Different histories call for different futures
2 March 2018
I grew up in a world without guns. I’ve never seen a pistol that wasn’t in a police officer’s holster. I’ve never had a friend who owned a gun. I’ve never really seen one up close. My only experience of guns and gun violence is from the American video games I play and the American films I watch. Throughout my early childhood, pistols and assault rifles might as well have been as fantastical as swords and dragons. I’ve never feared being shot by a gun—at least not yet.
I am, of course, an Australian.
Before 1996, my country was pretty much as gung-ho about guns as the United States. Bullets and rifles fit our national identity pretty well. We appreciated the image of the typical Outback Australian, rugged, self-sufficient, wearing a bush hat and smoking a cigarette. And where would they be without their trusty rifle? But in the last few decades, this image has started to fade quite a bit.
Cigarette branding has been replaced with government warnings about the dangers of smoking—lung cancer pictures printed right onto the box. Guns are legal but strong laws restrict who can buy them and for what reason.
We lost some of our freedom; that is true, and I’m not proud of it. But the results speak for themselves. Smoking rates have tumbled, limiting the wild amount of people who die from this preventable catalyst for disease.
Gun deaths have fallen precipitously since the 1996 National Firearms Agreement. There hasn’t been a single gun massacre since then. If you don’t know, a massacre is usually defined as three or more people killed during the same attack.
The Port Arthur Massacre, which spurred the National Firearms Agreement, took 35 lives, wounded 23, and was the deadliest mass shooting in our history. The deadliest mass shooting in US history was last year, took 58 lives, and injured nearly 500.
So why hasn’t the United States done anything?
This is something I hear a lot from friends, family, and the Australian media. There’s also a tinge of national pride in these conversations and messages.
The assumption is that the United States must be morally or politically bankrupt to not pass gun control laws.
In a lot of these cases, people, especially Australians like myself, forget to take into account how guns fit into America culturally and historically. With that, I think the United States has a far better argument for why they might be better off with guns than without.
The United States Constitution is almost sacred to the American people. The Bill of Rights is not listed in order of importance, but it starts off on the right foot with the First Amendment. It’s hard to argue that the right to free speech isn’t one of the most fundamental and important rights of the United States. The right to bear arms is up there too as the Second Amendment.
What many people may ask is why have it there at all? Was owning a gun so vital that it needed to become an inalienable right?
The Second Amendment doesn’t protect gun rights because guns are good for hunting. It doesn’t protect gun rights because guns are useful tools for home security. The Second Amendment states that ‘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.’
As a free press is vital to maintaining a free society, so is an armed populace. If the First Amendment was the velvet glove then the Second is certainly the iron fist.
Most of the rights you’ll find in the Constitution are for the purpose of protecting the American people from an overreaching and powerful government. The Fourth Amendment restricts illegal searches and seizures. The Sixth Amendment guarantees you a fair and speedy trial by a jury of your peers.
If the Founding Fathers were paranoid about something, it was definitely their own institutions growing tyrannical.
A ‘well-regulated Militia’ does not mean one controlled by the government or evened out with federal gun control laws. Back then, ‘well regulated’ referred to independent responsibility, not government enforcement. Why would the Founders remove your right to bear arms in the same breath that they granted it?
The biggest argument against the Second Amendment itself is that it’s outdated. After all, it came from hundreds of years ago from people who couldn’t have possibly foreseen the evolution of modern weaponry. The Second Amendment was intended only for muskets, right?
The problem with this logic, however, is that when applied to the other rights of the American people, the results can be disastrous. If the Second Amendment is outdated, shouldn’t the First be too? It’s not like the Founding Fathers could’ve foreseen the printing press or the internet. Yet words, whether printed on paper or published digitally, are protected under the right to free speech.
The population of the United States in 1776 was nothing more than a few million. Maybe all the Amendments weren’t meant for a nation of over 300 million.
The ‘antiquated’ argument is easy to make but hard to defend. It’s exactly the kind of excuse that emboldens governments into trampling on more of its people’s rights.
There’s also the idea that the ‘Militia’ itself is outdated in a world where the American government has tanks, drones, and nuclear bombs. That too is a case of bad logic. It underestimates the power of guerrilla warfare and where it has succeeded in the past.
In the Vietnam War, the United States had helicopters, the best aircraft, napalm, and ground troops armed with the most modern weapons. Still, a staunch and determined people managed to fight back with handcrafted booby traps, stolen American bombs, and their knowledge of a terrain foreign to the enemy.
The idea of the ‘Militia’ is what undergirds the argument for gun rights in the United States.
I honestly cringe when people compare guns to Kinder Surprise Eggs in a desperate plea to get the former under more regulation. They both can be a health hazard, sure. But only one could help me fight against a tyrannical government—and it’s not the chocolate egg.
The United States has a history with tyranny, and it’s that strong distrust of centralised government—purposefully sewn in by the Founders—that acts as the basis for America’s gun culture.
There are almost as many guns as there are people in the United States. A government buy-back of firearms definitely wouldn’t work as well as it did in Australia.
Considering Americans’ beliefs surrounding their constitutional right to bear arms, I wouldn’t be surprised if things got incredibly violent.
The Australian Constitution (yes, we have one) says nothing about guns. For us, federation came peacefully, not with violent revolution. A nation’s history can have a serious impact on how its people develop in the future, and American history is uniquely American.
This isn’t a justification for unfettered gun rights in America; it’s merely an explanation for why Australia’s gun control laws can’t just be copied and pasted onto the United States. Our laws aren’t even the perfect solution to limiting the number of guns, as Australia has as many guns now as it did before Port Arthur.
The United States can decide its own future. If the people want gun control, then their government should give it to them. But when it comes to giving up the rights your nation’s Founders bestowed upon you, maybe we need to think about the issue in far more depth and honesty.
Gun control isn’t something to be dismissed entirely and neither is the Second Amendment.
The American people may not need the Militia now, but they might in the future. And when the time comes, they’ll be glad they kept their right to bear arms.