Russian Institute for Strategic Studies expert, Igor Pshenichnikov, on how mass shootings in the United States are related to the U.S. Constitution
Mass shootings in the United States again. Three in just one weekend. In a mall in El Paso, Texas, 21-year-old, white American Patrick Crusius shot the shoppers with an automatic weapon. Twenty were killed, and 26 were injured. Then, in Dayton, Ohio, an unnamed attacker killed nine people in a bar before being killed by police. Then, in Chicago, someone opened fire from a car at a playground, injuring seven people.
No matter how cynical it may sound, the whole world and, apparently, Americans themselves, are used to such crimes, which have frankly become one of the calling cards of the United States and an integral part of American democracy.
Of these three cases, only one, in El Paso, had a “political” motive. Prior to the attack, Patrick Crusius published a manifesto stating that he had gone on his shooting spree out of dislike for Mexican immigrants. The fact is that the shopping center in which he opened fire is located near the U.S.-Mexican border. The shootings in Dayton and Chicago seem like trivial banditry.
Everything that happened in Dayton, El Paso and Chicago is just new links in the same chain in existence for decades. They revive the memories of October 2017, when a lone gunman shot concertgoers at a music festival with a machine gun in Las Vegas, killing more than 50 and injuring more than 400.
All of this is the flip side to the right to bear arms, which, without exaggeration, is almost at the core of the United States itself. Shootings involving automatic weapons happen in the country all the time – in schools, in shops, at entertainment events and on the street – but the vast majority of citizens don’t question the need to personally own them. Innocent people and even children die; and Americans still consider the right to keep and bear weapons almost sacred.
This right is recorded in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified on December 15, 1791, along with nine other fundamental amendments (on freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly, the right to a proper trial, the guarantee of private property, etc.), collectively called the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment – the entire text – undoubtedly defined the face of the United States for many years to come, right up to the present.
Meanwhile, discussion in the United States about the interpretation of the Second Amendment is constant and will certainly continue to be – not least, because of its regular, tragic consequences.
The text of the amendment reads, “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.” There are differences in interpretation: only those involved in military service in a militia have the right to possess weapons (in the text of the amendment, it is called a “well regulated militia”), or all citizens have the right to possess these weapons, even if they have no connection to military service.
And only in 2008, more than 200 years after the adoption of the Constitution and its amendments, the U.S. Supreme Court dotted all the “i’s:” The District of Columbia v. Heller verdict was issued, ruling that the Second Amendment protects the right of citizens to own weapons, regardless of service, and gives them the right to use weapons for self-defense in their own homes.
There’s every reason to believe that such a decision could be made only in a society that’s mindset of a conscious need for every citizen to have the right and opportunity to defend himself, with arms in his own hands and without state involvement.
As a result, Americans are the most armed people in the world. According to various sources, more than 270 million legal firearms are in the hands of the U.S. population, almost 90 guns per 100 people. According to Gun Owners of America, 2.5 million Americans use weapons for self-defense annually – 6,850 times per day! In less than 8% of cases, this leads to the death or injury of the attacker. At the same time, ordinary citizens kill twice as many criminals as do police. But innocent people die by mistake in only 2% of cases, a figure lower than that of the police.
So is the right to own weapons good or bad? A moot point. In America, that’s how it looks. And citizens of other countries, where once in a while there’s a discussion on the topic of allowing or disallowing them, can look at the United States and weigh the pros and cons. What’s more important? The right to snatch a Colt or an assault rifle and put a bullet in an assailant, without asking his name, or the cost of this right – as in Dayton, El Paso, Chicago and a host of other places, all these years since the writing of the Constitution?
Despite the fact that this cost – the price – is in hundreds, if not thousands, of lives of innocent people.
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