A system that suppresses change

Why is drastic gun reform in America a feat unlikely to be achieved in our lifetimes?

Words by Ben Freeman

Amendment II – the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Why has this sentence, a sentence that has created a gun culture resulting in the death of approximately 1.4 million Americans, remained untouched for the past 225 years?

The simple answer is that it was built to last. The American Constitution is one of the most entrenched (hard to change) political documents of all time – so when the Founding Fathers made this amendment, it was never considered to be something that would need revising.

In the 225 years since the Constitution was signed into law, over 5,000 proposals for change have been made. Of them, only 27 have been ratified (if something is ratified, it is confirmed and signed into law). This shows just how difficult it can be in America to make real change.

For a constitutional amendment proposal to be ratified in America, two-thirds of both Houses of Congress must agree and then three-quarters of state legislatures must agree too (this is known as a super-majority). When you consider the hostile divide between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, you begin to see how immensely difficult making change can be. If, on the rare occasion, a proposal goes through Congress, the incredible political and social divide between the North and South states usually prevents the proposal being agreed on by three-quarters of state legislatures.

Gun reforms are an extremely divisive topic in the US. It’s one of the defining differences between the two major parties, with Democrats generally supporting reform and Republicans generally advocating for nothing to change. It’s an issue that can really be reflective of what kind of campaign a president/ presidential candidate is trying to run, proven no more so than in recent months. When 49 innocent Americans were murdered in Orlando, Obama said he was “profoundly frustrated” that he couldn’t single-handedly reform the law.

When 130 innocent French people were killed in Paris, Trump claimed the situation would have been “very different if our people [the French] had guns”, therefore suggesting that the perpetrators would have been shot by heroic Frenchmen before getting the chance to murder so many innocent civilians. This begs the obvious questions of “well OK Mr. Trump, how do you explain the mass shootings in America that take place on literally a weekly basis?”.

In this simple comparison, we see the spectrum of divide between a Democrat and Republican approach to gun ownership, and this aggressive divide is something that makes reforming gun laws a near-impossible challenge.

But the roots of this divide run much deeper than being just a slight disagreement. The disagreement is aggressive and toxic. The NRA (National Rifle Association) are the movement who basically exist to protect the right to own guns. They give members of Congress an A-F grade that reflects their voting record on gun rights – A being solidly pro-gun rights. A NY Times study in 2012 found that 268 Congressmen and women were firmly in favour of protecting the second amendment. Unsurprisingly, a huge majority of these 268 legislatives graded A, were Republican; you can take a look at the study here.

nra-graph_house_02
186 Democrat representatives received no donation from the NRA in 2012 – compared to only 44 Republican representatives. 

And then on the other side of the spectrum, you have the Democrat Congressmen and women, who hosted a 25 hour sit-in as a political protest in light of the Orlando shooting, which was the most fatal shooting of all time on American soil. The sit-in, headed by Democrat John Lewis, was an attempt to pressure Republicans to allow a vote on tightening gun controls. Other than perhaps raising awareness of the Democrat stance on gun controls, the sit-in achieved very little. This being said, it does prove the fight has not died in Democrat Representatives, despite the uphill challenge to bring change.

housesitin_20160623012742439_4982507_ver1-0_640_360
John Lewis, centre, can be seen alongside Democrat Representatives hosting a sit-in in the House Of Representatives, in protest of gun laws.

The American system is build on the foundations of cooperation. Without it, nothing can be achieved. Gun reform is such a polarising debate in America and, despite much of Europe thinking that supporting gun rights is ridiculous and ill-thought out, gun culture is deeply ingrained into America. For the major parties to then come to an agreement that suffices all in the name of change, is simply too idealistic. This issue is so important, yet Democrats and Republicans have such parallel views, that neither party is willing to just agree with the other and reach a compromise; therefore meaning that change will, for the foreseeable future, remain beyond the horizon.

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