It’s easy for a country whose constitution doesn’t explicitly state a citizen’s right to bear arms, to criticise another where it does. We get accused of outside interference or not “getting it”. The point is though that without interference, the status quo won’t change. And if the status quo remains, the cycle of mass shootings followed by indignation continues.
The US Constitution has changed 27 times since it was ratified in 1787. Ten amendments were made in 1791 which became known as the Bill of Rights, effectively outlining the rights of every US citizen. The second amendment gives the right to bear arms. The other 17 amendments include some pretty important amendments: the abolition of slavery (1865) and a women’s right to vote (1920) are two that spring to mind. The 21st amendment overturned the ill thought out 18th on prohibition. There’s a few procedural amendments, like changing the way a President is elected or the amount Congressmen get paid.
So what does it take to get the constitution changed? The 25th amendment describes what happens if a President or Vice President dies or resigns, more than likely as a result of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. His death left a judiciary wondering if Vice President Lyndon Johnson had a legal right to succeed. In practical turns though, an amendment can be written by Congress and passed by a simple two thirds majority. State governments can also call a convention to pass changes, although this hasn’t happened since 1787.
Congress is the key to a change, but only the prohibition change has ever been overturned. So could the right to bear arms do the same? Arguably as the second amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, it is more difficult. The key is the National Rifle Association (NRA). This lobby group is well funded, organised, and has the ear of a lot of congress men and women.
With each mass shooting, it is easy to say the NRA is mad not to change their attitude to gun control. They say it isn’t gun ownership that causes these mass casualties. I have some sympathy with this argument, but when anyone can go into a gun store and buy weapons with little or no checks, something is wrong. There is no perfect solution, as mass shootings have demonstrated here in the UK. But when the NRA refuses to even acknowledge that gun ownership is even a small part of the overall problem, you need to speak out.
Wanting regulation doesn’t mean you’re against the second amendment. In the same way the US wouldn’t allow anyone with a serious mental illness to join the army, or allow someone with a history of heart attacks to fly a 747, you shouldn’t allow someone with mental illness to buy a semi automatic machine gun. Yes the literal interpretation of the second amendment is everyone has the right regardless of who they are or what their medical history is. By that logic the first amendment (freedom of speech) allows citizens to say whatever they like, even if it preaches hate. Practically though if I was a US citizen and demand jihad against western targets, I’m sure that right to speak would be challenged.
Unfortunately I’m not hopeful of a change to the US constitution anytime soon. It could happen in the future though. It may take a brave politician to take the NRA lobby on. If they do, there’s a chance.