In the words of Nelson Mandela, “We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in any society, a life free from violence and fear,” yet last week in Uvalde, Texas, 19 innocent children and two teachers were killed in their school .
Thousands of children have been killed in the US over the past decades.
The response from American politicians, like Senator Ted Cruz at the National Rifle Association conference in Texas, was to deflect their inaction on gun control and blame mass shootings on everything from absent fathers, declining church attendance, social media and video games.
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms. It states: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The Second Amendment is one of 10 made to the US Constitution in a 1791 measure called the Bill of Rights, which was intended to protect all Americans from tyrannical rule.
There are historical legacy reasons why unrestricted access to deadly assault rifles are accessible by young adults despite the fact they cannot legally buy a beer. These range from the fear and need to protect individuals from potentially dangerous central and state government, an issue that felt very relevant in the wake of the American Revolution. In 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to own firearms unconnected to military service and allows them to use those weapons for lawful purposes, including self-defence.
This is how some Americans validate being armed to their teeth with AR-15 rifles and ammunition as they go about their weekly shopping or go to a drive-thru. As bizarre as the carrying of weapons may look to people outside the US, it has become normalised for anti-gun control die-hards.
On the other side, those who support gun curbs often argue that the constitutional right was only for “well-regulated” forces authorised by state governments to have access to weapons. It was never intended for all individuals to be able to bear arms. This argument has been drowned out in the noise of competing political agendas.
There is another aspect of fear that is not given enough attention. That is the hateful and oppressive history America has towards ethnic minorities and indigenous communities. This is reflected in the reluctance to pass laws that ensure “well-regulated” ownership and vetting of gun purchases that focuses on the right to self-defence, who should have access to guns and which weapons should be legal. America’s history has left a legacy of anxiety. When a nation continually breaks the social contract and commits incomprehensible atrocities against ethnic minorities, there will always be a fear of retaliation.
Thus, lawmakers and lobbyist like the National Rifle Association (NRA) resist all change despite numerous high-profile mass shootings.
Never mind the slaughter, or the fact guns are becoming the leading cause of death among children and teens, the status quo must hold.
But American lawmakers have the power to act and they’ve done so in the past. In 1966, an African-American group originally called the Black Panthers for Self-Defence, was formed in California. It was headed by Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale, and it followed the principles and ideology of the late Malcom X. They believed that the fight for racial equality would not be won by non-violent actions and protests.
They wanted stronger actions to ensure black people’s survival.
Some view the amendment to mean that American citizens have inalienable right to guns. Others argued that right only applied to a well-regulated militia. The Black Panthers found themselves in the middle ground.
Their campaign against racial injustice relied on gun ownership as recognised in the Bill of Rights. Newton and Seale began collecting guns during the early years of the Black Panthers, including handguns, machine guns and rifles. New recruits were taught how to use guns. They were also given a clear understanding of their right to carry firearms and how to communicate that to police.
In 1967, Seale and Newton asserted their right as American citizens under the Second Amendment. When stopped and questioned by police travelling in a vehicle filled with weapons, Newton simply replied that the only thing he was obliged to do was give his “identification, name and address.” Since there were no violations for the police to charge the Black Panther members with, they were able to go on their way.
Many other African Americans in the state of California were thus emboldened to carry weapons. They were supported and followed by members of the Black Panthers on what became known as “police patrols” which were non-violent. They also organised a march to the state Capitol to draw attention to their cause of fighting against a government that sought to infringe their right to bear arms. On May 2, 1967, 30 armed Black Panthers occupied California’s State Capitol. The demonstration was motivated by Republican Don Mulford’s bill to repeal the law allowing Californians to openly carry weapons, a direct response to the Black Panthers’ “police patrols”.
Mulford’s bill hastily passed both the state assembly and senate, with support from the NRA. Mulford also made it illegal to take firearms into the Capitol. On July 28 it was signed into law by the state’s then governor Ronald Reagan, who later commented that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”
The Mulford Bill in 1967 serves as one example of the way Americans tend to respond to black protest and a stark reminder that legislators have the power to change laws.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the NRA also supported restrictions on who could carry guns on the streets to stop hostility towards European immigrants.
It is time to address the fear and anxiety that grips America and plays on the ‘hands off our guns’ agenda.
Now is the time to stop further massacres and give children the life free of violence and fear they deserve.