Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms in the United States. And in the vast majority of those cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally.
Now, in the aftermath of yet another devastating school shooting (the three guns used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 children and 6 adults were legally owned by his gun-enthusiast mother), we are hearing the inevitable cries: WHY won’t the United States DO SOMETHING about gun control? Why can’t the Americans get it together and stop this sort of horror from ever happening again? How can so many deaths be allowed to occur as the result of legally purchased weapons?
All sorts of ideas are being tauted: A gun buy-back, restrictions on who can purchase a firearm, better controls on where guns can be carried in public places, revoking the much heralded ‘right to bear arms’…
But reform, quite simply, isn’t that easy.
Why not? The Second Amendment to the American Constitution 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.”
And that has basically been interpreted to mean that Americans have an entrenched right to carry a gun. As a result, plenty of American households are taking up that right with gusto, keeping a gun in their house or workplace. There are more than 300 million privately owned guns in America – that’s approximately one for every citizen.
So what CAN be done? Will all these calls for reform amount to anything?
Today, we explore the five (gut-wrenching) reasons why real action on gun control in America is not as easy as it sounds and sadly, is pretty unlikely.
1. The president can’t just change the Constitution.
First things first. President Obama can’t just change the Constitution – the Second Amendment is an entrenched part of the American legal system and is incredibly hard to alter.
Article V of the Constitution goes through the processes by which amendments to the Constitution (and that includes DELETING previous amendments) can be proposed and ratified.
In short, it requires a proposal to amend to be supported by at least two thirds of the Congress (the equivalent of our House of Representatives) and two thirds of the Senate BOTH to vote in favour of change, or, two thirds of all the State legislatures (remembering here that there are fifty states) have to petition for change. Amendments then need to be ratified by three quarters of State legislatures.
In very, very basic language: there are a lot of steps in the process, involving several levels of Government and a hell of a lot of voting (including by some gun-toting, proud to be armed, fierce defenders of the Second Amendment).