Repeal the Second Amendment to save Americans from gun violence
It is past time to heed the call of late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to protect Americans from the gun violence that takes some 40,000 lives each year by repealing the Second Amendment. This year, the United States has suffered more than one mass shooting each day, culminating in the slaughter of more than 30 innocent people in El Paso and in Dayton this week. President Trump absurdly deflected to video games and mental illness, which are terrible predictors of gun violence.
Sadly, gun massacres account for but a small fraction of gunfire deaths in the United States. But according to the twisted logic of the National Rifle Association, the United States should be one of the safest countries in the world from gun violence because of easy access to firearms for alleged self defense. It should be far safer than Japan, which has plenty of video game action and comparable mental health problems to the United States, but it also arguably has the strictest gun controls in the world.
Yet in 2017, Japan had just three gun murders compared to 14,500 in the United States. An American is more than 1,000 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than a Japanese per capita. Japan has very few gun murders but is no outlier. Compared to residents of the Group of Seven nations and Australia, which have strong gun controls, an American is more than 20 times more likely to die from a gun homicide per capita. In 2017, 23,800 Americans died from gun suicides, 64 percent more than were murdered by firearms. Compared to the Group of Seven nations and Australia, the rate of firearms suicides in the United States was seven times higher, while the rate of other suicides was 40 percent lower.
With firearms crossing state lines, only far reaching national policies will stem gun violence. Congress needs to pass universal background checks, bans on assault weapons, bans on high capacity magazines, extended waiting periods, safe storage and red flag laws, and gun registration requirements. Perhaps not universal background checks alone, but this broad panoply of regulations could have stopped the two El Paso and Dayton shooters from obtaining their assault weapons.
It is not the political spending of the NRA, which other pressure groups exceed, that has stymied the gun controls that Americans support. The problem is that which gun control advocates fear to name, which is the Second Amendment. The NRA exploits a historically defective reinvention to inspire grassroots supporters, sell guns, and provide constitutional cover for their opposition to making us safer by regulating firearms. The gun control movement has responded by lamely insisting, “We support the Second Amendment, but we also support responsible gun control.” This self defeating strategy plays on the home turf of the gun lobby and fails to rally the American majority favoring stricter firearms regulations.
In 1955, NRA legal mind Jack Basil wrote, “From all the direct and indirect evidence, the Second Amendment appears to apply to a collective, not an individual, right to bear arms.” But after members voted in a new militant leadership in the late 20th century, the NRA erased from memory its own findings to reinvent the Second Amendment and distort its meaning to claim a virtually unlimited citizen right to keep and bear private arms.
In the 2008 decision in District of Columbia versus Dick Anthony Heller, the Supreme Court embraced the individual rights view of the Second Amendment held by the NRA. Following guidance in that ruling, the judiciary could strike down as unconstitutional any firearms regulation, especially now with gun friendly judges in the Supreme Court majority.
In a 2014 address, NRA chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre warned, “There are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road rage killers. Do you trust the government to protect you? We are on our own.” Such fear driven precautions in a gun ridden society have not made people safer anywhere in the world. Fear works for the gun lobby. “People do not donate as much when they are not afraid,” NRA grassroots coordinator Daniel Sheppard said in 2018.
Americans who do not want their lives driven by fear should not worry that a repeal movement plays into the hands of gun lobby which says the Second Amendment protects us from the confiscation of guns and preserves our freedoms. Americans lived for more than 200 years with a moribund Second Amendment, and also among some 200 countries, only Guatemala has a comparable arms provision in its constitution.
A concerted Second Amendment repeal movement has the power to achieve the seemingly impossible. The United States indeed repealed the Prohibition Amendment when authorities at the time said it could not be done. Just two decades ago, only a quarter of Americans backed gay marriage. Today, it is the law of the land with majority public support.
Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Repeal the Second Amendment” and is on Twitter at @AllanLichtman.