In the wake of the school massacre in Connecticut, there has been a renewed interest in increasing the restrictions on firearms in the USA. In a country where you can buy a gun before you are allowed to drink, this seems like it should be high on the list of the government’s priorities.
The main argument against gun control is the “Second Amendment”, a piece of the Constitution which says that any American has the right to own a gun. If this seems like a slightly antiquated piece of legislation, you would be right: it was added into the Constitution in 1791.
Now in 1791, there were probably numerous good regions to own a gun if you were an American. The frontier was a lawless place, the indigenous people were rebelling at the invasion of their lands and at any moment those pesky British might have returned.
None of these criteria are true today (although the strange popularity of the British Royal Family makes you wonder about the last one…). But the a large number of Americans still cling to the idea of their “rights” and a rejection of the government’s infringement of their “liberties”. (There is also the argument that having a gun makes you safer).
Rights: Europe vs. USA
The longer I live in the USA, the more I come to appreciate the different view of fundamental rights that exist on either side of the Atlantic. In the USA, the individual is key and the less government interference in their lifestyle, the better. In comparison, European countries put a higher value on other people’s rights. You have the right to live your life as you choose but the government will put laws into force to stop you negatively detrimenting the lives of others (at least, that is the hope).
In the UK, a very similar school massacre happened in Dunblane, Scotland in the 1990s. Gun laws came into force that made it almost impossible to acquire a gun.
A UK farmer was jailed a few years ago for shooting a burglar. In the USA, it is positively encouraged to shoot intruders (ok, I exaggerate, but not much).
Could the USA do with a similar attitude? Does the right to life of innocent children trump the right of the ordinary adult to bear arms?
This question raises the issue discussed by Doug Muder in his Distress of the Privileged post: does the distress of the privileged (the gun owners) trump the distress of the the underprivileged (the victims)? Given that many of the most recent victims can no longer give us their opinions on this question, the answer would seem to be NO.
In any event, guns are unlikely to disappear from American culture anytime soon given that a majority of Americans still favor the Second Amendment. People who responsibly enjoy guns as a hobby could still do so even with tighter laws.
As for anybody who would be disqualified: did you really want a psycopath/criminal appearing on your doorstep with a loaded assault rifle tomorrow?