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Frankfurter Rundschau, Germany

No Constitutional Right
to Assault Rifle Ownership

By Daniel Haufler

Translated By Ron Argentati

17 December 2012

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Germany - Frankfurter Rundschau - Original Article (German)

Resistance to stricter gun control laws is especially absurd when one considers how severely civil rights in the United States have been curtailed in the name of anti-terrorism.

How long does President Obama want to wait before he goes to bat for stricter gun control laws? There have been 14 cases of shooters running amok on mass murder sprees during his administration alone. There have been seven just this year, in which 67 people were killed and 73 wounded, some severely. These brutal acts impress the media and the public because of their huge scale but they represent a mere fraction of the carnage caused by firearms. The latest statistics from the University of Pennsylvania's Firearm and Injury Center at Penn show that between 2003 and 2010, 247,131 people were killed by firearms and nearly 400,000 were wounded in the same period in the United States.

You are 40 times more likely to be fatally shot in the United States than you are in Germany. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy lamented, “We are unfortunately a violent society," on CNN's State of the Union television program last Sunday.

Obama is well aware of that fact. As a social worker in Chicago, Illinois — the state with the nation's highest murder rate — and subsequently as a young congressman in the Illinois House, Obama always had an active part in pushing for stricter gun control laws. He held that view as a presidential candidate in 2008. He was so convincing that immediately before and after his election victory, gun fans in the U.S. purchased more firearms and ammunition than ever because they feared Obama would later outlaw them or at least make them harder to buy.

Does He Dare?

All that was completely unnecessary. In his first term, Obama did nothing whatsoever to restrict gun ownership. Worse yet, he signed bills that permitted the carrying of firearms in national forests and on AMTRAK trains. He never protested when several states made guns easier to buy and carry around in public. Concerned that the powerful gun lobby could make his reelection difficult, Obama and the Democratic Party avoided the conflict, preferring to give emotional eulogies as the nation's father figure.

It was in this sense that Obama repeated what he had said after the Newtown shootings: “As a country, we have been through this too many times... and we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” But what does he mean by that? Does it mean he intends to strengthen controls on guns now that he no longer has to campaign for reelection? Does he intend to push for a complete ban on semi-automatic assault rifles, which he described as better suited to the battlefield than to America's streets in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shootings? That would be a significant step. The mass murderer in Newtown also used an assault rifle to kill 20 children in a matter of seconds.

It is certain that stricter gun control laws will do as little to eliminate violent incidents as lower speed limits do to eliminate traffic deaths. But there would be far fewer such incidents than in years past. Australia is a good example of this: After a shooting massacre that killed 35 people in 1996, the government curtailed rights to gun ownership and instituted a weapons buy-back program that resulted in removing thousands of handguns from Australian streets. The result: Where there were 13 shooting massacres in the 18 years prior to the policy change, there has been only one incident since then. Plus, the number of homicides by gun has decreased by some 40 percent.

The Absurd Right to Own Guns

Republicans and the gun lobby prohibit meaningful gun reforms with the argument that the Constitution guarantees citizens access to them via the Second Amendment. Oh, really? In 1791, did the founding fathers have in mind the right to keep an assault rifle in a suburban home at a time when the nation was little more than a jumble of chaotic states with enemies on every border?

Probably not, although the Supreme Court sees the matter differently and justified gun ownership in 2010, using the same usual references to the Constitution. That decision and the Republican belief in it are absurd if one considers how severely rights have been restricted in America, whether they be speed limits on highways, video surveillance — including audio eavesdropping — in public places or telephone tapping on the flimsiest evidence of terrorist activity. Why should the rights of gun owners be exempted from similar restrictions? Such regulation might not make Americans any less violent, but it would certainly cut down on the number of deaths.



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