The Absence of Reason: Gun Legislation in America
A frightening trend in current American politics is the lack of conversation. Discourse appears to be dominated by the extreme, creating a polarized situation in which the willingness to listen and discuss is absent. In this context, dialogue, the very basis of democracy is threatened by the inability to compromise and the radical nature of those controlling the rhetoric. This tendency was made apparent again in the recent controversy over gun regulation.
Last week, President Obama announced that he would be moving forward with certain gun control measures through executive order independently of an inactive congress. This announcement was predictably met by the outrage of conservative gun-owners, politicians and lobbyists, who charged Obama with familiar and tiresome accusations of being a tyrant, dictator, and even a “petulant child”. In arms over their second amendment rights (no pun intended), a portion of America leapt to explain to us all, again, why the right to bear arms is critical to our freedom, and how any encroachment on that right is akin to living under an authoritarian regime. These arguments against gun-regulation have been so thoroughly disproven by unrelenting gun violence, it is astounding that their illogical nature still jeopardizes the safety of the rest of Americans.
The responses that followed Obama’s announcement are reflective of the repetitive motions that we go through as a nation after each and every massacre. First, the grief driven suggestion that something must be done, then the outraged opposition that follows, and ultimately the anti-climactic and sad reality of a static situation. Obama, largely because he is in a position to ignore electoral politics, decided to bypass this routine by introducing minimal (and by no means sufficient) gun regulation. This long overdue action is entirely justifiable, because the tragic reality of 11,000 gun-related deaths per year, trumps the moronic reasoning that more guns will make us safer.
Nevertheless, conservative republican leadership, even before knowing what the measures might entail, rushed to unilaterally condemn them, because ultimately the content did not matter. All that mattered was that some form of gun- related restrictions were put-forward, spurring a knee-jerk reaction of opposition (this, despite the fact that almost all Americans support some form of gun regulation). The dangerous mentality that even the most basic, common-sense restrictions on weapons should be avoided despite rampant gun violence, is one that is too widely represented in American leadership. Each justification defending this position of a firearm free-for-all is so logically incoherent it defies all sensibility.
First they take our AK-47’s, what next? A common sentiment amongst the anti-gun regulation community was reflected in Donald Trump’s statement that “pretty soon, you won’t be able to get guns,”. The notion that the slightest regulation of deadly weapons will result in a complete ban on firearms is a recurrent one that shows a fundamental disregard for reality. If Trump had waited till president Obama announced the measures, he would know that they include stricter definition of who qualifies as a firearm retailer, more stringent background checks, and an improved database against which to run those checks. These minimal actions will have no bearing on responsible gun-owners or their ability to acquire weapons. The conviction that the road of gun regulation is a slippery slope towards authoritarianism has been disproven by the rest of the developed world which lives in free and civilized societies with tremendously lower rates of gun violence (i.e Britain, France, Australia etc.). Moreover, with any other potentially dangerous device, the government has been able to put in place regulation that has resulted in greater safety for society. Government efforts to reduce the amount of people killed in drunk driving incidents such as awareness campaigns and strict penalties, have reduced drunk driving incidents by two thirds in the last decade. However, this has not resulted in cries of government overreach, or the inability for consumers to purchase cars or alcohol.
You cannot change the second amendment: Another recurring belief among this group is the notion that the second amendment is sacrosanct because without it all other freedoms would be threatened. Todd Starns, opinion columnist for Fox News stated “The primary reason our Founding Fathers wrote the second amendment was to protect all the other amendments”. This statement is erroneous for a number of reasons. Firstly, as Obama pointed out in his speech on January 5th, the right to bear arms is currently trampling over some of our other most basic freedoms, such as the right to peaceful assembly and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Secondly, while the second amendment does grant the right to bear arms, it reads: “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”. Extracting the right to bear arms from its greater context is misleading and disregards that the actual intentions of the founding fathers was to allow armed militias to defend themselves against tyrannical governments (having just overthrown one). Anyone arguing that the context of the US today even loosely resembles that of a tyranny is in serious need of a reality check. Moreover, the the term militia implies a form of army or police force (which we already have) and does not denote that each and every citizen should be walking around with murderous assault rifles. You may have the right to possess a weapon, but the rest of us have the right to not be shot while going about our daily lives. No amendment is immune to alteration or review.
Guns Keep Americans Safe: Common amongst the pro-gun lobby is the view that guns actually keep Americans safe. There are more guns in America per capita than any other country in the world (one gun for nearly every three citizens of the United States). Accordingly, America has the highest rate of gun violence in the developed world, by a longshot. The argument that increasing guns and loosening regulation will help alleviate this situation is logically inconsistent with the evidence of our current condition. Senator Ted Cruz, captured these beliefs with his statement that “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. We beat the bad guys by using our guns”. A similar fear-mongering approach was expressed by Jeb Bush who stated that “Rather than taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens as Obama and Clinton would like to do, we should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the terrorists who want to kill innocent Americans,”. The number of deaths that have occurred as a result of domestic terror attacks are far outnumbered by the number of deaths from firearms. There were more than 316,000 firearm related deaths in the United States between 2004 and 2013, in the same period 313 Americans died in acts of terrorism. In fact, roughly an equal number of people have died as a result of firearms during Obamas tenure than have been killed in the Syrian civil war.
It is criminal that a gun-crazed minority is able to impede legislation that could save thousands of lives. Their weapons obsession, backed by a powerful lobby with deep pockets is responsible for the agonizing repetition of slaughter in churches, schools, movie theaters, universities and within homes. The most frightening truth is that this absurdity continues because there is no reasoning with those who are devoid of reason. The dialogue never happens because there is no ability to effectively counter arguments that are not based in objective reality. The portion of the population that ignores cause and effect by rejecting any form of gun control legislation is seemingly un-phased by death and unconvinced by evidence. We are seven days into a new year and already in 2016, 147 people have been killed by gun violence. There is little hope, even with Obama’s limited measures that the trajectory of this year will yield different statistics. Perhaps if we all take a moment to visualize the faces of the 11,000 Americans who will die from a bullet in the coming year, Congress may be more ready to move forward with measures that could determine their fate.