Publicador de contenidos

Back to 2016-01-09-opinion-ICS-eeuu-entre-sollozos-y-armas

Rafael Domingo Osle, Full Professor at the University of Navarra and researcher at Emory University.

USA: between sobs and guns


Sat, 09 Jan 2016 12:17:00 +0000 Published in El Español

No matter how you look at it, the topic of guns in the United States has neither head nor tail. It is enough to live a few months in this great country to realize it. Guns are embedded in the marrow of American society because of its strong survival instinct and sense of self.

The data are chilling. The United States is the country with the most weapons per capita on the planet, followed, at a distance, by Yemen. Good traveling companion! It is estimated that the issue of weapons in private hands is around 300 million, concentrated in just over a third of the population. About 35% of Americans have a gun at home.

About 10,000 gun homicides are committed annually in the United States, and more than 20,000 suicides are committed with firearms. It is not surprising, therefore, that Obama was moved to tears when he addressed this issue in an excellent speech on gun control. Trigger-happiness in the United States cries out to the heavens. And Obama knows it, even if he hasn't (or hasn't been able to) make a serious move during his presidency.

There are tens of millions of Americans who do not realize something that is obvious to Europeans: that a person cannot have a gun in his home like a washing machine, a hammer or a television. Here, in America, it seems that they do. Here there are guns everywhere.

A few meters from the residential area where I live, there is a well-known gun store. To all intents and purposes, this store is no different from the furniture store next door, or the cafeteria on the corner, or the Chinese restaurant or the hairdresser's across the street. It's just another one, and would attract little attention if it weren't for the large shotgun painted on the side wall of the store, like a mural, to attract customers.

The United States is a country armed to the teeth, not only by its impressive Army, but by its people, who were once its militia. It is in its genes. The most powerful country on the planet is the fruit of a revolution, and that revolution was made with weapons in the hands of the people. Without weapons, the United States would not have been what it is today. That is the way it is and there is no way around it. It was the people in arms who won their independence. And Americans are proud of that.

Guns have accompanied the most glorious and the most tragic moments of American history. That is why guns, like horses, now converted into cars, hamburgers or baseball are part of their life, their culture, their way of being, their landscape. "Obama is not going to succeed in disarming us, no matter how hard he tries," was one of the comments I heard recently on the street.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in December 1791, defends the right of the people to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court, in a famous 2008 ruling, interpreted that the right to bear arms is not only collective, proper to the militia, but also individual; that is, it belongs to each citizen as such, although it can be limited by the public authorities. Two years later, he ruled that the Second Amendment limits the legislative capacity of state and local governments, just as it limited the federal government's own actions. In other words, the amendment and the right contained therein strike at the hardest and most invulnerable constitutional core.

The Supreme Court had, both in 2008 and 2010, the opportunity to make a constitutional turnaround in the interpretation of this right to bear arms, but it did not do so. It neither dared nor wanted to. On the contrary: it confirmed, without the slightest concession to doubt, the constitutionally protected right staff to bear arms.

This is not the time to judge these two rulings, which will go down in the annals among the most irresponsible and ridiculous. The method of interpretation used by the judges, technically called originalist (but read fundamentalist), caused havoc. And the fact is that pretending -as in fact they did- to judge the Constitution and the current society with criteria elaborated by jurists of the past is a crass mistake. Law is to serve the living society, not to enslave it with obsolete rules and formulations. The idea of militia, which justified the judicial decision, was buried many years ago by the American people. Apparently, not by the judges.

The various legislative restrictions on the individual's right to bear arms have come in reaction to major tragedies that have shocked public opinion, but the Philosophy and the justification for bearing arms has not changed. A Gun Control Act was passed in 1968 following the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Another restrictive law was enacted after the assassination of John Lennon in 1980 and the assassination attempt on President Reagan a year later. They have been of little use, as all of them are profoundly limited by the amendment.

Is there really a human right to carry a gun? My opinion is clear: No, there is no such right. What does exist is a human right to self-defense, but this defense does not justify or imply the possession of weapons, especially in advanced democratic societies. Therefore, as it is not human, the Constitutional Law to arms is perfectly derogable.

In a mature society, citizens must cede the defense of their security to the public authorities, in the same way that they cede the defense of their territory to armies. Only by delegation of the public authorities, a citizen can have a weapon, in which case he will act, not by virtue of his own right, but by virtue of an attribution. Therefore, the sale of arms to private individuals can and should be constitutionally prohibited in any democratic country.

Banning handguns once and for all is a major social decision. Someday the American people will have to take it, as we have taken it in so many European countries. If Obama, before the end of his term of office, succeeds in taking a decisive step on this delicate social issue, he will go down in history, not for having been the first president of color, something rather inconsequential but symbolic, but for having put an end to one of the great dramas of his country. Looking to Europe, Obama can draw inspiration. We overcame the trigger disease long ago.