn’t envision, for example, the creation of massive tanks and nuclear weapons when they crafted the Bill of Rights. I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that the Second Amendment covers those things. Indeed, even the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller case that affirmed the individual right to bear arms held that the Second Amendment “is not unlimited.”
There are a number of common sense ways to regulate guns without creating a chilling effect on the Second Amendment, as Sam covered back in 2016. Universal background checks would help stop felons and the mentally ill from getting access to firearms while still allowing law-abiding citizens to purchase and own guns without much of a hassle. Closing the gun show loophole would prevent off-the-books transactions on the secondary market. Mandatory training requirements would mitigate accidents and ensure safer handling of guns. Banning high-capacity assault weapons like the AR-15 commonly used in mass shootings might be tricky, but it’s an option nonetheless.
But let’s be frank here: the sad reality is that nothing is going to change anytime soon. The gun lobby is so entrenched that it practically owns the entire Republican Party. Just take a look at the amount the NRA donates in campaign contributions to Republican lawmakers. This is a serious problem because it influences the way Republicans behave with regard to gun policy. It’s not enough to simply be “pro-gun;” you have to be anti-regulation as well. And if you aren’t? The NRA will find someone else who is, and you very well could lose your seat.
The NRA’s stranglehold on the Republican Party has caused elite-led polarization on guns. Conservatives listen to constant rhetoric about how liberals want to take their guns away like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Castro did and balk at any attempt to regulate them. Because of this, no serious gun legislation will ever pass, at least not in the current political climate. Even if Democrats won majorities in both chambers in 2018 and took back the White House in 2020, the 60-vote Senate would give conservative Republicans leverage to weaken the bill. If any legislation passed, it’d be watered down to the point where it wouldn’t really do anything.
I’m also skeptical regulations alone would be enough to end the scourge of gun violence. Sure, universal background checks, closing loopholes, mandatory training, and another assault weapons ban, while not perfect, would probably make mass shootings less common and save lives in the process, assuming legislation passed through Congress and got signed into law. But I think there are much deeper root causes that would still need to be addressed. There are more guns in the United States than there are people. Elements of American culture are inherently violent, from our revolutionary history and racial tensions to our video games and movies. Mental illnesses that cause people to lash out in a murderous rage need to be more rigorously studied and treated. You can’t offer a quick fix to those things through legislation.
In spite of all of that, it’s still important to be vocal and fight for change. If common sense gun safety measures matter to you, get out and vote. Politicians care about what voters think, because voters are the ones that elect them into office in the first place and ultimately can take them out. Money obviously matters, but it’s fungible. Voters are not. However, I can’t help but be cynical and feel a little hopeless. If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough to get lawmakers to do something, I don’t know what is.