Second Amendment misinterpretation destroys lives

Credit: Paola Mathus/ Credit: Paola Mathus/
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Gun violence has claimed an unforgivable number of new victims in the United States, thanks to political inaction and general desensitization.

I’m talking about Las Vegas, of course. But I could also be talking about Lawrence, Kansas. And Oakland, California. And Chicago. And Arizona. And Florida. In fact, since the shooting on Oct. 1 that took 59 lives and injured 530 more, there have been at least seven other gun-related incidents, with at least 21 other people injured and 10 more dead, in the United States.

Even though only the most dramatic shootings make the news, there is on average about one mass shooting per day in the United States. There have already been more than 47,000 incidents of gun violence this year, with more than 11,000 people killed. Around the same number of people die from gun-related injuries as car accidents. There is a significant difference, of course: operating motor vehicles is heavily regulated.

I can’t even take a bottle of water on an airplane because officials fear a "Muslim extremist" might use it to make a bomb, but a white man — statistically the most dangerous demographic to the people of this country — can buy a semi-automatic weapon in under 15 minutes. And Stephen Paddock, the wealthy, gambling, condo-owning man responsible for the Las Vegas shooting, had 23 of them in his hotel room. Some were even modified to be fully automatic.

I’m not going to say how the victims are in my thoughts — although of course, they are. But I believe it would be far more worthwhile, and hopefully productive, to talk about the one thing capable of stopping more people from becoming victims in the future: gun control.

At this point — after the 276th mass shooting this year, and 1,500th since Sandy Hook in 2012 — I’m not sure there’s anything new I can say on the subject of gun control. But bear with me as I try, because I’m not sure what else there is to do.

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the Second Amendment is meant to mean “every American citizen is entitled to their choice of firearm” and not, as many tired of the constant violence believe, that states are allowed to defend themselves with a private militia. Even with this looser interpretation, the truth of the matter is, the Second Amendment does not inherently protect your right to technology that allows you to shoot almost 600 people in ten minutes.

The founding fathers, who had not yet even dreamed of a bicycle or a vaccination or bifocals (for another few years, at least), who had only just heard of the flush toilet, could never have conceived of a weapon that could cause destruction and loss of life of this magnitude. If you want to stand in your field with a musket and fire two or three shots a minute into the abyss, more power to you. But if you for some reason want to fire off dozens of rounds in mere seconds, you’re almost certainly up to no good, and the state should be able to step in.

To me, the debate surrounding the Second Amendment isn’t even about the right to bear arms any more. It is about the stubbornness of staunch gun supporters to orient themselves against the “liberals” they feel are specifically targeting their rights. It is about the numbness people feel toward violence they see over and over again and can no longer imagine an end to. It is about the millions of dollars the NRA donates to Republican lawmakers every year. It is about the right to take lives with any gun, at any time that someone chooses.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Australia’s deadliest mass shooting, in 1996, took the lives of 35 people at a tourist site. In response to the shooting, the Australian government outlawed all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns and bought back more than 640,000 weapons that were turned in to authorities.

Gun-related homicides decreased by 7.5 percent per year after the legislation making these changes was introduced. Australia has not had a mass shooting since.

Japan, which has even stricter gun laws — citizens aren’t allowed to possess, carry, or buy handguns or rifles — is one of the safest places in the world when it comes to gun-related incidents. In 2014, there were only six deaths caused by firearms — which, compared to the 33,599 in the United States, sounds almost unbelievable.

Even in America, the evidence is overwhelming. States with more guns, like Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska, have more gun-related deaths, including suicides, than states like Hawaii, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, where far fewer households contain firearms. States with tighter gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths. More police officers are killed on duty in states with more guns.

Of course, there are nuances to the situations, and other factors affecting the decrease in gun-related violence and deaths. But if the general trends are anything to go by, certain steps go a long way in protecting people from firearms.

Despite this evidence, though, the conversation never really seems to change. Those who try to use mass shootings as a platform to call for change are accused of being too political, and insensitive toward the victims and their families. But what about future victims? If some technology in cars or vaccines or GMOs was repeatedly putting human life in jeopardy, people would be initiating conversations to try to bring about change. What is it about firearms that makes the similar discussion a taboo?

At the end of the day, the Las Vegas shooting is special, even for us. 59 innocent, human lives were cut short and another 530 people were injured. It’s the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. But will it be enough to inspire lawmakers to take action?

Honestly, I wouldn’t count on it. If we could live through Sandy Hook and decide firearms are more important than 20 kindergarteners’ lives, if we could witness the shooting at Pulse and decide that the right to “protect ourselves” is more important than the right to safely be ourselves, if we can decide that it’s okay to put police officers’ lives in increased jeopardy every day rather than take steps to decrease the danger they face in the field — I’m fairly confident that this newest incident is neither shocking nor traumatizing enough to drive lawmakers to ignore the NRA, look past their right-wing extremist voters, and take a stand.

Don’t worry, though. Maybe this will never happen again. After all — politicians are praying about it.