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  • Tiago Costa

Carrying a gun: The roots of the American gun tradition and the progressive fight in Chicago

In the United States, every day an average of 93 people are shot and killed by individuals using firearms. Data provided by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund exposes a controversy that is somehow linked to the Second Amendment of the American Constitution.

The Second Amendment—as well as the other 10 first Amendments in the Bill of Rights—was written with the intention of given the people more rights and freedoms. However, this amendment can be somehow contributing for a bigger chaos in today’s American Society. Bad intentional people take the advantage of several ambiguities in the constitution to spread terror and perhaps kill dozens of innocent people in mass shootings. The recent events of Orlando, Las Vegas, Virginia, or Texas can easily prove that. In just these four events, up to 166 people were killed and several hundreds were left injured. As a consequence, the population’s fear rises and it's created an emergent necessity to debate. Yet, no major changes happened, but the people of America is more alert than ever. The American citizens are questioning their leaders more often, demanding more action, and requesting new ways for them to guarantee basic safety in a society that should be peaceful.

"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."

Second Amendment to the American Constitution, 1789.

photograph by Maryland GovPics

While debating about gun control, there are generally two clear sides. In the right side, there are the advocates for the gun use. Mostly conservatives, who support the idea that a system with more restrictive gun laws will not solve the problems attached to gun violence in the American society. They are the ones who claim that more weapons will increase the capacity for each other to protect the whole community. That is clear for the majority of Republicans who speak in public, as for example, Donald Trump.

In today’s world, Trump is probably the most known face behind this ideology. For multiple times, he expressed himself as a defender of the gun freedom. In April 2017 at the Annual National Rifle Association convention, Trump said “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end,” referring to the presidency of Barack Obama and his support to gun control. However, Trump’s claims are not targeted just to the American citizens. Just a few weeks after the convention, while referring to a terrorist attack that happened in London, Trump used the social media Tweeter to criticize the American debate promoted by the media on gun control. After being known that three of the London attackers had used a truck and knifes to spread the terror and kill seven people in London, Trump tweeted online “Do you noticed we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!”

Trump’s character and communication style is not a surprise. He polishes his discourse with demagogy, emotion and even anger to persuade people that, in general, are vulnerable, have a low level of education and have a few knowledge of the political system. For Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at the National Review Magazine, the “deindustrialization made people in rural areas feel they are under attack. Guns are used as a form of freedom and protection.” Ponnuru, who is known as being a conservative journalist, believes that gun control is a difficult topic to debate, because of its deep roots in the American society. He claims there are more supporters to gun use, than opponents; and he recognizes that a politician is more likely to win an election by supporting guns’ freedoms.

In the left side, there are the defenders of the gun control. Mostly progressivists who support more gun restrictions as they believe firearms are used to attack and never to defend. They are the ones, in the majority of the times, who question the Second Amendment and show an intention to amend it, or even to repeal it, for considering the amendment too ambiguous. James Heffernan, an English professor at the Dartmouth University, believes the problem of gun violence in the American society will never be solved if lawmakers don’t amend the second amendment. “Not enough lawmakers have the guts to spurn the money or buck the muscle of NRA,” Heffernan said. In his opinion, the second amendment is a “sinkhole of ambiguity” and it’s an idealistic statement that would work in a society without hate, racism and discrimination. Heffernan claims that the amendment gives no right to civilians to use arms, especially with no training or purpose of safety. “The single biggest obstacle of gun control in America is not the NRA. It’s the wording of the second amendment,” Heffernan said.

photograph by Gerald Rich

In the political world, the opponents of the President Donald Trump are not as romantic as James Heffernan. However, some of them seem to be too idealistic. During the last Presidential campaign, the main rival of the current American President, Hillary Clinton, expressed herself as a defender of gun control. To fight the problems coming from gun violence, Hillary proposed a ban of the assault-weapons, the expand of background checks, a political challenge to gun lobbyists and to the NRA, and the amend of the legislation (not the constitution) to restrict all types of firearms from people suffering mental health issues.

All of these changes seem to be beneficial for the American society, but does it represent the American reality? According to The New York Times, there are more than 200 different assault weapons available for civilians in the gun market, and Heffernan claims there are more than 300 million guns in the whole American society. In addition, the conservative journalist Ramesh Ponnuru, believes that around 76% of the American population is against the ban in civilian ownership of firearms. As a consequence, all this data supports the idea that big changes in gun control should be introduced gradually and all states should be together as only one United States of America.

However, the American states are divided. During this last year, many people has been giving the example of Chicago as the example of the unfortunate ugly duck in the American family. For other words, apparently Chicago seems to be the only state to fight gun violence, but statistics show an opposed reality. According to the Chicago Police Department, the number of homicides increased radically from 485 in 2015 to 764 in 2016, making a lot of people question the Chicago’s gun policies. But for the CPD, their current gun laws are not the problem. The problem comes from the states surrounding Illinois, which don’t cooperate with gun control. States like the Indiana, that is well-known for not requiring background checks, representing 21% of the illegal firearms that were recovered by the CPD in 2016. According to the CPD’s Gun Trace Report, “Chicago is in many ways a microcosm of a national epidemic,” meaning that the problems relating to gun violence happening in Chicago are a reflection of a national issue. In addition, between 2011 and 2016, the CPD recovered more than 7,000 firearms per year, placing the city at the top of this ranking, in front of the other big cities like New York or Los Angeles. The report also concludes that in the totality of the firearms recovered, only 40% come from the state of Illinois. The other 60% of the firearms were taken from the surrounding states. “In order to be effective, (…) the call for national solutions must persist,” the report says.

True is, Chicago has not the toughest gun laws in the United States. According to data provided by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, California is the state with the most restrictive gun laws. Let's look at this example: While Illinois require waiting periods and a license to buy a firearm, California approaches it in a different way. In California, open carry is prohibited, background checks are required and even San Francisco is known by a particular law called safe storage law, which requires the gun owners to keep their guns in home in a locked storage.

When comparing California to Chicago, it’s known Chicago tried to make the difference by banning all the handguns in the city area, in 2008. But, they knew they were taking a step that was bigger than the reality of the constitutional law and they lost the ground. As a consequence, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Chicago’s ban on handguns as unconstitutional. According to The University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, the core problem of this city is the “violence concentrated largely in a moderate number of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods, carried out by teens and young adults in public places with illegally owned, and perhaps increasingly lethal, firearms.” The problem of Chicago, may be then a deeply problem related to education, antipoverty programs and violence, and not gun control.

No matter which side you, and I, assume; no one—in a normal state of mind—wants mass shootings to happen. This is already a point of agreement between the two political sides and both are needed against the cruelty made with firearms. It is necessary to change the American society in order to turn this a better place to live. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System has problems recognized by the FBI, and markets like the online gun market or the gun shows cause troubles, because they don’t require background checks. The majority of the American people wants to keep their Constitution, and the second amendment, however nobody wants to see firearms being used by sociopaths like the one who opened fire upon dozens of people in a church in Texas, killing 26.

People like the Senator Bernie Sanders, and his voice, are needed and should represent a rational solution for this problem. Like Sanders said, the U.S. “have millions of people who are gun owners — 99.9 percent of those people obey the law. I want to see real, serious debate and action on guns, but it is not going to take place if we simply have extreme positions on both sides.” Sanders is known as supporting the political left-wing, but he tends to look to the other side. It’s is important to assume a middle-ground, cooperate and tolerate different visions.

article re-edited on Feb. 16, 2018.


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated every Sunday.

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