By: Ryan Kirby and Connor McNairn, Columnists
During the sweltering summer of 1787, 55 men descended upon Philadelphia with the goal of revising the previously installed Articles of Confederation – a document that, in short, failed to institute responsible means of tax collection and allotted far too much power to the individual states. After a months-long campaign filled with debating and strategizing, and only after the statesmen drank their fill of Madeira, whiskey and beer, 39 delegates signed the new Constitution on September 17, 1787.
Widely regarded as a key Federalist victory, the Constitution designed a system of government that thoughtfully separated the legislative, executive and judicial branches. But according to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and the rest of the Antifederalists, the document failed to include the necessary inalienable liberties that, to these men, must be explicitly protected. The Second Amendment expounds upon one of the most contentious of the aforesaid liberties.
The entire Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: “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.”
Through a contemporary lens, the ardent defender of gun ownership will often cite the latter clauses – “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” – in defense of liberal, and sometimes unfettered, rights to own firearms. But in the pursuit of intellectual honesty and, frankly, a safer place to live, we deem it necessary to reconsider the original intent and context of the Second Amendment as written.
During the Constitutional Convention, the Federalists supported a federally-controlled army and navy, as they saw this structure most effective in defending the infant nation. Contrariwise, the Antifederalists viewed a government-controlled military with skepticism and fear, and therefore supported state militias as a means of national defense. As Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution indicates, the Federalists won this debate, and the power to regulate matters concerning military function were granted to the legislature.
So, how did the Antifederalists respond? With the creation of the Second Amendment, the Antifederalists ensured the protection of state militias through a guarantee of the right to bear arms. Objectively, this provision added to the Constitution in 1791 stood to defend the states against a potentially tyrannical government that might use its military powers to effectively render the states powerless. It is clear, however, that over the past two centuries, the same fears shared by the authors of the Second Amendment are no longer present.
When the Second Amendment was ratified, the average citizen feared not of being shot by his own neighbor, but rather, through the ubiquitously shared “Spirit of ’76,” the idea of British resurgence, tyrannical government, and defenselessness. Moreover, the weapons widely circulated in the late eighteenth century consisted of muskets, long rifles, sabers and cannons.
In stark contrast, the modern American fears being shot in an elementary school classroom and a movie theater screening “Batman.” Regularly, American media outlets tell of “breaking news” that is all too often neither novel nor shocking. Clearly, it is no longer 1791.
The gun violence epidemic in this country continues to take the lives of thousands of Americans each year (more than 33,000 per year, according to the CDC), and last Wednesday, it claimed the lives of 17 children and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The usual Republican response was to offer thoughts and prayers, condemn the evil human being who did this, and deflect any blame from the very weapon that made this tragedy possible. In the wake of any other tragedy claiming so many innocent lives, the proper response is to mourn the lost loved ones and take action to ensure it does not happen again; unless, of course, that tragedy is a mass shooting.
The latest NRA/GOP talking point has been to blame mental illnesses. We absolutely agree that the U.S. needs to do something to more adequately address the mental health needs of our citizens. That said, let’s check the track record of the GOP on mental health. President Donald Trump repealed a rule created by the Obama administration that helped keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illnesses. Every health care plan put forward by the Republicans and the Trump administration gutted Medicaid, and would have taken mental healthcare away from millions of Americans who need it most. The GOP is lying straight to your face when they say they care about mental health; we know this because by every measure and at every turn, the party has done literally nothing to address the issue.
The next NRA/GOP talking point is that the solution to gun violence in schools is to arm teachers. The logic of, “if bad guys have a gun, then we need one too to defend ourselves too,” sounds like quite an effective way to sell guns. Somehow, the party that refuses to pay for pencils for students is now attempting to allocate funds to give teachers guns. Not only is this approach quixotic, but it just makes society less safe. It has been consistently proven that in areas with more guns, there are more gun deaths, homicides and suicides. It is also important to mention that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High had an armed resource officer and 17 people died. Armed guards are not the solution, as they do not deter people who have no regard for the lives of others, much less their own. The Texas Church Shooting last November had a good guy with a gun, and 26 people lost their lives. The solution is clear. We don’t need a good guy with a gun, but instead, we need to make it so the bad guy doesn’t have the chance to obtain one.
Republicans at every level of government have valued campaign contributions over the lives of children. After each shooting, Democrats have put forward legislation that is supported by the vast majority of Americans, but blocked by the GOP-controlled Congress. Instead of arming everyone to the teeth, we need to enact common sense gun control now. The only way to prevent the mass shooting of tomorrow is to enact common sense gun control today.
We have absolutely no faith in any member of the Republican Party to do the right thing when it comes to truly protecting American citizens from gun violence. Republicans will continue to deflect blame onto mental health issues, which they do not care about, or they will say the solution is to have everyone attend prison-like school campuses. The only way to get true reform is to vote the Republican Party out of existence and elect candidates who will put the safety of American children before campaign contributions. After all, our right to live most assuredly outweighs your right to own a military-grade assault weapon.