Monday, June 20, 2022

Rights, Responsibilities, and the Case for Repealing the Second Amendment


This year we have once again been shocked by the endless string of mass murders of innocent Americans, some of them elementary school children, at the hands of conscienceless killers armed with military-grade weapons. And once again we have been dumbfounded by the banal excuses of both the gun lobby and their purchased legislators, who refuse to even acknowledge the desires of the majority of Americans for tougher gun laws.

But it is not the Republican Party or the NRA that is our real problem. The root problem is the Second Amendment, a vague, overinterpreted, anachronistic remnant of a society that ceased to exist more than 100 years ago. If James Madison could have seen the atrocities committed in America today under the protection of the Second Amendment, he would have swiftly stricken it from the Bill of Rights. Or maybe he wouldn’t have, since he needed the support of the southern states, who insisted on a constitutional right that would keep their militias armed to suppress slave revolt and retrieve runaways.

But unfortunately, the amendment has embedded itself in our lives over the course of the past 231 years, has been misinterpreted, and has been used by profiteers and politicians to prevent sensible restraints on the ability of American citizens to slaughter each other and to end their own lives.

We are proud of our rights, our freedoms, in America, and particularly among Republicans “freedom” has become a meaningless cry to rile up the thoughtless masses. “They are going to take your freedom away!” “Your freedom is in danger!” “Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and can’t do!” Nonsense. Those who cry freedom when they really mean license do not understand what freedom is.

We have many rights in America, but rights do not exist in a vacuum. Every right comes with the responsibility to use it within reasonable bounds. If we ignore those bounds, if we behave irresponsibly, even if only a reckless minority, then we do not deserve the right, and that freedom should forfeit. Free speech is a right we recognize in America, but that does not mean we have the freedom to say anything we want to.

Many Americans have claimed the individual right to not wear a mask and not get vaccinated during a pandemic that has taken the lives of over a million of their fellow citizens. Misguided legislatures have passed laws prohibiting public health measures that would save thousands of lives. All these legislatures and most of these individualist citizens are so-called conservatives. But what are they conserving? Not life. Only license. Not civic virtue. Only civic disintegration. A republic cannot endure if its citizens do not understand and practice civic virtue, the willingness to sacrifice personal convenience or even freedom for the public good.

This is also why it is the Republican Party, alone in all the world, that sees the right to own any type of gun without any reasonable legal restriction as a “sacred” right that cannot be curtailed in any way for any greater good. The freedom to own a gun is more sacred to the Republican Party than the right to life itself. This is how twisted the GOP has become.

And this is why the Second Amendment should be repealed. It is a right that has been abused to such a horrific extent that we as a people cannot justifiably claim it anymore. Yes, many responsible gunowners will be penalized, but that is what happens when we as a people cannot rein in an irresponsible minority. It is similar to our right to board a plane without being carefully screened, including with invasive x-rays. A few irresponsible individuals, who have caused immense suffering, have taken this right from the rest of us. Why? Because the safety of the many is more important. And we have long ago reached this point with guns. We no longer deserve the right, because a small minority have abused it so grotesquely.

This year alone, we have had 278 mass shootings. In less than half a year (January 1 through June 20), 20,523 Americans have lost their lives to guns9237 to murder or accidental shootings, 11,286 to suicide. Among children ages 011, 165 have been killed and 344 injured. Among youth ages 1217, 615 have been killed and 1,610 injured.1 This happens only in America. And it happens only because of the completely obsolete and anachronistic Second Amendment that prevents us from passing sensible laws that keep other countries much safer than we can even imagine.

If we look at firearm homicides per 100,000 population, the United States has 4.12. Among high-income countries with more than 10 million population, second place goes to Chile with a distant 1.82. Third place is Canada, with only 0.5 deaths per 100,000, followed by Portugal (0.4), Italy (0.35), Greece (0.35), Belgium (0.34), France (0.32), Sweden (0.25), Netherlands (0.23), Australia (0.18), Saudi Arabia (0.17), Czechia (0.15), Spain (0.13), Taiwan (0.11), German (0.08), Poland (0.08), United Kingdom (0.04), Korea (0.02), and Japan (0.02).2 The other countries also deal with mental illness; they have access to violent video games. Most excuses trotted out by Republicans are present in these other countries. The primary difference is the availability of guns. And when it comes to mass shootings in public venues, the primary difference is the availability of military-grade weapons.

It is time to retire the cause of our American exceptionalism, the Second Amendment. It was misbegotten in the first place and is exacting a terrible toll today.


1. See

2. See “On Gun Violence, the United States Is an Outlier,” May 31, 2022,