by Martín Saps
The Missouri Senate race between Jason Kander and Roy Blunt has largely centered around the issue of universal background checks for gun owners. In a campaign ad, Kander, a former Army Captain, is seen assembling a gun while blindfolded, aiming to invoke the idea that one can support background checks while simultaneously supporting people’s right to firearms. This is just one example of the ways in which politicians feel a need to fight the backlash that any gun measure invokes. The latest example of this is June’s “no fly, no buy” bill, which aimed to prevent people on terror watch lists from obtaining weapons. The bill, which failed in the house, came in response to reports that Omar Mateen, a man who killed 50 people in an Orlando nightclub, had been on a terror watch list and legally acquired a firearm.
Conservatives, in response, argued that the bill violated the second amendment, and they were probably right. The bill would likely have had important results for society. People suspected of terror, even if they had not been convicted would not have had access to firearms. Even if it discriminated against people on terror watch lists, this is likely warranted given that people on the list are more likely to be terrorists.
The problem is that since the terror watch list does not require people on it to actually have been convicted of a crime, banning people on it from obtaining weapons violates basic liberties as specified by the constitution.
So long as owning a firearm is considered a basic liberty, taking away the right to firearms simply because someone is suspected of a crime would be a violation of the Sixth Amendment which guarantees the right to due process.The “no fly no buy” bill, from a legal perspective, is like imprisoning someone suspected of a crime for fear that they might commit a crime again: it would probably be good to keep that person out of society, but it is unconstitutional to do so.
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Restrictions on guns are always met with fierce opposition by people citing the Second Amendment as evidence that such provisions are unconstitutional. As it is interpreted, the Second Amendment assures people the right to defend themselves. As firearms become more complex, the definition of what could be reasonably used to defend oneself expands. Consequently, the right to own high-powered rifles such as the notorious AR-15 is likely covered under the Second Amendment because it could reasonably be used to defend oneself against an assailant.
Independently of what is covered under the Constitution, it is important for this country to limit the supply of guns and prevent people from purchasing such high-powered firearms. The problem is that so long as the Second Amendment is in place, it is impossible to implement many “common sense” gun laws; lawmakers’ hands are tied because having gun ownership considered a “right” rather than a “privilege” supersedes any logical bill regarding firearms.
While it is likely to never happen, the optimal way to balance the right to own a firearm and prevention of gun crimes would be to repeal the Amendment altogether and replace it with laws guaranteeing that people can still own firearms.
Having gun ownership considered a privilege rather than a right would allow lawmakers to prevent people on terror watch lists from obtaining firearms and restrict high-powered weapons such as the AR-15; so long as owning weapons is not tied to any essential notion of liberty or basic rights, it can be restricted. This argument has been made by various legal scholars, including Kevin T. Crane Jr., who argues that repealing the second amendment is the only way to preserve gun rights while keeping the country safe; he claims that the Second Amendment has gotten in the way of safety in the U.S and thus must be replaced with laws guaranteeing gun ownership to law abiding citizens.
Many of the problems that we see relating to gun violence inherently stem from lawmakers’ lack of ability to restrict guns; and rightly so. As long as the Second Amendment is in place, it must be defended for gun ownership is still considered essential to liberty no matter whether one believes that it should be. In order to reduce problems related to guns, lawmakers should attempt to work within the bounds of the Second Amendment to pass legislation muffling the negative effects of guns; pushing for increased background checks for gun buyers and surveilling gun owners on the terror watch list are a good place to start.
Martín Saps is a Uruguayan-American studying Politics (with minors in History and Philosophy) at Bates College. He is a member of the Rugby and Debate Teams and hopes to pursue a career in in print media. He has published in both English and Spanish on topics ranging from the Islamic State’s presence in Bangladesh to Affirmative Action. He loves writing because it gives him the opportunity to share his perspective on politics, history, and current events with readers.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
The art above was made by Andrea Acevedo.