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Of all the modern states, the USA has the longest democratic tradition. For many American citizens, the Bill of Rights is the most significant part of the U.S. Constitution. These ten amendments were adopted to protect citizens from tyranny. Like the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and religion, the Second Amendment, which proclaims the right of bearing arms, is at the center of heated debates.
The United States ranks first in the world in the number of firearms in the people’s hands and first in the number of armed violence. The number of people dying from bullets in the United States is 15 times higher than the level of casualties in other advanced countries.
During the past years, the world has experienced about 50 wars, during which about 6 million people were killed. The cycle of violence is generated by a particular culture that glorifies violence and war. Its result may be a continuation of violence in peacetime, which inevitably will only increase the number of deaths in the world. It should be noted that this means using fire and small arms, weapons that can be used by individuals. “The number of deaths associated with gun related activity reached almost 40,000 in 1992” (Kwon, Scott, Safranski & Bae, 1997, p. 41). Small arms have become a major problem for the international community and security in the world due to its excessive proliferation in all regions of the globe. The reason for this popularity is the following: small arms have a relatively low cost and a deadly effect, are convenient in traffic, can be used for a long period. The illegal trade of small arms is a big and profitable business. There are no taxes or duties. The threat of proliferation of weapons reinforces the fact that a large supply of weapons causes a steady decline in its price.
When the founding fathers of the United States added Bill of Rights to the Constitution, they wanted to protect citizens from potentially dangerous governments of the federal center and the states. In the early years of the United States, many Americans feared tyranny that could come from the army. Thus, they wanted to put the military under civilian control, allowing citizens to keep guns.
In the 20 century, the character of the debates about Second Amendment has changed: experts, public figures and politicians have less to discuss the role of this amendment in protecting the U.S. from external enemies and possible internal tyrants. The headscarf debate unfolded about the value of this amendment for public safety and order. “One side emphasizes the preamble to the Second Amendment, that it is about protecting a well-regulated militia, while the other side stresses the latter part of the Amendment concerning the right of individuals to keep and bear arms” (Chemerinsky, 2004, p. 479). The opponents of free weapons possession indicate that the effect of the Second Amendment is the fact that criminals get greater access to weapons and, therefore, become more dangerous. The supporters claim that the Second Amendment gives the opportunity for every citizen to arm against the perpetrators, as well as acts as a deterrent to potential offenders.
This discussion had reached its peak in the second half of the seventies – the early nineties of the 20 century, when a constant and a sharp rise in U.S. crimes, especially those related to the sale and use of drugs, and murder, became an argument for both supporters and opponents of the Second Amendment. However, in the mid-nineties, there was a decrease in crime throughout the U.S.
From 1994 to 2004, decennial federal ban on martial weapon acted in the United States. This law seriously restricted weapons that the Americans could buy. This restriction was concerned mostly automatic and semiautomatic weapons. It is important that the law was passed quickly enough, when the number of murders in the U.S. has reached unprecedented levels, and crime was declared main task at all levels.
However, when in 2004, the law expired, the number of crimes dropped significantly, and several attempts to extend the law have been unsuccessful. Most observers attribute the failure to limit the right to gun ownership in the U.S. with the activities of the U.S. National Rifle Association and other non-governmental organizations that have declared their aim of protecting the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
Currently, debates revolve around political aspects of the Second Amendment. The United States are currently experiencing a series of crises in different areas in the economic, fiscal, immigration and foreign policy. Therefore, weakening of attention to the issue of the Second Amendment is understandable. However, it is obvious that ignoring the problems, which are caused by the availability of weapons, is explained by the lack of solutions.
The issue of a permit to carry firearms is complex and controversial. Theoretically, it could improve the crime situation in the country. John R. Lott (2012) states, “the ban against non-police carrying guns usually rests on the false notion that almost anyone can suddenly go crazy and start misusing their weapon or that any crossfire with a killer would be worse than the crime itself” (p. 15). However, the number of victims of mass executions is constantly growing. As a rule, mentally ill criminals open fire at random victims in crowded places. Such mass shootings show the extreme danger of right to freedom of gun ownership to public safety, especially if it is used by inept, unhealthy or drunk people. U.S. security agencies are faced with the need to solve the complex problem: as a result of the Second Amendment, any citizen can open fire on others at any time in any place. Not surprisingly, the U.S. law enforcement agencies cannot cope with such a large task safety: police can hardly prevent such mass executions, as long as the right to freedom of gun ownership exists. Today, there is not even the central statistics of mass shootings in the United States.
Moreover, taking into account the influence of mass culture, the right to bear arms can enhance the illusion of impunity. People can begin to do justice relying on their own discretion. Moreover, the weapon is used mostly during conflicts rather than while protecting the health or property.
