As the United States grapples with the turmoil and despair sparked by last week’s Las Vegas shooting in which 59 were murdered, a fundamental debate is re-emerging. The question of the Second Amendment, the controversial yet deeply entrenched individual right to bear arms, has re-appeared with a vengeance.
Whilst President Trump was quick to denounce the horrific act as “an act of pure evil”, a lack of concurrence regarding gun ownership has left many hoping for change. Year after year, tragedy after tragedy, the elephant in the room continues to be ignored.
From a basic standpoint, the argument seems clear. Indeed, as a New York Times columnist argued: “from a law-and-order point of view, more guns means more murders”. However, the likelihood of the introduction of any radical gun control laws, especially a repeal of the Second Amendment, is highly unlikely when considering the partisanship of Trump and the complex system of American democracy.
What often comes to mind when discussing any change to the Constitution is the difficulty in ratifying an amendment. Indeed, the process of formally amending the US Constitution is renowned for its immense difficulty. The Founding Fathers decided to create a deliberately difficult process whereby the co-operation of Congress and a supermajority would be needed in order to amend the Constitution.
In deliberating the methods of how the Constitution was to be adapted in the future, it was concluded that the process of an amendment would be a two-stage affair.
The first would require a proposal, in which Congress, or a national constitutional convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of state legislatures, could advance suggestions for amendment.
The second stage would enable a successful proposition to be sent to the individual state legislatures for ratification. To be successful, the proposition would have to be ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures, or by constitutional conventions in three-quarters of the states.
Whilst this process certainly ensures the Constitution remains a living document, with often vague language paving the way for judicial interpretation, the fact of the matter is that in the context of the Second Amendment, a repeal, no matter how beneficial, is extremely unlikely. Indeed, in America’s 200-year history, of the 11,478 constitutional amendments proposed, only 27 have ever been ratified.
With Republican domination of the Senate, a President who supports the National Rifle Association, and the inherently static nature of the American Constitution, a repeal of the Second Amendment is a pipe-dream. The question, therefore, remains: how many more atrocities will it take?