The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas by lone gunman, Stephen Paddock, has once again raised the controversial issue of gun control in the United States. On Sunday, October 1st at the “Life is Beautiful” country music festival, 58 attendees lost their lives and another 500 people were wounded, in what is being described as the worst mass shooting in modern US history. There are substantive lessons regarding gun control to be learned from such a high-profile attack, but the partisan nature of American politics will likely have a negligible impact on the prevention of future acts of mass murder.
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution (a part of what is known as the Bill of Rights) explicitly expresses that “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Firearms activists use this section to derive their arguments in favour of a deregulated system of gun control. The current wording of the Second Amendment makes it impossible to impose the kind of gun reform legislation required to prevent these attacks from occurring. The only way to enact this kind of legislation would be to amend the US Constitution. True gun reform is therefore unlikely because the amendment process is an uphill battle of gargantuan proportions.
Article Five of the Constitution outlines the Amending Formula, which requires a two-thirds majority from both Houses of Congress (House of Representatives and Senate) or two-thirds of state legislature support for a proposed amendment. Given the current climate of hyper-partisanship in American politics, the possibility of achieving the supermajority necessary to amend the Constitution appears to be unlikely, if not impossible. In fact, since the creation of the Bill of Rights, only 17 amendments have been ratified into law, with the last one occurring 25 years ago, in 1992.
Another problem with the Second Amendment is the ambiguous nature of the text. No definition of an “arm” is provided which makes regulation extremely problematic. Is an “arm” a single shot musket like those used during the 18TH century, or does it include fully automatic assault rifles that can fire six-hundred rounds per minute? In the current context, it appears that the Second Amendment protects virtually all types of firearms and ammunition. Had the Framers of the Constitution foreseen the future evolution of the military industrial complex and the firearms industry, I strongly believe the Second Amendment (in its current form) would have never come to fruition.
In this regard, I intend to put forth a rudimentary outline of a reasonable and efficacious piece of gun legislation. The first and most important change involves fully automatic weapons, which can be owned by civilians in the United States who make a small ($200) tax payment to the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and pass a complete criminal background check. I see no reason for civilians to own weapons of this calibre as they have little utility in activities such as hunting or target shooting. I condemn the government of the United States for failing to do something about this and I implore them to address this glaring gap in their national security policy.
Second, weapons designed primarily for military applications have no place in the hands of civilians. These pieces of equipment were designed with the express purpose of killing other human beings in combat. I fail to comprehend how an assault rifle can be used for self-defense purposes; these weapons belong to a class of firearms that should be restricted exclusively to military and law enforcement agencies.
Finally, I believe that a more stringent application procedure should be enacted to ensure that deadly weapons do not end up in the hands of individuals with nefarious intentions. More detailed background checks with longer wait times for license validation could potentially reduce the frequency of attacks. Sadly, what happened in Vegas is not likely be a contained occurrence until the time when such reforms are put in place, and that time does not appear to be anywhere on the near horizon.