Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Yesterday, the US Senate voted on debating gun safety legislation – a remarkable step as it is the first time in two decades that the landmark bill has reached the Senate floor despite Republican opposition.
Following the tragic Newtown massacre in December last year, there has been increasing pressure on Congress to reform gun laws, with proposals to expand background checks and toughen laws against gun trafficking. Under current legislation, the individual’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense is fully recognized and protected under the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The fact that it is so easy for people to get hold of firearms, as long as they don’t have a criminal background, is indeed a matter of public concern. Given the high-profile shootings that have taken place in recent years, the need to revise the laws has become more crucial than ever before.
Those opposed to gun law reform, however, point out that whilst collective security is a “basic right”, the new legislation will infringe on the rights of those individuals who already abide by the law. It is important to highlight that the new legislation will introduce background checks to ALL sales, which includes private sales as well. Furthermore, opponents argue that having lots of guns doesn’t necessarily mean that more shootings will take place; in other words, restricting gun ownership will not necessarily reduce gun violence for it is all about “intention”.
Although these arguments carry some force, it is also true that if gun ownership is not properly controlled and regulated, the risk of gun violence will increase as well. Nonetheless, restricting ownership is not the only answer to the problem. As well as strengthening existing systems for background checks, it is vital to ensure that schools are provided with sufficient resources to educate children on gun violence, and that there is improved access to mental health services.
It remains to be seen what will emerge from Congress in the coming weeks. Some states have already passed stricter laws including Colorado and Connecticut; however, reforming law at the federal level will be the biggest challenge for the Obama administration. Perhaps an even bigger challenge would be to strike the correct balance between the collective right to security and the individual right to protect oneself under the Second Amendment.