It would take a heart of stone to remain unmoved by the terrible shooting of a young reporter, Alison Parker, and her cameraman, on live breakfast TV in Virginia, by a deeply disturbed former colleague Vester Haligan, who described himself as “a human powder-keg”, and committed suicide after the killings.
This year, it’s expected that gun deaths in America will reach 33,000 (though this admittedly includes suicides). Startlingly, that could be more than die in auto accidents and hugely greater than those who die in terrorist incidents.
There is of course a massive lobby in the USA, headed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), a well-funded and vigorous campaign group, aimed at maintaining the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms. And I must admit that I feel a strong gut-reaction in favour of their position. There’s something refreshing about the frontier spirit and the culture of self-reliance that they represent. Some years ago I was in the States, and someone kindly gave me an NRA T-shirt that I still wear from time to time. The slogan reads:
The Second Amendment: America’s original Homeland Security Policy.
Nevertheless, the sheer level of gun crime in America raises a serious question – and one which may well be answered by the Second Amendment itself. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….”. Hands up those who think that Vester Flanagan constituted part of “a well-regulated militia”. No one? I thought not. It’s very difficult to make the case that down-town drug dealers, or muggers, or survivalists in mountain caves, or disturbed and psychotic individuals, form part of “a well-regulated militia” which is conducive to the public good and to national security.
Of course in America, as in most modern states, national security becomes the province of the armed forces, and the USA has more and better armed forces than anyone else. So in that sense the Second Amendment, and the need for a well-regulated militia, has been superseded by events. So is there anything left that those who drafted the amendment would recognise as “a well-regulated militia”? I guess that the National Guard would qualify. And at a stretch of the imagination, maybe the police forces. Not much else.
Of course Americans will want to keep their hunting rifles, and indeed the right to own a weapon for self-protection. But for once I think that maybe President Obama may have a point when he calls for background checks and proper records on persons buying guns.
Is it possible to have widespread gun ownership but low levels of gun crime? It is. In Switzerland, the Second Amendment concept of “a well-regulated militia” appears to work extremely well. But then I guess there are big cultural differences between the USA and Switzerland.