Opinion | Gun violence and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Gun violence has stripped Americans of their rights that the constitution was supposed to guarantee.

Shahab Khan, Opinions Columnist

The U.S. Constitution is a social contract between the government and the people to guarantee every American the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But the current interpretation of the Second Amendment violates those inalienable rights the constitution was designed to protect. Social construct theory was originally defined by the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes to explain the political organization of human societies.

In Hobbes’ view, humans are predisposed to violence and act on violent urges. The prevalence of violence prevents humans from advancing as a civilization, as all resources are allocated toward waging war.

But if there is an external force — or what Hobbes calls a “Leviathan” — that can regulate human behavior, violence will decrease.

The Leviathan, in other words, is a government that can protect a population because it is a centralized state that has enough resources to create an army for defense. Hobbes’ only stipulation is that to fund this army, the population has to give up their liberty.

The founding fathers were influenced by social contract theory. However, it was the social contract theory of Hobbes’s successor, John Locke, that the fathers modeled the constitution on.

In Locke’s view, the government’s responsibility to its citizens is to allow them to pursue the aforementioned unalienable rights. Locke concludes that the best form of government is a weak, decentralized government.

While Locke’s social contract is an improvement over Hobbes’, it fails to adequately address the security concerns that people have. Therefore, the perfect synthesis of the two social contracts would be a state that can guarantee the protection of a population while also allowing that population to exercise its unalienable rights.

Unfortunately, the Second Amendment does not allow for that.

The U.S. Supreme Court currently defines that the Second Amendment guarantees that individuals have the right to use guns as a weapon of self-defense.

This interpretation of the Second Amendment has led to the proliferation of the number of guns in the U.S., with 120.5 firearms per 100 people, Bloomberg News reported in 2022. Furthermore, some states have taken the doctrine of self-defense even further.

In fact, Iowa Republicans used the self-defense argument a year and a half ago when the state government passed a law allowing individuals to carry guns in public without permits. Laws like this have led to the erosion of U.S. governing institutions’ monopolization of violence.

If many individuals have easy access to guns, it is probable that some of these guns could end up being used for violence.

Criminal organizations such as gangs could obtain guns through straw purchases or theft. Meanwhile, nearly 1 million women have been shot at by an intimate partner, raising concerns about domestic violence and gun use. Finally, out of almost 45,000 gun deaths in 2020, over half of those were suicides.

Simply put, U.S. governing institutions do not have the necessary authority to reduce gun violence. This is because of the handicaps caused by the current interpretation of the Second Amendment. Thus, making it so the U.S. government is not fulfilling its promise to guarantee the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

There are many great plans to reduce gun violence, such as implementing more regulations on who can purchase guns and hiring more federal agents to confiscate illegal guns.

Unfortunately, none of these plans can be implemented until we realize that the current interpretation of the Second Amendment inadvertently allows people to commit violent crimes against their fellow Americans.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.