Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss the Second Amendment. The question was posed and responses were submitted before Tuesday’s school shooting in Texas. Next week we’ll ask, “The use of illegal drugs has been a problem for a long time in society. Should America do more about the opioid epidemic? Have we lost the war on drugs? What should America do to help drug policy reform? Should certain drugs be legal?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before May 31. The best responses will be published that night.
My family has been affected by gun violence. In 2016 my two younger sisters witnessed the murder of singer
as they were in line to meet her after a concert. Grimmie’s killer entered unchallenged with two loaded handguns, two spare magazines and a large knife. He was not stopped by security, but by Christina’s brother.
While I would not dare to say that the outcome that day would’ve changed if someone had been carrying, the event did open my eyes. In many situations police are minutes away, but life-changing acts of violence occur in seconds. In those seconds, the only things you are guaranteed are your experience, skills and personal belongings. The Second Amendment grants the right to use the most effective tool for self-protection, and that’s not a right I am ever going to surrender.
A monopoly on violence is the essential foundation upon which tyranny is built. One never knows when a maniac, criminal or corrupt government will try to take away everything you have. If you surrender your right to arms, you volunteer yourself as a victim.
—Andrew MacGillivray, University of Kansas, computer science
Owning a Gun Shouldn’t Be a Right
The Second Amendment cannot, in good faith, be interpreted to establish a right to individual gun ownership. Even former Chief Justice
Warren Earl Burger
recognized that view was fraudulent.
The inherent purpose of a gun is to kill. An item whose sole purpose is bloodshed does not deserve the protection of the Constitution. In a country whose founding creed includes the unalienable right to life, it is shameful that we have granted so much power to something that has caused so much death.
Rights are given at birth; privileges are earned in life. We emerge from the womb with freedom of speech, but who among us would allow a child to carry a firearm? Such an absurd “right” has no place in the Constitution.
—Max Willner-Giwerc, University of Chicago Law School
There Isn’t an Answer—Yet
If people want to reduce gun violence, they should focus on the main cause of gun deaths: suicide. As horrific and devastating as mass shootings are, they aren’t particularly common and make up a small fraction of gun deaths.
There should be a waiting period for purchasing firearms given that the act of suicide is generally impulsive. RAND performed a meta-analysis on studies estimating the effect of a waiting period on suicide rates and found (with moderate support) that waiting periods significantly decrease gun suicides.
The relationship between different gun policies and violent crime is not clear, though neither the detractors nor proponents of gun control admit this. RAND performed a systematic review of gun policies and reported inconclusive support for much of their findings. Social science research is difficult, so the answer is what no one wants to hear: We must wait for more information.
—Alicia Liu, Swarthmore College, mathematics and economics
An Outdated Right
The Second Amendment was implemented at a time when Americans could not rely on local law enforcement to respond to criminal activity or even dangerous wildlife. As such, individual citizens were responsible for their own protection, primarily through the use of muskets. Moreover, the U.S. did not have a large military to deal with large threats to Americans, whether domestic or foreign in origin.
Today, most towns are likely to have their own police department and the U.S. wields one of the largest militaries in the world. Beyond the historical context, the violence seemingly caused by the overabundance of firearms infringes on the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. For example, school shootings may make some children afraid to attend school. Currently, at least 42 states require schools to conduct lockdown drills during which students practice how to hide from an active shooter.
While most gun owners will never engage in violent conduct, the fear instilled in the public by mass shootings is a terrible byproduct of the right to bear arms. Thus, the Second Amendment is outdated and should be subject to further regulation. This may be accomplished by a Constitutional amendment further defining the boundaries of the right, including the types of firearms that are to be made available to the public.
—Lucas Sundwall, Quinnipiac University School of Law
Guns Save More Lives Than They Take
In 2020, Pew Research Center found that gun-related deaths totaled 45,222, a number that increased gun control certainly would deflate. When determining whether to tighten controls on guns or eliminate legal gun ownership altogether, however, the question is how this reduction in death compares to the lifesaving potential of guns used in self-defense and as deterrents.
A 2021 survey estimated that there are around 1.67 million defensive uses of firearms each year, preventing attacks on innocent individuals and personal property. Moreover, the study notes that the actual number of instances where guns are used for defense might be as high as 2.8 million per year if those who do not personally own a gun are included in the study. Even erring on the conservative side of this estimate, hundreds of thousands of lives are intangibly and indisputably improved (and plausibly saved) by guns in the U.S.
So the policy emphasis shouldn’t be on eliminating firearm ownership altogether but working toward limiting malicious criminals’ and dangerously mentally ill individuals’ access to guns. In doing so, we preserve the positive effects of legal gun ownership, while reducing the preventable deaths caused by homicides and suicides, the ostensible goal of increased gun controls. We should aim to improve background checks and meticulously track stolen firearms, not destroy an invaluable sense of security for millions of Americans.
—John Macejka, University of North Carolina, political science
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