I appreciate Daniel Hurtado’s thoughtful letter about my One View opinion piece about the Second Amendment in the May 18 Wednesday Journal. Reliance on “original intent” when interpreting amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as Mr. Hurtado writes, is not my view. I believe that the Constitution ought to be considered a “living document” and subject to change as society changes. For example, why is the Third Amendment (look it up) still part of the Constitution today, even if it was apparently quite relevant at the time of its drafting by the founders?

The point I wanted to make in my One View is that the “original intent” of the Second Amendment was the right of states to have a militia and therefore the need for armed citizens (yes, white and male). Militias have become obsolete for more than 100 years and, thus, there is no longer a need for armed citizens in the context of a militia. 

That brings us to the question whether the right to own and use firearms — not related to a “well regulated militia” — needs to be constitutionally protected. There is no other right in the Constitution to own anything else. For example, there is no constitutionally protected right to own a means of transportation, a horse in the days of the founders or currently an automobile (or bicycle). Yet there is no obstacle to owning a car, provided that it is safe and lawfully operated. Why can gun ownership not be considered the same as car ownership? Cars and their use are highly regulated to keep everyone safe and there is a lot of enforcement of these regulations. 

One problem with guns in this country is that the Second Amendment is used to circumvent gun regulation by the federal government, states, and municipalities. The consequences of this are devastating, as I pointed out in my One View. Guns have, as of last year, become the most frequent cause of death in U.S., ages 1 to 19. That fact alone should be reason to implement the strictest possible firearm regulation in our country. Homicides are rising rapidly around the U.S. So far this year 53 people have died from gun violence (excluding suicide) every day in the U.S. and nearly 100 have been injured daily. There have been more than 210 mass shootings this year at the time I am writing this, amounting to more than one each day; and 27 school shootings, more than one per week, one just now in Texas! Seventy percent of the guns used in school shootings have been purchased legally and the majority of guns used in crimes in Chicago came from outside Illinois. Clearly, regulation of gun purchases needs to be much stricter and nationwide.

Prevention of this gun violence is a public health priority. The problem is that what drives people to use guns in ways that kill (and injure) is very diverse. Therefore, any single measure to reduce gun violence, such as universal background checks or red flag laws, will only make small dents in the overall toll of gun violence. Many measures made in concert are needed to have a substantial effect. This will be difficult, if not impossible to implement in the U.S. today, given the current lack of political leadership. Instead, there are proposals to put more armed staff and teachers in schools, even though it has been shown to result in more gun deaths and injuries in schools and not fewer.*

The one overarching feature of gun violence is the availability of firearms and ammunition protected by the Second Amendment, which is used by the firearm industry and their lobby to profit from gun violence. There are over 390 million firearms in civilian possession in the U.S. that will remain functional for many decades; banning those will be next to impossible. Ammunition, though, once spent, can no longer kill. However, for ammunition sales there are no federal regulations and requirements for background checks; only six states have laws regulating such sales. Regulations regarding firearm ownership are under serious attack by gun rights groups in the few states with strict gun regulations, such as New York State. 

I greatly fear that the killing in the U.S. will continue, in schools, on the streets, in stores and workplaces, and in people’s homes — everywhere. Why don’t we come to our senses in the U.S. and stop invoking the Second Amendment to justify the harmful absolute right to own guns and unlimited access to ammunition? 

* Peterson J., Densley J., Erickson G. “Presence of Armed School Officials and Fatal and Nonfatal Gunshot Injuries during Mass School Shootings,” United States, 1980-2019. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network, 2021.

Maarten Bosland, Member of Gun Responsibility Advocates

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