It was the beginning of a new school year for many. The sound of laughter and conversations filled colleges and universities once again. Life had been brought back to the campus. But, an all too familiar sound makes its presence known too – the sound of gunshots. It was around 1:00 p.m. on Monday, August 28, 2023, when gun shots were first reported on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Students, faculty, and staff went into lockdown. Fear raged through the community. All the practice drills had now become a reality and suddenly, what was once a normal day turned into a day of trauma—a day that will forever be etched into the memory of all who lived it.
The gun debate is a massively divisive topic in the United States. Proponents for and against gun control are passionate about either ensuring there are some sort of regulations in place to ensure safety for the community or ensuring there are no infringements to an individual’s Second Amendment right to bear arms. From Supreme Court cases to countless numbers of mass shootings, there are strong and passionate arguments for both sides of the debate.
Gun violence is nothing new to the United States, especially gun violence on school campuses and in other crowded public spaces. Early school shootings like the Columbine High School shooting, located in the Denver Metropolitan area, to more recent ones like the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Robb Elementary School, in Uvalde, Texas, have brought the conversation surrounding gun violence to center stage. Nevertheless, the issue of gun violence is not getting the traction needed for real change.
Columbine’s 15 deaths marked the deadliest mass shooting at a high school until it was surpassed in 2018 by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The shooting at Robb Elementary was unique in the sense that it brought forth conversations about police training and their ability to handle active shooter situations. Some argue that if there is more armed law enforcement in public spaces, then these massacres would not happen, but this school shooting was an example of the failures within the police force.
Although gun violence is not unique to the United States, the proportion in which gun related deaths occur in the United States in comparison to the rest of the world is much higher. Among the world’s largest 40 countries, the United States ranks fourth in gun related deaths, following Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico. For school related shootings, the United States easily comes in first place, with 288 school shootings from 2009-2018, beating out the second-place country, which only had 8 school shootings during that same time period.
Gun ownership is a fundamental right in the United States. In fact, the right to bear arms is a explicitly listed in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. The Second Amendment states, “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.” The history of the Second Amendment dates all the way back to the seventeenth century – before the United States won its independence from Britain. The amendment’s original meaning was that it guaranteed individuals’ rights to remain sovereign by having a well-regulated state militia. Only recently did judges begin to interpret the meaning of the Second Amendment to extend to private gun ownership so an individual can have the ability to defend himself.
The Supreme Court Stands By The Words Of The Constitution
In 2008, the Supreme Court decided the case District of Columbia v. Heller. This case challenged the constitutionality of a District of Columbia law that, among other restrictions, made it illegal for individuals to carry unregistered firearms and prohibited individuals from registering handguns, with the exception of those who were employed with the police department. Police officers were authorized to carry handguns while on duty. The plaintiff, Anthony Heller, was a police officer who wanted to own a firearm for personal purposes. After his application for gun registration was denied, he sued the District of Columbia, arguing that its law limiting registration infringed on his Second Amendment right to bear arms. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority declared, “There is nothing in the legislative history of the Constitution, state constitutions, writings, or even English history showing that the Founding Fathers intended to limit gun ownership solely for militia purposes.” The Court held that the Second Amendment “protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Additionally, the court found that the District of Columbia’s law was overly broad and vague, and, therefore, unconstitutional. Heller was a landmark decision as it was the first Supreme Court case to decide whether the Second Amendment was intended only for state militias or whether an individual had the right to bear arms for self-defense.
Next, in 2010, the Supreme Court decided the case McDonald v. City of Chicago. In this case, Otis McDonald challenged a Chicago regulation that banned the new registration of firearms and made registration a pre-requisite to owning a firearm, therefore making it virtually impossible to legally obtain a firearm. McDonald, along with the National Rifle Association and others, sued the City of Chicago claiming that the regulation violated an individual’s Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Supreme Court agreed and ruled that the Second Amendment is incorporated to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause held the regulation unconstitutional. Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, found that “the individual right to possess and use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, particularly self-defense, is fundamental to the American scheme of ordered liberty and system of justice.” He also wrote, “The Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in one’s home is fully applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Since the Heller and McDonald decisions were decided by the Supreme Court, the rise of guns and gun-related deaths skyrocketed throughout the country. Heller reinterpreted the Second Amendment and solidified its meaning to expand to an individual’s ability to own a gun for purposes of self-defense. Additionally, it made it difficult to put regulations on gun sales. The graph posted by the American Enlightenment Projects shows the sharp increase in school shootings since Heller was expanded by McDonald in 2010. Since the Heller and McDonald decisions, “guns and gun deaths surged in tandem, from 305 to over 393 million guns and 31,500 to 43,500 annual deaths”
The General Public’s Views
Aside from the legal arguments, the general public has very strong views for and against gun control and regulations. With mass shootings constantly in the news cycle, the wounds from previous shootings never get to fully heal as with every shooting and every death, it just gets deeper. Because there has been a recent on-campus shooting at UNC-Chapel Hill, the gun control argument has been brought to center stage in North Carolina. Firearms being readily available, especially to individuals who do not pass some sort of background or mental health check is upsetting to many. People ask questions surrounding gun control such as, “why can’t there be basic background checks?,” and other questions regarding how easily accessible guns are.
People who advocate for more gun regulations state that the presence of guns in society will inevitably cause more gun violence, so reducing their numbers and putting check points in place to prevent them from getting into the wrong hands will make our society safer. Gun control advocates also argue that the Second Amendment was written and intended to protect the militia’s ability to own guns and to prevent government tyranny, not for individual everyday use. Even if it was intended for everyday use, they argue that there is no reason that people should have access to military-grade weapons that can quickly cause danger and kill many.
While the argument for gun control is strong, the argument opposing gun control is just as strong. The main argument is that putting any restriction on the ability to obtain a gun will be an infringement on people’s Second Amendment right. People who do not support gun control measures claim that the right to bear arms is absolute and any regulations that make that right more difficult is a violation of the Second Amendment. Additionally, they say that people will inevitably find a way to obtain a firearm, so if there are no regulations, those people will not have to resort to illegal methods to get a gun. They claim that ensuring that there are no regulations means there will be less guns sold in an illegal manner, which helps with overall crime. Lastly, another argument is that giving the power to the government may cause too much government control and the people will be able to exercise their right to bear arms in retaliation to potential government tyranny, which was the exact reason the amendment was put in place.
As much as we hate to admit it, mass shootings will not be coming to an end anytime soon in the United States. We can help our country; we just need to take action rather than just sitting around and watching terror rampage throughout society. There is a serious problem that needs to be fixed, and when it does get fixed, our country will be better for it.