Guns and Democracy
You can find an easy version of this text here: Guns and Democracy – Text in Brief
To many Europeans it is a mystery that the Americans don't change their weapon legislation when so many people are killed by hand guns every day. Why don't they see this obvious connection and restrict the easy access to guns?
"We, the people" are the first words of the American Constitution. Democratic ideals are the cornerstone of all American institutions; and they claim to have the best democracy in the world. The strong belief in the individual rights of the people has in many ways become the founding principle of what they proudly call "the land of the free and home of the brave". The role of the Government is only to secure that these rights are guaranteed for the people.
When the Americans fought against the English in the Revolution, they had no organized army. They fought the English mainly by resistance and sabotage like a militia does to overthrow an occupying enemy. This is why the individual right to carry arms became an important principle and was included in the Constitution. The 2nd Amendment, which was ratified in 1791, states: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right for the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
Throughout history, this constitutional right has been criticized by some, but cherished and practiced by most Americans. Many will claim that, "that is how the West was won", and it is probably true that "The Manifest Destiny" (the 19th century belief that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent) never would have become a reality without hand guns and weapons. However, it was also referred to as the "Wild West", where power meant a fast gun. It is impossible to imagine the sheriff and his deputy fighting outlaws and armed criminals without hand guns.
The Situation Today
Today the issue is debated in the USA, but not to the extent that might be expected, at least from a European point of view. Many Americans would like to see stricter control of the sale of hand guns, but their opponents are many and they are strong. In the front line is The NRA (National Rifle Association). They claim that "Guns don't kill, - people do", and they make a point of the fact that more people are killed in car accidents than by firearms, but cars have not been banned for that reason. People should have a fair chance to defend themselves against armed criminals, they say. The Republican Party state that, they "will defend the constitutional right to keep and bear arms" and that they "oppose federal licensing of law-abiding gun owners and national gun registration".
The statistical facts show that more and more people are killed by handguns in the USA, and more and more frequently the victim has no connection with the killer. Many of the victims are school children; every other hour an American child is killed by a handgun. To buy a gun in the USA you only need the money to pay for it and an ID, and you must not have a criminal record, but the illegal market makes it possible for nearly anyone to get hold of a gun quite easily.
So, why don't responsible politicians who see the connection between all the killings and the many hand guns on the loose take action? It is fairly obvious that a desperate person will solve his predicament violently if a gun is already at hand. But the American democratic tradition does not open up for such regulations or infringement of the individual freedom of the people. As long as the majority of the American people don't see this connection, the politicians have no choice but to secure the rights of the people, also when it includes the right to carry arms.
Tasks and Activities
- Mention some consequences of the Americans' strong belief in individualism.
- What is "an amendment"?
- Why don't the Americans change their weapon legislation when so many people are killed by hand guns?
- Individual rights and opportunities are important American values. There is no tradition for a collective national responsibility. An example is their health care system, another is their weapon legislation.
- An amendment is an improvement or addition. The term is mostly used in legal vocabulary, when a law is changed.
- As long as the people seemingly want to keep the weapons for protection, the politicians must follow the will of the people.
Listening: Teen Boys about Guns for Protection
Ian and Sam about Guns for protection
The American Constitution (2nd Amendment 1791) gives everyone the right to carry arms for protection. This right is fronted by The National Rifle Association whose slogan is that “Guns don’t kill – people do”. But sadly the easy access to handguns also ranks the USA as a violent society, where people are shot and killed every day. Listen to Ian and Sam, two American teenagers, discussing the issue.
- What is meant by “residential settings”, and why is it mentioned here?
- Why, according to Ian is the weapon legislation problematic?
- Why do they talk about “different parts of America”?
- Can anyone buy a gun, or are there any regulations and restrictions?
- Find crime statistics on this site and discuss some of the developments in crime rates.
- Compare these sites. What are their main objectives? Which do you find most trustworthy?
- Do you think it is important to check who is behind a certain web site? Why is it important to know who says something? Can't we just accept what is actually stated on the site?
- What are, in your opinion, the main causes of crime? Is society to blame, the individual or is it a mix of both. Have a class debate and finish off with a class poll.
- Study the picture linked below. What does it suggest? Is this clever manipulation or just stupid?