Part 2 Institutional Reasons for the Proliferation of Guns in the United States
Although gun violence is a serious threat to the lives of the US people, the United States has been unable to solve this problem in all these years. Gun violence has become a long-lasting problem in the country due to various reasons that are directly related to the country's special social and political systems.
1. The rigid constitutional provisions of the United States have made it impossible to achieve a comprehensive ban on guns. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution reads in the following manner: "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." This constitutional amendment was enacted in 1791. Back then, it reflected the aspirations of US people, who had just gained independence from Britain through the War of Independence, and to some extent, met their actual needs. It is precisely because most people in the 13 states of North America owned guns that they were able to launch a military campaign against the British colonial rule, establish the Continental Army mainly consisting of militia, and eventually win independence. This special historical experience has led the people in the United States to believe that gun ownership is a vital right. This provision has had a major impact on the country's politics. There are 44 states in the United States that have protected the citizens' right to bear arms in their constitutions.
Nevertheless, given the increasing power of guns and the increase in population density caused by urbanization, the negative effects of privately-owned guns are becoming increasingly apparent. It is widely acknowledged by different countries in the world that privately owned guns are not conducive to public safety. The proliferation of guns in private hands is directly related to gun violence and may cause a large number of casualties and an increase in violent crime. Given this, most countries have strict control over privately owned guns. The right to hold guns under the US Constitution clearly does not accord with the needs of modern society. In fact, many years ago, the US society recognized the negative impact of privately-owned guns and the danger of gun proliferation, and discussed the possibility of banning privately owned guns by amending the Constitution. Unfortunately, it is an incredibly difficult, complicated, and time-consuming task to amend the Constitution of the United States. Given the strong gun culture, a large number of gun holders, and powerful interest groups that support privately owned guns in the United States, the attempt to ban privately owned guns by amending the US Constitution has little chance of success.
Another possible way to achieve a constitutional ban on privately owned guns is by asking the US Supreme Court to reinterpret the relevant constitutional provisions. In the history of the United States, the US Supreme Court has reinterpreted many constitutional provisions to make them meet the requirements of the times. There are always two different interpretations of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in US society. One interpretation holds that the Second Amendment protects the individual rights of citizens. The other believes that it protects the collective rights of the states because the word "Militia" in the article is a militant collective. In previous debates on guns, the liberals took the collective rights theory as the theoretical basis for gun control, and hoped that the US Supreme Court would accept this interpretation to control the proliferation of guns. Unfortunately, in June 2008, the US Supreme Court's ruling on the Heller case completely destroyed the liberals' hopes. In this ruling, the US Supreme Court held that the possession and carrying of firearms is a "natural" human right, that individual citizens have the right to own and use firearms, and that it is unconstitutional for local governments to establish gun control laws. In June 2010, the US Supreme Court further ruled that the provisions of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution concerning the freedom of individual possession of guns also apply to state and local laws, thereby extending the individual right of possessing guns throughout the United States. These two rulings of the US Supreme Court completely eliminated the possibility of banning privately owned guns through adopting a different interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions.
2. The drawbacks of US party politics have hindered gun control efforts. As there is no hope of banning privately owned guns, the United States can only find ways to control firearms, that is, to restrict how guns are purchased, registered, and managed. Nonetheless, the implementation of such a limited number of constraints on privately owned guns has met with many obstacles. In recent decades, the phenomenon of "polarization" in US politics has become increasingly apparent, and the opposition between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party has intensified. Core voters of the two parties hold completely opposing perspectives on gun control. The Democratic Party supports gun control and advocates a stricter gun control policy, while the Republican Party opposes gun control. Gun control has become one of the major topics in the presidential and congressional elections, and a candidate's attitude on this issue has become an important factor in determining the success or failure of his or her election campaign. During the Clinton administration, the US Congress passed the "Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB)", which explicitly prohibited the sales of 19 highly aggressive semi-automatic firearms and more than 10 bullet clips in the private sector, and made some progress on the issue of gun control. During the Obama administration, given the high incidence of shooting violence in the United States and frequent school shootings, the Senate Democrats proposed a gun control amendment, which would require that the background checks on gun buyers include buyers at gun shows and online. Despite that this amendment was supported by 90 percent of US citizens, it was rejected by the Senate in 2013. As its gun control bills were repeatedly killed off by Congress, in January 2016, the Obama administration began to bypass Congress and tried to control firearms by issuing administrative orders, which stipulated that mental patients should be prohibited from holding guns, required gun dealers to hold certificates, and strengthened the background checks on gun buyers. Later, when the Republican government took office, these weak gun control measures of the Obama administration could not be maintained.
