Scoundrel Time

Gun Control: An Inalienable Right

Elvert Barnes

Embedded in our national psyche is the notion that every human holds certain inalienable rights—to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness. The first ten amendments to our constitution guarantee individuals such rights, including freedom of speech, the right to a trial by jury, and, perhaps most heavily on our minds this week, the right to bear arms. Constitutional scholars agree, however, that while many of these rights are natural, ours by virtue of our humanity, they are not absolute, especially when they lead to infringement upon another’s rights. Your freedom of speech does not permit you to harm another, say, by committing fraud or perjury. And your right to bear arms does not allow you to take away from another their right to religious freedom, or peaceful assembly, or the most basic right to life—as the white terrorist Stephen Paddock did to at least 59 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Sunday night.

In the wake of this tragedy, which left an additional 527 people injured, proponents of the second amendment have criticized politicians advocating for tighter gun control, wailing that such demands politicize a tragedy. But as Vox writer German Lopez notes, “since mass shootings help highlight the need for gun control, they are often the only major opportunity for lawmakers to act on momentum.” He explains that “the closest that Congress came to passing universal background checks was after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and previous laws were passed in the wake of similar tragedies, like the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.” Of course, politicians against gun control know this; they are crying “politicizing” in order to stall necessary momentum that could lead to positive change. If they can prevent such calls to action from even getting off the ground, gun laws will remain lax, regulations will continue to loosen, and the immensely powerful gun lobby will give good grades to the politicians who have helped this happen, essentially guaranteeing them future votes.

Yes, that’s right, much of this comes back to the gun lobby, the good ole (read: terrifyingly manipulative) National Rifle Association (NRA). Anytime there is a movement to impose more regulations on gun use and ownership, the NRA rallies their supporters to bully lawmakers and effectively kill the legislation. The strange thing about this is that gun owners in the United States actually comprise a minority of the population. Nevertheless, the NRA works upon their fear of loss—loss of their physical guns, loss of the elusive feeling of power and control and dominance—and ignites serious passion. Republican lawmakers are often frightened not to support the NRA for fear that they will lose an essential part of their base. We can see this in Trump’s assertion to the NRA earlier this year that “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to an end” and “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”

In truth, of course, the second amendment has not at all been under assault. The text of the controversial amendment reads as follows: “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.” Take a look at those first four words: A well regulated Militia. Well regulated, front and center. From its very inception, this amendment called for regulation of the arms that people had a right to bear. As UCLA Professor of Law Adam Winkler notes, our founders “did not wish to prevent government from adopting reasonable regulations of guns and gun owners.” He goes on to explain, “The Second Amendment was about ensuring public safety, and nothing in its language was thought to prevent what would be seen today as quite burdensome forms of regulation.”

What’s more, we hold sacred in this country the notion that one’s rights are only valid so long as they are not infringing upon another’s rights. And the reality is that the right to bear arms in our country is currently assaulting the basic human right to life. The United States beats out every other country in the world by a long-shot when it comes to the number of privately-owned guns. As German Lopez puts it, “Americans make up about 4.43 percent of the world’s population, yet own roughly 42 percent of all the world’s privately held firearms.” Combine this with the fact that more guns result in more gun violence, and it is no wonder that the United States’ gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries. The CDC notes, furthermore, that on an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns. Looked at another way, every day we are essentially experiencing the worst mass-shooting in American history.

Something must change. We need our lawmakers to impose the kinds of regulations—called for by the second amendment itself—that will allow our citizens to live and thrive freely on our soil. As long as gun laws are controlled by individual states, moreover, there will be loopholes. Though blue states may pass stricter rules, red states are likely to further loosen regulations. This means that obtaining an assault rifle could be as easy as driving a few hours across the state line, or simply getting one shipped to you. We need federal gun reform, and we need it now.

The good news is that most Americans agree. In June of 2016, the Morning Consult polled a representative sample of the American electorate and a collection of the country’s leading experts on gun violence in an attempt to identify which of the most effective gun-control policies held the most support from the American public. The results were hopeful. There was 86% public support for “requiring all sellers to run background checks on anyone who buys a gun” and 83% for “barring gun sales to people convicted of violent misdemeanors, including domestic assaults,” which were found to be the two most effective methods for decreasing gun violence.

Part of why gun control has traditionally stalled is that those of us in favor of it are motivated by abstract notions of a safer society, whereas the gun lobby is motivated by profit and by the concrete fear of loss. And as we writers know, the less concrete, generally, the less compelling. Now, though, heartbreakingly, we have another concrete example of why our laws must change. We cannot allow tragedies like Las Vegas, like Charleston, like Orlando, like Newtown, like Virginia Tech, like the countless domestic homicides and suicides and accidents to continue. Those of us who understand that regulation is part of the second amendment—we are the majority. We can and must raise our voices to demand a safer society for all.


1. Ask your members of Congress to support gun control laws

2. Ask your senators to oppose S.446, the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.

  • Daily Action explains, “this bill amends the federal criminal code to allow individuals with a permit in one state to carry a concealed handgun into or possess a concealed handgun in another state that also allows its residents to carry concealed firearms, despite any difference in those states’ laws.”
  • Call: Your Senators (Look up)
  • Script: “Hi, my name is [NAME] and I am a constituent calling from [ZIP or City, State] to express my dismay over S.446, the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. I do not feel safe living in a country in which individuals from one state are allowed to carry concealed handguns into another state, despite any difference in those states’ laws. As the tragedy in Las Vegas last Sunday proved, we need more regulations on firearms, not fewer. Can I count on Sen [NAME] to vote against this bill? Thank you.”

3. Ask your representative to oppose the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act of 2017 (H.R.3668)

  • The New Yorker’s John Cassidy explains that this legislation would “make it easier to import assault-style rifles, transport weapons across state lines, and purchase silencers—the sale of which has been strictly restricted since the nineteen-thirties, when they proved popular with gangsters.”
  • Call: Your Representative (Look up)
  • Script: “Hello. I am a constituent from [ZIP] calling to express my deep dismay over the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act of 2017 (H.R.3668). Especially in the wake of the tragedy in Las Vegas, it is essential that we increase rather than roll back regulations on firearms—especially those made chiefly for killing humans. I am deeply disturbed that the House would even consider passing an act that would allow people to use armor-piercing bullets, bring assault guns and other weapons through jurisdictions where they are banned, import foreign-made assault rifles, and purchase and use silencers. Can I count on Rep [Name] to oppose this scary legislation?”

4. Ask Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to heed Nancy Pelosi’s call for a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence

  • Call 202-225-3031 or Email
  • Email Subject: Create a Bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence
  • Script: “Hello. I am a constituent from [ZIP or City, State] writing to express my concern over the horrific and steady increase in gun violence over the last decade. I understand that Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi has asked Speaker Ryan to create a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence that would work to create common sense legislation to curtail gun violence in our country. Can I count on Speaker Ryan to move forward in creating this essential committee? Thank you.”

5. Support gun-control groups working to reduce the NRA’s scary grip on our lawmakers

6. Reward politicians who are standing up for gun control

From Progressive Change Campaign Committee: “One concrete thing we can do that will have an impact right now is to reward the brave political leaders who go beyond kind thoughts and prayers–and who demand action on guns. That will incentivize others to do the right thing too.”