Gun violence persists due to a rigid, outdated Constitution

 Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18.

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18.

BY LILY REAVIS ’21

The Constitution was written so that it cannot be easily updated as modern issues arise, such as gun violence. Decisions made at the 1787 Constitutional Convention continue to protect controversial laws under antiquated contexts.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens published a book titled “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution” in 2014. In it, he calls for gun control, the abolition of the death penalty, finance campaign regulation, the ability to block gerrymandering and more federal control over state governments. These actions, however, are nearly impossible. Stevens’ point is to show how Supreme Court interpretations of our non-adjustable Constitution have resulted in questionable, unjustifiable actions.  

Written in the Constitution, Article V mandates that an amendment may be proposed either by a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate or by a Congressional convention following a request from two-thirds of the states. However, in practice, this proces ncredibl on n cumbersom  due h ars uideline e o ctuall ettin mendment ction. f an amendment manages to be proposed, it must be passed by a supermajority — a vote from a 2/3 majority in Congress — to become law.

Controversial topics such as gun control are often discussed, though no action can be taken without a supermajority, a vote from a 2/3 majority in Congress. This blocks governmental action that could create potential change. Modern shootings are directly caused by the inability to amend the Constitution, or reinterpret it for modern times. 

Devin Patrick Kelley, the gunman who shot 26 people in a Texas church on Sunday, once escaped from a mental health facility after sneaking guns onto an Air Force base, according to CNN. He made direct death threats to his superiors and pleaded guilty to allegations of assault on his wife and son — a toddler — in 2012. CNN reported that, up until the morning of the attack, he sent threatening messages to his mother-in-law who attended the church. He was also charged with animal cruelty in Colorado in August 2014. There is no reason this man should have been able to possess a gun. 

According to Federal law, fugitives, felons, individuals convicted of drug-related charges, the mentally ill, illegal immigrants, some legal immigrants, individuals who are not U.S. citizens, individuals charged with domestic violence, individuals under restraining orders and people who have spent more than a year in prison are ineligible to pass the mandatory background check to purchase a gun. However, the quality of the information submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIC) varies by state. Information is often not entered — The Washington Post reports that Kelley passed federal background checks this year and last, despite several charges against him. The Air Force said on Monday that it failed to report the charges against Kelley to the FBI, according to ABC News. By doing so, the Air Force takes the blame for the shooting. How many other members of the Armed Forces have conveniently not had their charges entered into the NCIC? The current system for identifying dangerous individuals, and barring them from purchasing weapons, does not work. 

USA Today reported that 2017 was the deadliest year for mass killings in the U.S. in more than a decade. With eight weeks left in the year, 208 people have already been murdered in shootings. Last year, the runner-up, saw 188 fatalities due to mass shootings. Clearly, the current system of background checks is unsuccessful. Now more than ever, guns need to be taken out of the hands of citizens, but the constitution is unmoving. 

Article V of the Constitution does not provide enough leeway for citizens to affect change, even in dangerous situations. The Constitution does not account for modern times, and America’s democracy can not remain truly democratic with such restraints. 

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