Written in an age in which minutemen rose to dress and fight at a moment’s notice, the Second Amendment was no doubt motivated by a young nation’s concern for its own safety and stability. But now, when the United States is protected by the most powerful security forces on the globe, the Second Amendment is neither relevant nor useful. Rather, it has become an impediment to vital public policy, and it should be repealed and replaced with nuanced federal legislation.
Despite the controversy surrounding the Second Amendment, arguments about its relevancy have not surfaced in the Supreme Court since 1939, when the justices merely touched upon the issue in United States v. Miller. But early this month, the Supreme Court agreed to take on the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the central consideration is the right of an individual to own a firearm as protected under the Second Amendment. The case specifically addresses private handgun ownership in the District of Columbia. But while legalistic arguments—the phrasing of the amendment itself and the framers’ intent—will be at the center of the debate, no matter what the justices ultimately decide, we believe that a constitutional protection of an individual right to bear arms is detrimental to the country. Instead, the Second Amendment should be replaced with federal statues designed to tightly regulate gun ownership.
The high level of violence in the United States as compared to other developed countries, if not directly related to the culture of gun ownership and distribution, is at least a strong argument that the Second Amendment is preventing aggressive federal gun regulation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2005, 68 percent of the 14,860 homicides in the United States were gun-related. Given the pervasiveness of gun violence that occurs in this country every year, this sort of uneven gun control is unacceptable, especially when it comes to handguns. Unlike rifles and shotguns, a handgun has little use in hunting: It is a military and police weapon, built expressly to kill another human being. Yet little is done to prevent its distribution: In Virginia, any person over the age of 18 can buy a handgun, and if a handgun is purchased at a gun show, there is no background check required.
Supporters of a constitutionally enshrined individual right to bear arms argue that state gun control laws have “reinterpreted” the right to gun ownership. These limitations on gun ownership, they say, demonstrate that gun ownership itself is not linked to increased violence. But in the wake of the expiration of the Federal Assault Weapon Ban in 2004, gun control remains relatively lax in many states, especially when it comes to handguns, which are responsible for many, if not most, gun-related murders. Gun advocates claim the need for handguns in self-defense, but such considerations are moot when weighed against the number of lives that might be saved by making the weapons illegal.
In the context of today’s society, the Second Amendment is outdated. Constitutional debates over its interpretation stand in the way of the implementation of pressing public policy. Instead of wasting time attempting to fix this anachronism, we should repeal this amendment and focus our efforts on legislation that will actually protect the “security of a free state”—a charge explicit in the Second Amendment.
CORRECTION: Friday’s editorial “Pulling the Trigger” incorrectly stated that one must be 18 to buy a firearm in the state of Virginia. In fact, firearms purchasers must be 21 years of age, pursuant to federal law. Furthermore, the editorial incorrectly stated that all purchasers of handguns at gun shows are exempted from undergoing criminal background checks. In fact, this exemption only applies when buying from sellers who are “ improving or liquidating a personal firearms collection,” according to the US Code. The Crimson regrets the error.