(By Steven Mighton, Queen’s University)
The United States is widely considered to be the most powerful nation in the world, from its inimitable military to its dominant influence within leading international organizations. The US continues to have more capability and clout than most countries could ever dream of. However, this preeminence has become increasingly challenged by a number of factors: the process of globalization, the growing strength of other nations, the prosperity of large foreign corporations, and the complexity of militaristic responsibilities. These factors have induced a reexamination of American foreign policy and have forced the US government to create new strategies for national defense.
In the decade after 9/11, the US government’s strategy has seemingly been to label the largest threats to their national security as foreign-born. They cite terrorism as the primary threat to the safety of Americans. Initially, Al Qaeda was the most concerning terrorist group to the government, but more recently the growth of the terrorist network called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has warranted the attention of US policy makers. In a similar attempt to shape domestic security issues as having originated outside of American borders, several US generals and military officials have testified that Russia also presents a significant threat.
The foreign characterization of US national security, and the policy that arises as a result, is in fact counterintuitive and detrimental to the safety of American citizens. The reality is that these foreign threats are issues of international security and do not present a measurable, or even tangible, danger to Americans. Of course, there have been isolated attacks on Americans and specific targeting of the US within messages constructed by terrorist groups, yet these incidents do not warrant the label of the “biggest threat.” The real threat to Americans is Americans themselves, and the constitutional rights they enjoy which grant them freedom to legally own the very same weapons they fear terrorists will use. Homegrown extremism and the right to bear arms have combined to produce an extremely dangerous environment within American society. This is a real threat that is felt by Americans on an increasingly frequent basis. Mass shootings have become an almost weekly occurrence in the US creating the expectation that these types of tragedies will happen. The numbers are staggering: terrorism has only killed 24 Americans in the last decade while the use of firearms has resulted in the death of 280,024 Americans in the same time span. Yet, nothing has been done to combat this.
The government continues to be hampered by a presidential-congressional divide, substantially reducing the potential to create an effective policy approach to this issue. Moreover, any progress toward a reform of gun laws is stifled by a Republican-led Congress that is pressured by wealthy lobbyist groups, such as the National Rifle Association, to block modifications to the second amendment. Throughout US President Barack Obama’s tenure, as well as very recently, he has made speeches condemning the current state of gun laws, pleading the nation to reconsider its staunch stance on this constitutional right.
America needs to revisit its constitution and make reforms to its second amendment. Gun ownership laws continue to threaten the American public, the safety of its communities, and the integrity of the country as a world leader. Perhaps policy-makers should consider crafting legislation that would increase the restrictions behind the purchase of a firearm. A complete restructuring of the constitution, including the possible abolishment of the second amendment, may serve as the country’s best chance at strengthening its national security. As long as these laws remain in place, US national security is compromised.
Rather than framing leading threats as ones that emanate from foreign entities, politicians and US officials should shift their attention toward the real and immediate dangers of the domestic arena. Terrorism, Russia, and other foreign threats are international in nature and can be dealt with through interstate cooperation. National gun laws and internal violence, on the other hand, are not matters of international interest and are thus issues that can only be resolved by domestic governments. The necessity of this constitutional transformation cannot be overstated; a piece of paper and an uncooperative government are enabling Americans to kill one another at an unprecedented rate.
Indeed, as Obama stated in his foreword to the 2015 US National Security Strategy, the undeniable truth is that in combatting security threats, America must lead. Ironically, this foreword was overwhelmingly foreign focused and made no mention of gun laws.