An American Nightmare: Guns, Death, and Second Amendment Insanity

 By Eric Segall

Between January 2009 and May 2018, the United States endured 288 school shootings, while the second-place country, Mexico, had only eight. Since then, school shootings have occurred much more frequently in America. Nineteen students and two teachers were killed in 2022 at an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL in Uvalde, Texas. In 2023, there were 346 school shootings across our country, almost one a day. All in all, between 2018 and 2023 there were over 1200 school shootings in the United States. 

In light of these numbers it is not surprising, though it is revolting, that it is now a common occurrence for schools to have active shooter drills. We live in a country where our children simply are not safe, and our communities are routinely traumatized by mass shootings, and nothing changes.

The gun nightmare in America transcends school shootings. Wyoming, along with a few other western states, have high rates of suicide by guns. According to an officer at a medical center in Wyoming, "one of the challenging aspects of working in the Rocky Mountain region is just the availability and accessibility of firearms. Some days it feels overwhelming because you think, 'if we didn't have firearms to worry about, what would suicide look like here?'" She has a strong point, given that suicide by firearms is 97% lethal and Wyoming is near the top of suicide rates on a per capita basis.

Suicides and school shootings are only part of the violence and havoc caused by guns in America. Statistics of course can be manipulated and numbers often tell only a partial story, but not in the case of guns in the United States because all the statistics are so out of proportion with the rest of the world. 

Only four countries--Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala and the United States--have made owning a gun a constitutional right. There are 120 guns per 100 people in the United States. Yes, we have more guns than people. The country with the second highest gun ownership rate is Yemen, with 52 guns per 100 people. America has more than twice as many guns per person as the next most armed country. 

Gun ownership in Canada, a country that is very similar to the U.S. in many respects, is only 35 guns per 100 people, and many military style weapons that are legal here are illegal there. America has only 5% percent of the world's population but approximately 40% of civilian-owned guns. 

Not surprisingly, the absurdly huge number of guns in our country has led to violence and deaths. Other than Brazil, the United States has far more gun-caused fatalities than any other country. In 2021, over 48,000 Americans died from guns, with many more injured. Although most of those deaths were related to suicides, murders, and accidents, when a mass shooting occurs at a school or in a community, the emotional and psychological toll effects far more people than just those who are actually killed or injured. As one commentator has observed:

A growing body of research reveals that the negative effects of mass shootings spread much farther than previously understood, harming the health of local residents who were not touched directly by the violence. Mental health experts say the recognition should prompt authorities to direct more attention and resources toward preventing such events — and helping a broader group of people after they occur.

Research shows that mass shootings lead to higher rates of depression and anxiety and higher risks for suicide among young people. They also lead to an overall decline in a community’s sense of well-being. One study found a higher incidence of infants born prematurely or with low birth weight in counties where a mass shooting had occurred.  

Some studies suggest that mass shootings damage economic prospects in a community, diminishing productivity and earnings.

There can be no debate that there is a terrible gun crisis in America. Solutions would be hard enough if our political leaders simply had to confront the different factions and interest groups urging and opposing legislative solutions. But tragically, the Supreme Court of the United States has weaponized the Second Amendment and misinterpreted its text to make gun ownership a super-constitutional right. The justices have prohibited the states and the federal government from asserting public policy justifications in Second Amendment litigation, requiring them to instead find historical analogues from 1791 or maybe 1868 as a prerequisite to judicial validation of gun reform laws. But, as I've documented before, there is no textual or historical justification for the Court's elevation of personal gun rights to such high levels through a history-only test that is itself inconsistent with the Constitution's original meaning.

Those long-ago societies were completely different from ours in terms of the number of guns in use, the lethality of those weapons, and the density of urban populations. To deal with today's crisis, we need modern solutions tailored to current needs. But the Supreme Court's creation of a strong constitutional right to own and carry in public weapons ranging in lethality from cheap handguns to expensive military-grade rifles makes the development of effective solutions by political leaders much more difficult and in some situations impossible. 

Recently, a federal judge struck down a federal law prohibiting guns in post offices. As I wrote here, that opinion is beyond any and all reason and is a direct consequence of the Court's demand that judges look only to history when evaluating the constitutionality of legislation restricting or prohibiting the use of guns.

The Supreme Court has made gun control a national issue, ignoring widely divergent conditions and needs based on local conditions. What kinds of gun laws are needed in Manhattan is a different question from what is needed in Great Falls, Montana, Savannah, Georgia, or Dallas, Texas. But not to the justices who seem to think a one-size-fits-all approach to the balance between public safety and gun rights is constitutionally required--an absurd, dangerous, and legally dubious supposition.

How to reduce the terror and violence caused by a heavily armed population is well above my pay grade. But the Court's wildly inappropriate judicial aggression towards legislative solutions to gun violence is almost certainly responsible for making the crisis worse. Given the Second Amendment's specific textual reference to militias, as well as the presence of 400,00,000 guns in America, along with all the other contributing factors leading to death and destruction by guns, this judicial interference is constitutional insanity and a form of national suicide. The justices need to return the issue of gun control to the states, to the elected branches of the federal government, and to We the People.