It is definitely true that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But we also know that there are tools, such as military-grade guns, that enable a person, whatever the motivation, to kill a large number of people. Guns are a big part of the problem. Large numbers of people would not be killed in minutes without the killing power of these guns, such as the AR-15.
The Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, gives Americans an individual right to bear arms. And the Court is correct in noting an individual’s right to self-defense. The right to life, the most important of all human rights, implies a right to self-defense. However, do people need an AR-15 to defend themselves from a home invasion? Or to feel safe while driving late at night in thinly populated areas?
Americans have always owned guns and will always own guns. It is part of American culture and American history. However, when the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, there were no AK-47s and AR-15s. Not until a few years after the start of the American Civil War did gun technology go beyond the single-shot rifle musket. It is highly doubtful that the framers of the Constitution envisioned a right that puts such awesome killing machines in the hands of civilians.
We in the human rights community don’t want to take all guns from all people — it not realistic and it is not going to happen. We support the Constitution and the rights of millions of law-abiding Americans who are responsible gun owners. But gun rights, like all other rights are not absolute. No right is an absolute right. The First Amendment, for example, is not a license to defamation of others or to scream fire in a crowded theater. Similarly, the Second Amendment is not a license to own military grade weapons that can spread death and destruction in our schools in a matter of minutes. Let’s face it, these military-style machines are being unleashed on unarmed civilians who are supposedly in safe havens, such as schools. This is unconscionable — it should not be tolerated or be allowed to continue.
It is time that we revisit all laws and regulations governing guns issues at all levels — local, states and federal. We should have reasonable regulations that protect the Second Amendment as well as the right to life. The courts have consistently upheld reasonable restrictions on gun rights. The courts are not the problem. It is the politicians.
Gun violence is a public safety issue, public health issue and a political problem. We are overdue for bipartisan and collaborative efforts to render much-needed reforms that will enhance the safety and security of our nation. The most important human right is the right to life, and the government’s most important obligation is protecting the lives of the citizenry. All other rights are secondary.
No society can be 100 percent free from violence. Human beings are not perfect and will always think of ways to harm others. But, mass human violence is a human-caused disaster, and unlike with natural disasters, we can do a lot to prevent. Let’s hope well-meaning people can put nation over politics and good policies over good electoral politics.
Imad Hamad is executive director of the American Human Rights Council.