The Second Amendment and Human Rights
It comes as no surprise to hear that the US “leads the developed world in firearm-related murders”, dwarfing the statistics from other states. The media coverage of gun-related murders is being received so often that, as media consumers, we are becoming numb to the reality of the situation and accepting it as the way of life in America. However, the US government’s refusal to provide adequate safety measures for its citizens and pass the appropriate gun control laws is “a violation of its citizen’s right to life” as stated by Amnesty International, and needs to be discussed as such.
It is fundamentally flawed to argue that it is a political choice as to whether to reduce gun violence or not. The reduction of gun violence is both a moral imperative and a legal obligation under international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states under Article 3 that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”. This international obligation, which was contributed to by America’s own First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who acted as the Chairperson of the drafting committee of the UDHR, highlights the discrepancy between America’s position as a first world country supposedly committed to human rights and its prominent refusal to outlaw citizen’s right to bear arms.
Gun culture in America is a direct contradiction to citizens’ right to life, liberty, and security. It is an affront to the right to life when the state permits citizens to wield weapons of murder and thereby become passive contributors to the murders of its own citizens. It is an attack on the right to liberty when children cannot attend school without the fear of being shot because the state will not protect them from firearms in and around schools. It is a detriment to the security of a person when every citizen in America is liable to be a victim of gun violence at any moment, living with the fear that they or their loved ones could become a statistic amongst a sea of victims of the epidemic that is gun violence.
The accessibility to firearms in the U.S. is even more deplorable given that the BBC noted that over half of people who commit suicide in the US use a gun. This contributes to 60% of gun deaths, with a striking statistic of, on average, 67 people dying from gun-related suicide each day in 2018. This figure has only been made possible by the U.S. government’s inaction. The state needs to take responsibility for their role in these deaths and take the politically uncomfortable steps necessary to reclaim the trust of its people and the wider international community.
The widespread gun violence in the US is a human rights crisis and needs to stop being viewed as each individual’s constitutional right to bear arms. The Second Amendment in The Constitution states that citizens have “the right to bear arms”. However, the contested interpretations of this Amendment are where the heart of the prominence of gun violence lies. More specifically, the notion that The Second Amendment extends to citizens themselves.
For around two hundred years, The Second Amendment was understood to be with regards to “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” As such, the right to bear arms was restricted solely to national security matters and trained personnel, not any citizen who so chooses.
It was James Madison who proposed seventeen amendments, one of which referred to the “well regulated militia” and the right “to keep and bear arms.” However, as aforementioned, this amendment was intended for military use. A review of Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention found “not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self defense or recreation”. The late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger remarked, in 1991, that the Second Amendment being interpreted as the individual’s right to bear arms is “a fraud on the American public.”
Given the US’ current renowned gun violence, it is understandably a surprise to most to discover that the US Supreme Court did not rule that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008. What has led to the bleak reality of the current climate of America’s gun obsession is the political monopoly of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The NRA was originally formulated as a recreational shooting association. This occurred after former Union soldiers who had fought in the Civil War realised the poor quality of marksmanship exhibited by their fellow Union fighters in comparison to the Confederates. However, the NRA was turned from a recreational association into a political association after one of its annual meetings turned into a surprise coup, setting the NRA on a new path focused on opposing gun control. This event is more commonly known as The Revolt in Cincinnati. Since then, the NRA has been politically orientated, striving to prevent any laws that would see a reduction in accessibility or production.
Using issue reframing to strengthen their political dominance, the NRA has encouraged more people to become gun owners for personal security and to supposedly empower women. Their tactics are explicitly manipulative of the gender equality movement, seeking to bandwagon their agenda to the widespread support of feminism, playing on the idea that if gun possession is an asset to feminism it would be controversial in modern society to limit access to guns.
To truly grasp the magnitude of the gun crisis in the US, consider the fact that it was only due to the pandemic closing schools that March 2020 was the first March without a school shooting since 2002. However, even that is only true by qualification as technically in March 2020 there were multiple occurrences of shootings that took place on school campuses, just none that met the classic description of a school shooting. This unfortunately is the result of there being no national consensus on an accepted definition of what constitutes a school shooting, subsequently leading to dozens of cases being largely ignored each year.
The US government has a moral obligation to protect its citizens and it is failing them. The duty to protect its citizens’ rights to “life, liberty and the security of person” is outlined in the UDHR in no unclear terms and therefore takes precedence above a contested and manipulated constitutional amendment. The reality is that America’s gun violence is an epidemic in urgent need of action and will be held to scrutiny by the rest of the Western world. America needs to return to the original definition of The Second Amendment and implement drastic gun control policies or be held responsible for the condoned for the murder of their own citizens.
Written by Lauren Taylor