On Wednesday 14th February, America witnessed it’s eighteenth school shooting of 2018. 17 people died when a former student – Nikolas Cruz, gunned down teachers and pupils at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Once again questions are being asked whether tighter gun laws could have prevented this massacre from happening.
America is unique in its gun violence problem. It is one of three countries in the world in which the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, and it is the only liberal democracy in the world which still guarantees its citizens their right to keep a firearm.
Sixty-six percent of respondents said they would support more stringent laws, 97% support universal background checks for gun buyers. Amongst a backdrop of on average, one mass shooting per week, most Americans see stricter gun laws as a necessary step in the way of decreasing the frequency of mass shootings. However, 79% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats are still willing to defend the Second Amendment.
Stricter gun laws are long overdue in America. Other liberal democracies including Canada and the UK, suffered their deadliest mass shootings between 1989-1996 and introduced new legislation restricting private ownership of firearms. No mass shootings have happened in these countries since. Since the Sandy Hook mass shooting which took place in 2012 in the US, there have been 1,606 mass shootings in America which have resulted in 1,829 deaths.
The United States Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The Second Amendment brings this declaration into compromise. America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada , and almost 16 times as many as Germany . Statistics suggest that America has 29.7 homicides by firearm for every 1 million people, compared to Australia’s 1.4. The American constitution upholds more strongly, the right to bear arms than the right to life.
In 2013, following the Sandy Hook massacre, Republicans blocked President Obama’s gun control legislation which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Republicans, who fear losing their NRA funding, more than they fear the murder of innocent Americans, stand in the way of stricter gun control.
The National Rifle Association has been advocating for gun rights since it was founded in 1871 to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis”. The NRA’s revenues total $433.9 million. It’s members have included 9 U.S. Presidents.
Hundreds of members of Congress rely on campaign finances from the NRA. In a recent report by the New York Times, it was revealed that the top 10 recipients of NRA funding in the Senate have received a total of $42,822,711, with Senator John McCain receiving the highest amount of funding, at $7,740,521. The top 10 recipients of NRA funding in the House of Representatives received a combined $4,292,241. Among the top 100 beneficiaries of NRA funding in the House, 95 were Republican. The top 50 receivers of NRA funding in the Senate were all Republicans.
The Second Amendment as a part of the entrenched constitution cannot be repealed with simple legislation, nor does it have any chance of being repealed with a Congress receiving $42.8 million of funding from the NRA. Over the years, members of Congress have attempted to pass gun control legislation, to increase background checks and to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and suspected terrorists. However, most gun control legislation is ineffective when Americans have a constitutional right to own a firearm.
Congress cannot simply rewrite the Constitution, except by a process found in Article V of the Constitution which states that “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments”. This means that, Congress can only change the Constitution, with the consent of ⅔ of the Senate and ⅔ of the House of Representatives or ⅔ of America’s 50 states’ legislative bodies.
The repeal of the Second Amendment would require a national effort by both Republicans and Democrats. If this is ever to become reality, then Republicans must put the lives of Americans before the interests of campaign finances. Until then, more Americans will die at the hands of a Constitution which allows anyone to buy a gun from their local shop.
The impossibility of a partisan repeal of the 2nd amendment alongside the fact that even the strongest gun regulation proponents do not want an outright ban shows no wide scale gun confiscation will ever be enacted. The desire for sensible, European style, gun laws amongst the population continues to grow, but the dollars of the NRA will stop that from mattering.