Among modern states, the U.S. has the longest democratic tradition. Most democratic norms, freedoms, and rules of the functioning of political institutions have been enshrined by the U.S. Constitution adopted in 1787. However, this continuity has not only positive consequences. The creators of the Constitution could not have foreseen how the situation in the domestic and foreign policy would change within centuries; that is, why many provisions of the Constitution need to be adapted to todays realities, as without such an adaptation, a lot of problems can arise. In this case, the traditional legitimacy of these provisions could be a serious obstacle in trying to reform them in accordance with the changed situation. One of the examples is the right to own weapons, the debate around which in the USA was renewed after the mass shooting in Arizona in January 2011, during which U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was heavily wounded. The right to own weapons is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the Second Amendment that states: As a duly organized Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be limited. To understand the amendment and the controversy surrounding it in the United States, first it is necessary to recall the historical conditions under which the amendment was adopted.

 

The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution

It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that the right to gun ownership was initially associated with the activities of militia. The militia consisted of adult males who, if necessary, could defend their colony and later the U.S. state, using guns they possessed. After the country became independent, the existence of the militia in every state was one of the key attributes of the original state system of the United States. A national army was absent, security was maintained by the militia in every States; thus, the states emphasized their independence complaining about a weak general federal government. The weakness of the federal government created a lot of problems, so in 1787, the convention was convened to develop a constitution and strengthen the central government and solve these problems. To adopt the Constitution, it was necessary to work out a number of amendments to protect individual rights, which would guarantee the prevention of possible power usurpation. Thus, the Second Amendment not only guarantees that any U.S. citizen can own a gun to defend the country from external threats, but it also states that the same gun can be used to protect the freedom of the country if the government tries to destroy the democratic regime in the U.S. This inner political aspect of the history of the Second Amendment gives it a special significance and explains the difficulties faced by todays opponents of the free gun ownership in the U.S. (Blocher).

During the existence of the U.S. Constitution, courts, including the Supreme Court, have considered numerous cases related to the effect of the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the right protected by the Second Amendment is individual, that is, all citizens of the United States, with few exceptions (former criminals, mentally ill citizens, and so on), have this right.

In the twentieth century, the nature of the debate surrounding the Second Amendment has changed. The main controversy unfolded over the meaning that this amendment has to public safety and order. Opponents of free gun ownership indicate that as a result of the Second Amendment, criminals get more access to guns and, therefore, become more dangerous. On Proponents argue that the Second Amendment gives every citizen the opportunity to arm themselves against criminals and acts as a deterrent to potential offenders, fearing armed resistance on the part of potential victims. This discussion became particularly intense in the second half of the seventies - early nineties of the twentieth century, when the increasing crime rates served as evidence in support of the positions of both supporters and opponents of the Second Amendment.

Gun ownership right and public safety in the U.S.

Today, it is obvious that ignoring numerous problems caused by the availability of weapons in the U.S. can be explained by the fact that American politicians do not have solutions to these problems.

What are the problems? According to estimates of the NGO Brady Campaign to prevent violence caused by weapons, only in 2007 due to the use of weapons 31,224 people died, of whom 12,632 were killed, 17,352 committed suicide, 613 people were killed in accidents, 351 were killed due to the actions of the police, and 276 for other reasons. Also, that year, 66,678 people were injured due to the use of guns, of whom 44,466 people were attacked with firearms, 3,013 people tried to commit suicide, 18,610 people were injured in accidents, and 679 were injured due to the actions of the police. Nearly twenty thousand people from this number of the dead and injured had not reached the age of 20 (Miller and Hemenway).

Supporters of the Second Amendment do not regard these figures as an argument against the right to own weapons, stating that it is impossible to calculate how many of these cases can be explained by the general availability of weapons in the U.S.; on the contrary, they show that the crime situation in many parts of the country forces the Americans to acquire weapons. It should be noted that the gun is the most common means of suicide in the U.S., and in 2012, the total number of suicides amounted to 34,598.

Meanwhile, from year to year, in the United States another problem associated with the freedom of gun ownership is becoming increasingly evident. The number of victims of mass shootings when some mentally ill criminals open fire at random people in crowded places is growing steadily. Mass shootings indicate the extreme danger of the freedom of gun ownership to public safety. U.S. security agencies are faced with the need to solve a complex problem: As a result of the Second Amendment, at any time, in any place, any citizen can open fire at other people. It comes as no surprise that U.S. law enforcement agencies cannot cope with such a huge task of ensuring security. The police can hardly prevent such mass shootings as long as the freedom of gun ownership exists.

Today, there are not any statistics of mass shootings in the U.S. If we analyze some particular high-profile cases, which were detailed by the U.S. media, it is possible to highlight some common features of perpetrators of these crimes. Typically, these attackers have serious mental problems and make the object of their crimes the institution which has become the personification of their life challenges. In recent years, common places of mass shootings have been educational institutions, drug addiction testing center, unemployed immigrants help centers, that is, objects of social infrastructure, often engaged in work only with categories of citizens having problems in their relationships with society and the state.

Tragedy in Arizona

The mass shooting in Arizona in January, 2011 was typical in many ways. On January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire during a meeting of U.S. Congress deputy Gabrielle Giffords with voters in Tucson supermarket. Six people, including a judge of the District Court, were killed, fourteen were wounded, and Giffords was among them.

First, it should be noted that Loughner experienced serious problems in social adaptation. Apparently, he abused alcohol and drugs, and his personal problems had led to the development of mental illness. He was expelled from school, was constantly discharged from work; his friends, relatives, and colleagues noted difficulties in communicating with him. Loughner did not manage to enter the college and decided to join the army. Despite the obvious mental problems and negative results of the examination by army recruits, Loughner managed to get not only a gun, but also a cartridge for the gun, which led to such a great number of victims of his crime. In the case of Loughner, experts say that the organizer of the January shooting in Arizona needed compulsory psychiatric treatment, which is almost not applied in the U.S. now, since it is believed to violate human rights (Jain). However, whatever were Loughners state and possible motives behind his crime, it is obvious that if the attacker had had no means to carry it out, the shooting would not have happened. In this case, it is not about the existence of the right to own weapons in the United States; rather, a lot of questions arise concerning the exercise of this right.

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First, even the most ardent supporters of the Second Amendment would agree that there should be some limit to the categories of those whom it concerns; for example, it is clear that children, prisoners, and mentally ill people should not be given this right.

Second, even if we do not doubt the freedom of gun ownership, the question is what weapon Americans may possess. Arizona is known as one of the states with liberal laws concerning arms trafficking. For Loughner, it was not difficult to get an advanced cartridge clip in Arizona, which led to more victims of his crime; instead of standard clips containing 17 cartridges, he used one with 33 cartridges.

It is clear that the right to gun ownership should be subject to reasonable restrictions to ensure that it does not compromise the protection of other rights, above all, the rights to to life and security. The U.S. lawmakers at all levels face a difficult task to find a balance between the rights provided in the Second Amendment and the protection of public safety and order.

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