Charles Kennick, The Miami Student
The interlude of the song “XXX” by Kendrick Lamar featuring U2 is as follows: “Alright, kids, we’re gonna talk about gun control. (Pray for me) Damn!” The interlude of the song is the break of a song that has two messages: a violent description of what gun culture means when growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, California to a critique of political and cultural factors that he credits intense and tragic that the relationship the residents of Compton and other low-income predominantly African American communities across the country.
What does this verse from a song released in April have to do with conversations that we hear in news coverage on CNN or in our friend groups last Monday morning about bump stocks or some “mentally sick” retired accountant and professional gambler?
It has to do with the way that the United States has experienced 521 mass shootings in the 477 days that were in between the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando in June 2016 and the attack from the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas last Sunday. It has to do with the fact that the Congressional Research Service reports that the United States has 112 guns per every 100 residents in the country – a number that has doubled in the past 5o years. It has to do with the paralyzing effect that guns, gun culture and gun violence has on low income, minority communities, like in Compton has on economic mobility and racial discrimination. We have a socio-cultural problem that is being thrown under the rug.
The ubiquitous nature of our constant ineffective, conversations following major attacks revolving around guns and gun control are central to modern American life. The culture of guns and gun ownership are so intertwined with the history of America and its development that violence seems normal and regular. Since the Minutemen grabbed their muskets at Lexington and Concord, to John Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry, to the “taming of the Wild West” with a Colt .45, to black nationalist movements in the Civil Rights Movement; guns and groups who wield them have communicated to society and communities messages of power and control over another. Above all else, we need widespread recognition of this integration of guns within our society past and present if we are to change our policy.
But wait the Second Amendment? This is who we as a nation, we are guaranteed this right Constitutionally?
But comparing the language in and using the Bill of Rights to justify the legal rights of American citizens to have unregulated access to firearms and firearm accessories is misguided. Hiding behind this antiquated line of reasoning is flawed and narrow sighted. The precedent for intervening when the use of guns has threatened public safety has been long established in the history of American governance. The federal government has always limited the use and ownership of guns; from the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791 to the creation of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms in 1886 and more recently Gun Free Zones in the public schools in the 1990s. These laws and initiatives were responsive to the issues of the time, just as we have a need for our laws to be today.
These limits are set as the obligation of the higher, and most principal duty of the government, if we are to talk in the language of the Constitution, “to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare.” Collectively, we must all sacrifice liberties for the common good and safety of the society – this includes our rights and liberties surrounding guns. In the same spirit as school zone speed limits and driving under the influence laws that work to make our roads less dangerous, so should our laws regulating firearms.
So, in short, do I think this will happen without a serious reckoning with the culture of guns and the normalcy of gun violence in America? No. Would I be in favor of stronger and stricter gun regulations on the sale and ownership of assault rifles, bump stocks, extended magazines and modifications to weapons that are unnecessary for the vast majority of our society? Yes. Can I bring or do I know the solutions and fine details of public policy of what and what firearms and firearm accessories not should not be permitted? No.
What I do know is that we need to reframe our discussion about guns in this country, away from hyper sensationalization and polarizing gridlock of wild proposals from pundit A or B on CNN, and place pressure our policy makers to seriously sit down in a room and not come out until they are absolutely sure we as nation are safer from gun violence.