That American gun thing again
Ok, yet another mass murder in the States (and I’m not going to add to the suspect’s notoriety by adding his name here or discussing his currently still alleged crime), so surely now it’s time they just repeal the Second Amendment and that fixes it, right? No more guns, no more of these horrific mass murders. It doesn’t necessarily fix any cultural inclination that may or may not exist to use violence to solve personal problems, but at least they’d only be stabbing and beating each other to death.
Mmm, I don’t think it’s going to be quite that simple.
First, it doesn’t look like you’d “just” repeal the Second Amendment. The US Constitution might be easier to amend than the Oz one but it’s still been made deliberately difficult. Proposed amendments have to pass two thirds majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, after which they get sent out to the states to be individually ratified. If three quarters of states ratify it then it comes into force as the N-th Amendment. If not it expires if Congress put a time limit on it and hangs around indefinitely if they didn’t. Thousands have been proposed, most of which get binned in at early stages in committees. Only thirty-three have passed Congress, four of which are still waiting for ratification by enough states to pass while two more hit time limits and automatically expired.
So it’s taken them 230ish years to get twenty-seven amendments through, but they actually started off with the first ten all in one go in 1789 (ten of the first twelve, in fact – one wasn’t ratified until the 1990s and another is one of the four that are still waiting). That means it’s really going at the rate of thirteen years or so. Of those other seventeen three required a bloody civil war with possibly as many as a million dead (at a time when the US population was a tenth of today’s) to get through, and most of the rest either had a certain amount of support or were administrative stuff that Joe Bloggs probably didn’t give a shit about but which enough state legislatures were happy with.
The bottom line then is that successful amendments are rare and anything really divisive, which repealing the Second Amendment certainly would be, has to get the nod from 290 Representatives, 67 Senators and finally 38 states, and thus is simply not going to happen. Wishing it were otherwise isn’t going to change that, and even if it did it would only be a starting point. They’d still have to write all the laws they can’t write right now because the Second Amendment is stopping them.
And all during this process people will be panic buying guns and hiding the things like propellant scented squirrels, because of course they will. If there’s 300 million or so guns out there now there’ll be twice that by the time the US government is in a position to make the kinds of countrywide restrictions that the UK or Australia did. Jeez, after the Vegas mass murder just that tiny public discussion that maybe bump fire stocks broke the spirit of the laws restricting automatic weapons and had no legitimate purpose prompted an increase in sales of the fucking things, and that’s despite lots of American recreational shooters saying they’re a waste of money. If sales go up again after this latest mass murder as they tend to after such events you can be certain any serious attempt to begin a process to repeal 2A will do the same thing. Again, I’m not saying that’s a good thing – I’m just saying it’s the reality and the rest of us talking about stupid, gun nut, redneck Yanks and being all superior at them will change not one thing. If anything it’ll just get a load of backs up and maybe make people buy a few more guns.
So is passing gun control laws simply impossible there? No, and it’s silly to say they have no gun laws there because actually they’ve got loads already. How could they not have? There are fifty states plus the District of Columbia, all of which have their own gun laws varying from my-god-are-they-for-real to actually-that-wouldn’t-look-out-of-place-in-Europe. Above that level is of course the US government, which has passed a number of federal laws restricting or prohibiting various things. Sawn off shotguns, short barrelled rifles, grenade launchers, suppressors, fully automatic weapons and anything they decide comes under “destructive devices” are restricted by the US government in addition to any local laws, as well as things like who can own firearms (e.g. convicted felons mostly can’t) and where owners can take them (e.g. mostly not near a school).
In addition to that are a lot of local laws. Chicago and Cook County have each banned firearms they define as assault rifles while the rest of Illinois has not, New York City has more restrictions on assault rifles than the rest of the state and so on. There’s been at least one place where handguns have until recently been banned outright, and at the other extreme a place where gun ownership is compulsory (though as there are exemptions for people who can’t afford it, have medical conditions that mitigate against it, or just would really rather not have one it looks like it’s just for show). Oh, and this has been going on a long time. Remember the Wyatt Earp movie with Kurt Russell? Well, apparently this more or less happened.
Not only did the local law enforcement ban guns in a town so west it’s only just in America but it was enforced until the 1990s. And by and large Americans, even the gun owning ones, aren’t actually as anti-gun control as we tend to think (something to bear in mind before we go all superior at them next time there’s a mass murder).
It’s important to note that some tighter gun-control measures enjoy wide support across America, among liberals and conservatives, gun owners and even National Rifle Association-households as well as those who have never pulled a trigger. More than 4 in 5 Americans support requiring background checks for private and gun-show firearms sales, and nearly as many favor laws preventing people with mental illness from owning guns, Pew Research surveys have found. Seven in 10 support a federal database of gun sales. Over half support bans on semi-automatic and assault weapons.
So if they do actually have gun laws all over the place and they’re mostly not vehemently opposed to more, what’s the problem and what’s the answer?
To be frank I think it’s trust in the government and trust in the government. Gun owners don’t trust the government not to take all their guns, Second Amendment, practical issues of compensating millions of owners, and the fact that the US government doesn’t appear to have a history of outright betrayal of gun owners notwithstanding. The long term answer is to play on that, especially anyone seen as anti-gun, and rebuild trust – “The Second Amendment’s going nowhere, your guns are safe, but wouldn’t you be happier if crims and that crazy weird guy at work find it harder to get one? This measure and this measure would do that but wouldn’t stop you from buying one because you’re a sensible law abiding citizen…” etc etc.
Soothing fears is probably not a quick process and may be several presidential terms worth of work, and for the most ardently anti-gun isn’t enough anyway. However, I’ve covered why UK type gun laws are simply not going to happen, and if demanding perfection is getting in the way of achieving improvement it’s probably a good idea to stop demanding it, or at least wish for the magic wand required quietly enough not to have people running out to gun stores and buying more rifles to bury in the back yard.
Better yet, give thought to what might be done to reduce mass murders while governments build the political capital required to bring in background checks and databases and those things that most Americans would be in favour of if only they trusted their government more. Ask gun owners, all of whom you’d treat as the responsible majority, how they’d deal with the irresponsible (and/or mad and/or evil) minority. Bite your tongue if someone suggests arming all kindergarten teachers, because lashing out stands a good chance of stopping any sensible suggestions being aired and progress depends on not losing the metaphorical room. Would firearms owners accept parents/guardians being financially liable if their kids get hold of their guns? Maybe not. What if you could insure against it and control the premiums by controlling, i.e. locking up or reducing quantities of, your guns? Maybe then they would, but probably more likely if you can get them to suggest it than appear to be forcing it on them.
Of course this is their problem to work through, not ours. We can carry on not being Americans and welcome any Americans who migrate to countries with tighter controls, but we have no more right to be heard there than an American who thinks the answer to the London Bridge attack is for all the diners to have been carrying. As with people everywhere, input is better offered than imposed and suggestions may be heard but browbeating will be fought.
What especially won’t work is what hasn’t worked since before Sandy Hook, before Virginia Tech, before Columbine, perhaps even University of Texas over half a century ago: painting all gun owners as the same as the worst of their kind (many antigun people are appalled when jihadists are treated as representative of muslims generally – this should be no different), dreaming of repealing the Second Amendment, and wishing it was possible to un-invent the gun.