For Gun-Weary Americans, Time for Constitutional Change

By William J. Furney

The supposedly most powerful nation on the planet cannot stop its people from being killed en masse by rifles, pistols, assault rifles, submachine guns and a bewildering array of other types of firearms that are easily available and a right under the country’s constitution. 

American gun-owners love the Second Amendment, which came into force almost 230 years ago (December 1791) and declares: “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.”

What “militia” means in a modern context, several centuries on, is open to debate, meaning different things to people of various political and other persuasions. What’s not up for discussion is the unending tyranny of gun violence across the United States that’s happening almost daily, often manifesting in mass shootings that this year alone have claimed 147 lives, of a total 12,395 total guns-related deaths so far in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Last year, 43,549 people in the United States perished at the barrel of a gun or rifle, 610 of them in mass shootings, figures from the Archive show. 

The most recent tragedy occurred at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis on Thursday night, as a gunman identified by the global courier company as an employee opened fire and killed eight colleagues before shooting himself dead — the fifth such shooting in as many weeks. It was, said FedEx chief Frederick Smith, a “senseless act of violence”, words echoed by President Joe Biden a day later, when he called gun violence and mass shootings “a national embarrassment”.

You can add “international” to that. 

We’re used to looking at coronavirus maps, showing infections and deaths, and this Archive map of gun deaths in the US this year shows it’s also an epidemic. 

Just last week, Biden sought to tighten gun control laws, just as his former boss, Barack Obama did, and polls show an increasing desire to clamp down on gun sales and keep the weapons out of the hands of those who have no business going anywhere near them, like those suffering from mental illnesses. 

“The executive orders signed by President Biden are a positive, novel step forward in addressing America’s gun violence epidemic that destroys the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans each year, and these orders put even more pressure on Congress to act,” the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a pressure group set up in 1974, said

But with many American politicians accepting election and other donations from the powerful National Rifle Association, the majority of them Republicans, asking Congress to take firearms away from people, or to limit their access to guns, is a largely futile endeavour — an ongoing travesty that decimates families and entire communities around the country. 

“Biden wants to do something but the good ole boys are going to put up a fight,” an American friend told me after the latest mass shooting, a lethal occurrence so frequent in her homeland that, she said, it makes her “dread the morning news”. 

My pal, who, as it happens, lives in Mexico, is “anti-gun” but she doesn’t “want to take away someone’s right to have one. Just please have steps in place to assure they are in the right hands and legal.” 

She doesn’t “see any reason, ever, for those crazy automatic assault rifles” and wonders why Americans are so apparently reluctant to amend their constitution to protect people, by popular vote, or referendum. “Times have changed; the world has changed. It’s OK to evolve and adjust accordingly,” she said. 

Indeed. Americans are not living in 1791 and a time of militias. It’s time for an update to the national rulebook. 

I have voted in referenda in recent years in my home country of Ireland, most notably on marriage quality on the tiny island at the north-westernmost tip of Europe long ruled by Catholic priests and their wicked ways with children. Ireland subsequently became the first country in the world to allow gay marriage by referendum, and has gone on to largely shun the Church and its devastating legacy. It’s evolution of society, and these days priests have little influence in a progressive land that has cast off outdated ways of doing things. 

There are hopeful signs that change for the better is happening in the US and its deadly addiction to guns, with a new poll showing that two out of three Americans support more restrictions on who can buy firearms. What respondents most want to see are more robust background checks on those attempting to purchase guns and not selling weapons to people who have been deemed mentally unstable by health providers, the survey found. 

But even if additional checks and other measures are brought in, guns will remain on sale and in people’s homes, ready to pick up and fire at will, often resulting in catastrophic consequences. Perhaps it’s time America’s leaders considered amending the Second Amendment to keep everyone safe, because increasingly, this sliver of the constitution is failing the American people.

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