In the midst of more than 470 mass shootings across the United States so far this year, many gun rights advocates offer us the assurance that the Second Amendment guarantees that, if they have their way, many more guns will be sold more easily to many more people.
Of course, we’ve been told repeatedly that more guns will make us safer. With only 5% of the world’s population, the United States has 46% of the world’s civilian-owned guns. As of 2019, the United States already had 120 guns owned per 100 people — the most and three times more than the next highest developed country. In 2019, we had 4.12 gun deaths per 100,000 people — the most and four times more than the next highest developed country. In 2021, the United States saw 48,830 gun-related deaths — a 23% increase over 2019. And in 2022, Americans purchased 16.5 million more guns.
Feeling any safer? Will more guns make us feel safe enough to enjoy local high school football games, where there have already been 11 mass shootings in August in the United States? When will we feel safe when we go to a store, school, church or synagogue? To be sure, even the “good guy with a gun” is a myth that deludes some into thinking more guns make us safer. ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) researchers studied 464 attacks (434 shootings, 23 knife attacks and seven vehicle attacks) recorded from 2000 to 2021. They found that an armed civilian stopped attacks by shooting the suspect in 24 of the 464 attacks recorded or 5% of all events.
Perhaps it would be good for all of us, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to give the Second Amendment a close re-reading: “A well regulated Militia being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Gun advocates focus on the last 14 words. State Legislatures apparently disregard the phrase “well regulated” while removing safeguards and restrictions. Even the Supreme Court has substituted “self defense” for “the security of a free State,” i.e., national defense. “Self defense” is an unenumerated, natural right, but that phrase does not appear anywhere in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Yes, we have a natural right to self-defense, but nothing in the Constitution actually says that right can’t be regulated. And too often, “self-defense” is a nebulous term that actually refers to a fearful need to prevail in arguments, revenge, road rage, neighbor disputes, family disturbances, debts owed, etc. Such conflicts used to be resolved through civil dialogue, negotiation or even apologies and forgiveness when guns weren’t such an available option.
Federalist Paper No. 29 by Alexander Hamilton provides a contemporaneous description of the historical context for the Second Amendment that our current originalist, textualist Supreme Court conservatives claim to require. Hamilton addressed the need for a national defense (a “posse comitatus”) balanced with the colonists’ fear of a standing army — something they just sacrificed dearly to expel from their midst. Hamilton in referring to a “Militia” was not referring to a ragtag group of individuals — neighbors who each had a gun — and certainly not the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys, but to a militia much like today’s National Guard. Hamilton’s vision was a far cry from how the Second Amendment has been interpreted to erase gun regulations — background checks, licenses, permits, safety training.
The Founding Fathers use of the military term “arms” (versus “weapons”) indicates they were describing a militia. Of course, Hamilton and the Founding Fathers, in their historical context, were contemplating a militia bearing arms that consisted of single-shot muskets and flintlock pistols. Little could they imagine military semi-automatic assault rifles that can fire 45 rounds per minute being sold like so many can openers with few restrictions. It would have been inconceivable to them that a single bullet (musket ball?) would pulverize bones, body tissue and organs for instant kills, sometimes requiring DNA to identify the victims. The frequent massive senseless killing of innocent people, including more children than die from any other cause, would have been beyond their worst nightmare.
Some gun advocates claim that it’s the person — the shooter — not the gun that causes such mayhem. One just has to look at any massacre and ask whether as many people would have died if the assailant had brought a knife instead. States with weak gun laws and high gun ownership rates have more gun deaths, not fewer. Those states are less safe, not more. RAND Corp. has determined that if states with the least restrictive gun laws, including Oklahoma, were to implement greater restrictions on who can own weapons, where weapons can be carried, and how they must be stored, they could reduce gun deaths by as much as 11%. Nationwide that could mean saving 10 or more lives every day.
It appears that this madness won’t change until people change how they vote. Only ballots — not bullets — will truly make this country safer.
Scott McLaughlin is a retired professor after teaching speech-language pathology for 31 years at the University of Central Oklahoma.