Mar 7, 2013

The Second Amendment and Cultural Change

Americans should persist with gun control efforts. They should not give up just because it seems impossible now. Cultural change takes 20-30 years, possibly more.

Here is the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

"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."

The impact of poorly designed legislation

The rest of the world reads this and has two thoughts:

  1. That's nuts. However, if you insist on this right, then:
  2. "well regulated" - means there's room for gun control

Within the US, there has been debate on the interpretation of the Second Amendment since soon after its ratification, with argument over the meanings of "well-regulated", "militia", "keep and bear arms" and "infringed", as well as varying interpretations of the intention of the amendment based on wording, sentence structure and the meanings of the words in 1791.  There is disagreement on whether the amendment is about ensuring the security of the state, protecting an absolute right of the individual, or protecting a limited right of the individual.

As well as that to contend with, there is the anger and bellicosity in public responses to any attempt to sell gun control in America - like this one.

There is the whole huge weight of history of gun ownership and the right to bear arms in America, which we don't have in Australia.

But, cultural change is possible.

It seems trite, and I hope it is not an offensive comparison, but look at the efforts in Australia over the last three decades to change attitudes to drink driving. In the 1970's in Australia we thought it was our constitutional right (if we had believed in such things) to drink ourselves into a stupor and drive home every Friday and Saturday night.

My own family history feels typical. When I was a kid in the 70s our family get-togethers were raucous drunken affairs sometimes ending in tearful or angry confrontations between aunts and uncles about whispered events that we didn't understand. Everyone drank and smoked and swore and was racist, and  in short it was a totally different world to how we all live today.  It took a long time for attitudes to drinking to change in Australia. It is still underway. But things did change. In general attitudes and behaviour now, we're a long, long way from 1975. Even my family came round!

Cultural change is possible. It is slow, and it takes a couple of generations, and how much is due to government intervention such as the TAC ads and how much is due to the slow pull of cultural history, it's hard to say. But it does happen.

So here's what you have to do in America when trying to tackle the Second Amendment:

Photo released by The White House on 2 Feb

At the White House website, while trying to search for this photo, I found that entering 'Obama' and 'shooting' into the search engine produced pages of Obama's public addresses in response to shootings.  So many it's shocking.  Slate online magazine is tracking the number of fatal shootings in the US since Newtown, and it is distressing how fast that number keeps growing (1,903 as at 14 February; 2,496 as at 1 March).

Ronald Reagan was in favour of gun control. John Howard is in favour of gun control. The majority of Americans are in favour of some kind of gun control. So surely, it is possible.

Here is the White House's plan for reducing gun violence. It works within the weight of history, allowing the right of individuals to bear arms and not attempting to change the Second Amendment (God forbid!). It attempts to tackle some of the issues with steps that probably should be in place anyway.

It's a good start.

Good luck, America. I love you, so I wish you every success in tackling this huge, critical problem.

'Need Change?' by Maggie Smith



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