Infringement or Necessity? The Balancing Act of the Second Amendment Gun Ownership Rights

June 30, 2022

Legal knowledge

Author: Kylee Golden

A mass shooting is an incident in which four or more people were shot or killed, excluding the shooter. As of May 31, there were 230 mass shootings in the United States in 2022. This topic has been especially discussed in the media recently after the Uvalde Elementary School shooting where 19 students and 2 teachers were fatally shot by an 18-year-old who legally bought AR rifles just days before the shooting. While this is universally devastating to everyone, it struck me in a very deep place as I am the daughter of a teacher and the sister of a 16-year-old boy. Both of whom should be able to go to school without the fear of being murdered in a building as sacred as the one where education and knowledge are being shared with our children. However, the school is not the only place where these mass shootings happen. It is schools, hospitals, grocery stores, movie theaters, concerts, churches, malls, and subways, and the list continues to grow. 

As a child, I was brought up in a home where guns were a staple part of my life and I learned gun safety at a young age. I knew that guns were not toys and should always be locked away when at home. I owe the way that I was raised to why I do not fear guns but rather respect them. That being said, I also acknowledge that there are many Americans who were not raised in a home where guns were a part of their lives. In my opinion, our country is so divided on this topic because of this difference. It can be difficult to understand the other side’s perspective when we all come from different homes and experiences. I personally believe that something needs to be done in our country to protect the lives of everyone. America should be a place where no one is scared for their life doing their day-to-day tasks. 

Formation-Where did it come from?

The right to bear arms is part of the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights which was ratified by the United States Congress in 1791. Per the Second Amendment:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

The “militia” was a term used for groups of men who worked together to protect their communities, towns, colonies, and then states. Opponents of a strong federal government were concerned at the time that a federal army would not allow states to defend themselves so they were passionate about ensuring their right to bear arms would be upheld. 

James Madison proposed the Second Amendment as a way to empower the militias after the Constitution was created. The point of the Right to Bear Arms was to establish the idea that the government could not disarm students which was a universal desire at the time. The issue is that over the years, many people look at the Second Amendment and interpret it as meaning different things. Many have looked to the Supreme Court for an answer because there are different understandings and interpretations of the amendment. 

Important Supreme Court Cases-Timeline 

The Second Amendment was brought to the Supreme Court numerous times. United States v. Cruikshank was held in 1875 and was the first case that addressed the Right to Bear Arms which declared that the Second Amendment does not bar the state regulation of firearms. Then, roughly 65 years later, United States v. Miller became one of the most cited Supreme Court cases on the Second Amendment was decided and it was held that the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to protect the rights of states to form militias, not the rights of individuals to own guns and that the protections of the Second Amendment must be understood within the context of militia service. However, roughly 69 years after the Miller decision, District of Columbia v. Heller marked the first time that the Supreme Court gave a definite answer on whether the Second Amendment provides an individual the right to own and bear arms. The Court said that the individual’s right to bear arms was not unlimited which allowed federal regulation. Only two years after this decision, in Mcdonald v. Chicago, the Court found that the right to keep and bear arms extends to individuals in every state excluding those that have already been stated in Heller. Over time, the court has established what the Second Amendment really means but unfortunately, not everyone is going to agree with what nine Supreme Court justices decide.

Second Amendment Gun Ownership Rights

Proponents of Gun Control

The proponents of more gun control laws do not see the need for automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Assault weapons are capable of injuring and killing large groups of people at one time, that’s why many believe that making it more difficult to purchase them or getting rid of them, in general, could decrease the number of mass shootings in America. I think that it is important to recognize how much our country has changed since the amendment was first written. Therefore, I believe the interpretation, as well as the enforcement of the amendment, should change with it. 

Some proposed stricter gun control laws include raising the age for purchasing high-powered weapons that have been used in mass shootings. I personally do not understand why someone should be allowed to purchase a high-powered weapon in the United States before they can legally drink alcohol. Currently, only six states require someone to be at least 21 years old to buy rifles and shotguns. However, the issue that opponents have with this proposition is that if you raise the age to 21, the next step would be raising the age again and it could lead to a never-ending argument of how old is old enough. 

Opponents of Gun Control 

On the opposite side, many believe that stricter gun control is not the solution to the tragic mass shootings. One of the most common reasons is that gun control laws could potentially give too much power to the government which puts citizens more at risk of losing all guns over time. Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA) explained, “...if you look at why our Founding Fathers put the Second Amendment there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.” Similarly, opponents typically believe the phrase "right of the people" in the Second Amendment holds the same meaning as it does in the First Amendment which gives the rights to everyone. 

A U.S. Senator who has been vocal in his opposition to gun control and support of the NRA, Ted Cruz, proposed an alternative solution which is limiting schools to one single entrance across the state similar to federal buildings or courthouses. The issue that the other side has with this is that schools are not the only target for mass shootings and that it is a larger issue that requires a larger solution than what it is being made out to be. 

Unfortunately, we might not be able to agree on what the right solution should be right now but the one thing that we can collectively agree on is that everyone deserves to live their lives without the fear of being murdered on any given day.