The shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas this August were, despite their tragedy, unsurprising. The United States has averaged one mass shooting (at least four casualties) per day in 2019 alone and in most cases, including Dayton and El Paso, the guns were legally purchased. In ‘the land of the free,’ school children have to practice gun drills, many politicians only offer “thoughts and prayers” and since 2010, the Supreme Court refuses to hear cases against the centuries old Second Amendment that holds civilian liberty hostage.
The intent of the 1791 amendment was to provide individual states rights to a civilian militia where the individual had the ‘right to bear arms’ against any perceived ‘oppression’. In 2008, the Supreme Court officially enshrined gun-ownership rights of the individual. ‘Open carry’ states like Virginia allow people to carry firearms in public, buying a gun in Walmart comes without a background check and ‘personal safety’ is the most cited cause for buying guns despite falling crime rates in the last 25 years. Almost half the world’s civilian arms are US-owned. Surveys show 78% of Americans do not own a gun and three-quarters want stricter gun laws. Problematic to these people’s liberty is the pro-gun propaganda espoused by one of the Republican Party’s strongest allies, the 5.5 million-member strong National Rifle Association. The NRA cites mental health issues, the internet and social alienation as major causes of mass shootings. They promote better mental health treatment as the best solution but denounce the call of the masses for increased regulation. Though better mental health access is vital, especially for vulnerable people, considering 60 per cent of gun deaths are classed as suicide, all gun related deaths infringe on liberty and ‘personal safety’ due to mostly unrestricted access to a dangerous weapon. It also does not address the other varied and complex causes that can lead to a mass shooting.
Central to this debate is domestic terrorism which has received little political or intellectual address compared to foreign terrorism. The Anti-Defamation League found that 70 per cent of gun killings between 2009 and 2018 were committed by white-supremacist terrorists. The issue of racial tension is further inflamed by prominent politicians including President Trump, who refused to moderate his radically divisive and defaming speech. Indeed, the El Paso killer’s social media included a manifesto filled with racist anxiety against Hispanics but again, the cause is complex, it was revealed he was not a Trumpist, being against excessive corporate power and environmental damage. This demonstrating, regardless of their sentiments, that giving a person with any motive unrestricted access to a semi-automatic weapon capable of shooting hundreds of rounds of ammunition, is a grievous threat to American liberty. A further issue is that these mass shooters are glorified and sensationalised in mass media, giving them them notoriety they want and perhaps promoting others to seek the same. Would it not be more ethical to deny the shooters this attention, provide basic facts but prevent publicising their ‘manifestos’? This could be considered media censorship or a necessary precaution.
In addressing the issue, it seems obvious and moral to suggest guns be banned and taken out of private hands but, with the sway of the NRA and constitutional veneration, this is difficult. Buyback schemes used in Australia failed to take even one third of guns in circulation, let alone those privately owned and, searching houses would violate the liberties of the Fourth Amendment. What needs to be done is increased checks on gun buyers. Gun enthusiasts and the NRA need to focus on public policy solutions and public safety to protect liberty rather than worry over the few extra seconds it takes to reload if semi-automatic weapons were no longer allowed for civilian possession.
Meanwhile, it is up to the masses to attempt to change public opinion and hope that one day, people will not have to live in fear.
Image: via PeakPx