Given the election politics in the United States and the fact that strict gun control policies are not conducive to maximizing Democratic votes, the Democratic Party has gradually softened up its attitude on gun control in recent years. During the Clinton administration, the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate and House of Representatives in the mid-term elections in 1994. The main reason the Democratic Party lost such a large amount of votes and funds was that the Clinton administration insisted on passing two gun control bills. Gore, a Democratic candidate for president, was thought of as a protestor to the possession of privately-owned guns, since he had voted for a gun control bill when serving as the president of the Senate and the vice president of the United States. This was one of the major reasons for his failure in the presidential election. The Democratic Party has learned its lessons, and thus its opinion on gun control has begun to waver. It dares not explicitly support gun control because radical gun control policies will make it lose a large number of votes. It is also less willing to oppose gun control because it will make them lose the support of its traditional voters. Its attitude on the issue of firearms has begun to become somewhat vague. To win more votes and political contributions, some Democratic politicians who run for office do not even dare to demand strict gun control, not to mention a comprehensive ban on privately owned guns.
The Republican Party always supports the possession of privately-owned guns and opposes strict control over firearms. Given this, Republican administrations usually loosen control over privately owned guns. For example, during the Reagan administration, Congress passed the Firearm Owners' Protection Act in 1986, which drastically relaxed restrictions on gun sellers and buyers, and stipulated that the inspection on firearms by the federal government is to be carried out once a year. This Act significantly strengthened gun rights in the United States and was a serious retrogression in the cause of pursuing proper gun control in the United States. During the Bush administration, when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was about to run out its 10-year term, Congress refused to review the AWB and let it expire automatically.
The current Republican administration still supports private gun ownership. In February 2017, the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives abolished an administrative order issued by the Obama administration, which prohibited patients with certain serious mental illness from buying guns, and required mentally ill patients' medical insurers to submit relevant identification information to the FBI for approval of these patients' gun purchases. In April 2018, US Vice President Pence attended the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) and said in a speech, "The president and I both have a clear conscience to support the Second Amendment. The current administration will not violate the people's right to own and carry weapons." Because of deadly school shooting incidents, in March 2018, the Florida Senate passed a bill that allowed teachers to carry guns in schools. Subsequently, the US federal government also proposed a similar plan to prevent the occurrence of school shootings by arming school staff. Given the Republican Party's consistent opposition to gun control, there is a reason to believe that the United States will further relax its gun management in the future. The prospects for the United States to solve the problem of gun proliferation are very slim. The incidents of gun violence and shooting casualties may continue to increase.
The Republican Party's support for gun rights not only affects Congressional legislation, but also affects the Supreme Court's rulings. In 2010, the US Supreme Court, dominated by Republican supporters, ruled on the McDonald's case, arguing that US citizens in all states and cities can own guns as this is their constitutional right. That means the right to hold guns applies nationwide. Since that ruling went into effect, gun control in the United States has been significantly loosened, and about half of the states in the United States have amended their original laws to allow gun owners to openly carry guns in most public places. With the official implementation of Illinois's Firearm Concealed Carry Act (FCCA) on January 5, 2014, the possession and carrying of concealed firearms became legal in all 50 states of the United States. The FCCA stipulates that people who have obtained concealed weapon licenses can carry concealed guns anywhere, except in public places, such as government buildings, schools, hospitals, and buses. This means that there will be more guns on the streets. More than 20 airports, including those in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, allow gun owners to carry guns to the security checkpoint. At schools in northern Texas, teachers are allowed to carry guns in schools. Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia allow pistols with ammunition to be carried in bars. There are another 18 states that allow weapons to be carried in restaurants that offer alcohol.