There is one thing standing in the way of our ability to do something about gun violence. It is that in 2008 the Supreme Court, in District of Colombia v. Heller, issued a wrong interpretation of the Second Amendment. I say “wrong” because regardless of how one regards their original intent, there is no way the founders intended to endorse the endless carnage of innocents our country suffers. I sincerely doubt the 2008 court expected this outcome.
In 1994, Congress banned the AR-15 for 10 years and mass shootings dropped dramatically. But that was done before the current interpretation of the Second Amendment. If the Congress should vote to reinstate that ban, there is little chance the Supreme Court would now uphold it.
In 2008, for the first time in history, the Supreme Court ruled the Second Amendment means the government may not interfere with an individual’s right to own a gun. It did this by ignoring the first part of the amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” Instead, they considered only the last part: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Then came Sandy Hook and all the rest. There is pretty much nothing we can do about it, no matter that almost 70% of Americans want guns to be regulated. The Second Amendment stands firmly in the way.
The beneficiaries of this interpretation are not gun owners. It is gun manufacturers. Every time there is a mass shooting, we are urged by the gun makers, through their mouthpiece the NRA, to buy even more guns to protect ourselves from the next attack. In short, the Second Amendment has been hijacked by the NRA to increase gun sales.
Stash an AR-15 in every school? Arm the teachers and bus drivers? How many weapons sales would that generate? Even if every one of the schools in the U.S. were made secure against shooters, there are the other places they have gone: to churches, malls, outdoor concerts, ballgames, theaters, banks. These are sneak attacks, usually suicidal, and increasingly well planned. Preparation is impossible because we never know when or where or how the next one will happen.
The Supreme Court, seeing the terrible consequences of its 2008 decision, is perfectly able to reverse itself and correctly interpret the Second Amendment. Brown v. Board of Education ended 58 years of constitutional protection for racial segregation that began with a Supreme Court decision. In fact, a reversal ended 49 years of constitutional protection for abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade. But we cannot expect the present Supreme Court to change its interpretation. So we are left with a more radical solution: an amendment to repeal the Second Amendment.
Of course, getting rid of the Second Amendment would not solve all the problems at once.
Violence, anger, fear and the “gun culture” still need to be addressed. But there would be one significant change immediately: The people, through their state legislatures and the Congress would be free to regulate guns as they wish. This would certainly be chaotic; decisions in Texas would surely be different from those in New York. But the decisions would now have to be about whether guns should be regulated, and the NRA could no longer argue its Second Amendment protection for the gun makers.
Can it be done? I have to admit, it is almost impossible because the founders wisely made it difficult to amend the Constitution. But the process itself would be driven by increasing numbers of activists encouraged that something can actually be done about the problem.
Even the long process of repeal would change things. The arguments would revolve around whether we believe guns ought to be regulated, not on whether the constitution forbids it. The NRA would strongly oppose repealing the amendment and we need to be ready for that. But it will be worth the fight. The alternative is beyond comprehension. How many more innocents will be murdered and families traumatized because of the Second Amendment?
So keep on doing what you are doing. In addition to voting, continue to lobby for background checks and licenses and red flag laws. Support organizations that work to reduce gun violence, such as Giffords PAC.
And next time the unthinkable happens, consider what we could do if we were no longer bound by that incorrect Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment.
Everett Gill is retired, a student of American history, and a longtime resident of the Asheville area.