According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been over 200 mass shootings (where at least four people have been killed or injured) in the USA in 2023. You would think that in a freedom-loving country, people would have the best chance of being free from becoming a target of violence. Apparently not. Soon, America will have to start rationing thoughts and prayers, lest they run out completely.

An Inviolable Right?

At the heart of this intensely polarised debate is the American Constitution — specifically, the Second Amendment ratified on December 15, 1791, shortly after the end of the American Revolution. It states:

‘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.’

Gun advocates, like members of the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association, probably start their day by reciting this just as Muslims do the Shahadah. It has gone from a one-sentence amendment to a legal document outlining the powers and responsibilities of the state, to a sacred text that is worshipped by all who believe in the inviolable right to ‘bear Arms.’ And yet, the Second Amendment doesn’t give Americans nearly as many rights as they think. It does not, for instance, automatically give one the right to own an assault rifle. In fact, assault rifles did not exist in 1791. Nor does it give you the automatic right to own a gun without a mandatory background check. But when both of these ‘non-rights’ are threatened, then the Second Amendment kicks in, giving you those rights by a happy coincidence of questionable interpretation. How convenient.

Some time passes and another mass shooting happens. More thoughts and prayers are used up. Action is called for by gun control activists — but nothing much happens. The cycle repeats endlessly.

A common objection, when the Second Amendment panic button isn’t pressed, is that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Technically, this is true. Guns are not sentient beings; they cannot wilfully cause harm to people and they require human effort to fire bullets. And yet, it is painfully obvious that while guns don’t kill people, people with guns find it much easier to kill other people — even if there are good people with guns to balance out the bad people with guns and keep innocent people safe. Adding a lethal weapon capable of killing a multitude exacerbates an already dangerous cocktail of emotions and ideas that causes some people to want to hurt others. This is like giving Daleks grenade launchers; it’s never going to end well.

Bipartisanship  & American Politics

But the gun debate is just a symptom of a wider problem in American politics. Once upon a time, senators would ‘reach across the aisle’ and put aside their party affiliations to work together and find solutions to pressing problems. That era has steadily disintegrated over time to the point where someone voting against their party is viewed with utter shock and amazement. John McCain, perhaps the physical embodiment of bipartisanship and putting national interests over party politics, was the man in 2017 when he (along with Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski) voted against President Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare, tipping the balance in the Senate in the Democrats’ favour to defeat the legislation. But that was six years ago. Presently, such a courageous act is rarer than Spurs winning the Premier League. With Trump still present in American politics like the little storm cloud above Charlie Brown’s head, the chances of bipartisanship returning are probably slim to none.

Gun control is never going to be easy in a country with a culture that worships them. But it shouldn’t be this hard to bring in incremental changes that would be for the benefit of the wider whole. Those in Congress would do well to remember John McCain and his commitment to bipartisanship, perhaps most eloquently expressed in his farewell letter:

‘We [the American people] are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.’

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