In many ways, a mass shooting in Arizona in January 2011 became typical argument of supporters of gun control. Jared Lee Lafner opened fire during a meeting of the deputy of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress Gabrielle Gifford with voters in a supermarket Tucson. Six people, including a judge of the District Court, died. Fourteen people, including Gifford, were wounded. First of all, it should be noted that Lafner experienced serious problems with the social adaptation. Apparently, alcohol, drug abuse and personal problems have led to the development of mental illness. He was expelled from school, dismissed from his work. Friends, family and colleagues have noted the difficulties in communicating with him. Lafner failed to go to college and join the army. Despite the obvious mental problems and the negative result of the survey of army recruits, Lafner managed to acquire not only a gun, but the holder of a large volume, which led to many victims of his crime.
Taking into account his mental state, it is extremely difficult to examine the cause of his attack on Gifford. Rather, the cause of crime can be seen in the absence of an organized system of affordable mental health care in America. In Lafner’s case, it can be said that the organizer of the January shooting in Arizona needed a forced psychiatric treatment, which is now almost not practiced, as it is believed that it violates human rights.
Whatever Lafner’s condition and possible causes of the crime were, it is obvious that if the attacker had no means to carry it out, the shooting would not have happened. At the same time, it does not deal with existence of the right to possession of a weapon. The questions arise about the exercise of this right. Firstly, even the most ardent supporters of the Second Amendment would agree that there should be some limit of the number of those, whom it addresses. It is clear that it is forbidden to arm children, prisoners and people with mental illness.
No region and no country in the world are immune to the devastating effects of the proliferation of firearms. The accumulation of weapons by itself does not cause a conflict. However, an easy access to arms encourages violence as a way of settling disputes, deepens and strengthens them, giving them a deadly character. According to Alexander C. Alvarez and Ronet D. Bachman (2007), “the availability of guns increases the likelihood that a violent interaction will result in death… Research indicates that when guns are used in a conflict or felony situation, the likelihood of someone being killed increases dramatically.” A weapon is a tool of murder.
If one lives in a big city and watches the news, one will not so acutely respond to reports of crimes. There are gang violence, revenge killings, robberies and shootings. Tragedy has become routine. Too many young people are killed on streets; too many people are rotting in prisons. Treyvon Benjamin Martin (born February 5, 1995, Miami, Florida – died February 26, 2012, Sanford, FL) was American black 17-year-old boy, whose murder in Florida in February 2012 attracted considerable public attention. According to Zorn (2013), “the simple story – cops yawn when burly white vigilante stalks and kills unarmed African-American child for the "crime" of walking while black — shocked the conscience of much of the nation a year ago and touched off an explosion of indignant demagoguery” (n.p.). Martin was killed by the local volunteer patrol George Zimmerman. A black teenager was suspected in strange behavior.
Zimmerman justified the necessity of self-defense shooting and was initially detained by police for murder because the laws of Florida provided broad rights of use of weapons in case of safety hazards. According to The Week Staff (2012), “a Florida state attorney releases a 284-page FBI report on the case, which says that Zimmerman "had a pattern of calling authorities about criminal activities and safety issues in the neighborhood.”
According to the testimony of Zimmerman, Treyvon Martin almost left him no choice. George Zimmerman’s court process becomes the most significant for two reasons: human rights’ activists have accused him of being racist and challenged the appropriateness of the law of Florida, which allows open fire if the person feels an immediate threat to his life.
On February 26, the remote control of Sanford, Florida, received a phone call. The speaker introduced himself as George Zimmerman, a member of the local volunteer militia for the protection order. He said that he had noticed in the apartment complex where he lived a suspicious young man, who was black. He was holding something in his hand, possibly a gun. Zimmerman said to the operator that he was going to follow his footsteps and asked to send police squad. Officer said that the attire was sent. Therefore, Zimmerman was not supposed to prosecute anyone. Just a few minutes after this conversation, the residents heard the cries for help, then a single shot. Policemen, who arrived on the scene, found a young black man in a sweatshirt with a hood lying in a pool of blood. Packing chocolates and a bottle of iced tea were lying next to him.
The young man introduced himself as George Zimmerman and told police that he, trying to defense, killed boy. According to Zimmerman, when he approached the boy and asked him what he was doing in the area, the teenager hit him, knocked off his feet and began to strike him in the face. Zimmerman said that he had thought that boy would kill him. Police escorted Zimmerman to the police station, took testimony, made a report, interviewed witnesses, who generally confirmed all that the gunman said, and let him go. The corpse of the teenager was sent to the local morgue, where his father had identified him.
At first, everything went in favor of George Zimmerman. His testimony was corroborated by witnesses, one of whom had also called 911 and said that he saw that some boy was beating a man in a red sweater. Taking to the account that a few residents of the area, in which the tragedy occurred, were attacked by black teenagers, the chief of the local police decided to close the case. Treyvon Martin was unarmed, but he behaved aggressively, and Zimmerman had right to defend himself. Florida is a state in which the law treats self-defense extremely well.
According to Stanford police, Zimmerman, acted within the law, protecting his life. The fact that the victim was unarmed was in this case irrelevant. However, the fact that he had no intention of causing harm for Zimmermann was not important too.
Treyvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton, did not agree with the opinion of the police. Parents have demanded an official investigation into the death of their son, and when the police in the town refused to do so, they launched a public campaign. According to the parents, everything was very simple: a racist killed their son, and racist police officers covered it. This attracted attention to the state of the liberal press, and then all of America to the history of the assassination of Martin Treyvon.
Murder of Treyvon Martin resumed controversies about racism, distribution of firearms, and police role in public life in American society. The tragedy, which brings thousands of people to the streets of American cities and forces leading politicians, including President Barack Obama, to make strong statements, was completely ignored by the politicians and the media at one time. On the evening of 26 February, when police in Sanford recorded a death of a 17-year-old Martin Treyvon, neither they nor the teen's parents could imagine that such Florida event – the death of a black youth as a result of a gunshot wound – would be an event of national and even global scale.
The main problem is not the fact that Zimmerman killed boy. Doug Bandow (2012) stated that justice should hold him responsible for killing Martin, who appeared to have been guilty of nothing other than being the wrong race and wrong age in the wrong place at the wrong time (p. 3).
This is not a unique case of injustice and death, caused by the misconception towards weapon possessing. Many victims are permanently disabled and require lifelong care. Unfortunately, legal weapon shoots occur more often than illegal ones.
The most awful example of using weapons by individuals is the tragedy in Newtown. On December 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, armed with rifle Bushmaster AR-15 and two pistols Glock and Sig Sauer, killed his own mother, 52-year-old Nancy Lanz, at home and then went to secondary school. After shooting the window, he got inside and opened fire. In minutes, the killer, who suffered from a mild form of autism, killed 20 children, most of whom were only six or seven years old, and six women. By the arrival of Special Forces and rescue services, maniac committed suicide by shooting in the head. The murderer's mother was an avid collector of weapons. She visited the shooting range with her sons. The tragedy in Newtown became the second largest number of victims in the U.S. history. More people died only at Virginia Polytechnic University in 2007, when a Korean student, Seung-Hui Cho, shot 32 people.
It is clear that the right to bear arms should be subjected to reasonable restrictions to ensure that it does not jeopardize the protection of other rights, especially to life and security. The U.S. lawmakers have task to find a balance between compliance to the Second Amendment and protection of public safety and order.
Already more than 120,000 Americans have signed a petition to the U.S. authorities with a demand to start a discussion about measures to restrict the free sale of weapons. The petition is posted on the White House website, and according to the rules of the U.S. administration must obtain at least 25,000 signatures to be considered by presidential staff. At an interfaith prayer service in memory of the innocent victims, the U.S. President Barack Obama promised to take action at the national level in order to ensure the safety of children. A ban on carrying weapons was mentioned in Obama's election program in 2008, but it was no longer rising during the presidential term.
In general, evaluating the situation in the United States with the implementation of the right to possession of a weapon, it can be argued that, on the one hand, the supporters of the Second Amendment have a significant number of arguments in favor of this law. However, on the other hand, as a result of the Second Amendment, the U.S. authorities at all levels are faced with the need to regulate complex issues. When they do not cope with the solution of this problem, it leads to the most negative consequences for law enforcement and public safety, often breaking undoubted universal right to life and personal security. This situation raises the desirability of maintaining the action of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution under serious doubt. At the same time, it seems unlikely that this amendment in the foreseeable future will be limited.
Thus, the main danger is that a weapon can be accessed by people who cannot relate to such a possession in a responsible manner, and this may lead to loss of life or serious injury. First of all, this threat deals with children and mentally unbalanced people, who can use weapons for other purposes. However, adults and balanced people, who have skills with weapons, cannot fulfill their responsibilities properly, which ultimately can lead to undesirable consequences. According to Smith (2002):
Gun control measure consists of policies designed to make guns safer and less accessible to unauthorized users such as children. These measures include establishing federal consumer product safety standards for guns, requiring that guns be childproof, and requiring gun owners to store their guns safely (that is, locked and unloaded). (p. 156)
The terrorist attacks have become commonplace for the U.S. The killing two people in a shopping center in Oregon or the death of the six parishes in the church of Wisconsin should be remembered. Similar trends cannot remain indifferent politicians. Several U.S. senators put up a new bill that would allow limitation of free weapon market for consideration. The authorities are obliged to prohibit the free sale of firearms.
Limiting the spread of firearms is one of the most necessary tasks aimed at preventing conflicts in the modern world. There is a need to strengthen the control over the circulation of firearms, including the measurements that are carried out to identify the violations of the storage, using, or carrying the weapons. A special attention should be paid to the owners who abuse alcohol and drugs, disturb public order, i.e. commit crimes, domestic violence and conflict with neighbors. The weapon for untrained people is not only a defender, but also a threat. Therefore, the gun control will prevent uncontrolled outbreaks of violence and become one of the main social indicators of the safety, comfort and security of citizens.