Second amendment ‘not absolute’: Is Biden right?

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Fact Box

  • On June 2, 2022, President Biden addressed gun violence in America at Cross Hall in the White House asserting, “I want to be very clear. This is not about taking away anyone’s guns [...] In fact, we believe we should be treating responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave [...] At the same time, the Second Amendment, like all other rights, is not absolute.” 
  • Activism regarding gun rights has been prominent in the wake of multiple mass shootings: a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a church in Ames, Iowa
  • The Second Amendment of the US Constitution ensures “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
  • Gun Violence Archive reported a 25% increase in gun violence in the US from 2019 to 2020, totaling 19,223 deaths. From January to April 8, 2021, there were 11,428 deaths by gun, and 4,960 from homicide, murder, or unintentional gun death. 
  • Thirty-two percent of Republicans, 59% of Independents, and 91% of Democrats are in favor of stricter gun laws in America.

Elisa (No)

Gun ownership has been embedded into the heart of America since its foundation, and the founding fathers would find all federal gun restrictions appalingly unconstitutional. The second amendment has stood the test of time, as gun ownership in the US has remained fairly steady since 1972 without resulting in massive bouts of gun violence—an alarming and recent trend starting since 2012. Just as murderers ignore laws against murder, criminals desiring to enact gun violence are not deterred by gun laws. Gun crimes are simply not committed by lawful gun owners. 

American gun owners believe in the sanctity of the Constitution and their inalienable right to defend their life, liberty, and property. The second amendment was put in place to stave off an oppressive government and to allow citizens to have access to protection outside of law enforcement. The Constitution states these rights 'shall not be infringed,' or its terms are not to be violated for any reason. Second Amendment rights must be protected, as there are many ways to react to recent national tragedies, focusing on community policing, teaching training, and better security for schools. 

Because many politicians, including Biden, have pushed false claims about gun control and the second amendment, Americans are conditioned to blame guns, unions, and an entire political party for the criminal activity of murderers. It is difficult to trust leaders who routinely get gun facts wrong. And if the second amendment isn't absolute, as Biden claims, then that raises the question of the absolute authority of the Constitution altogether—which truly endangers our democracy.

If guns were the real issue, countries like Switzerland with high gun ownership, would have mass shootings—but they don't. Little has been said about America's massive cultural decline. Ultimately, gun access is not the issue—America's moral decay is. 

Amanda (Yes)

President Biden was correct in declaring there is no 'absolute' right to bear arms. No right—even one enumerated in the US Constitution—is absolute. Freedom of speech does not mean one can directly threaten someone. Freedom of the press does not mean one can maliciously publish lies

Arguments for a maximalist position on the Second Amendment that tend to rely on originalist interpretations of 'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms' ignore the proceeding clause of 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,' which implies the purpose of weapons is to maintain readiness, not guarantee an individual the 'right' to a lethal weapon. Further, given how the weapons of the revolutionary era were single-shot muskets and pistols, it's hard to believe the intent was to give civilians access to machine-like guns capable of firing nearly 50 rounds in under 30 seconds or that one can fight a tyrannical government with an AR-15 when that government has access to nuclear weapons.

Nowhere else do we treat the physical possession of an object this way, especially ones capable of causing such massive damage. Cars and trucks require licenses and training. Homes require insurance. And all of those have primary purposes that consist of something other than killing.

Worse, many of the politicians pushing for such maximalism are simply hypocrites. They will insist that mentioning gay marriage is too dangerous for children to hear from their teacher while also expecting that teacher to carry around a Glock on their belts. It's a gross distortion of priorities that actually limits other rights in favor of the one most associated with mass death.

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