By 68 votes to 31, the United States Senate has voted to debate proposals for regulations on gun ownership; an expected filibuster did not materialise, as 16 Republicans voted for debate. The proposals themselves are very limited, but are bitterly opposed by several high-profile Republicans and also attract opposition from swing-state Democrats, who have good reason to fear the money and influence of the National Rifle Association. That the Senate will even hold a debate may, nevertheless, be a response to rising public disquiet throughout the U.S. especially since the December 20, 2012 episode in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six adults before killing himself in Newtown, Connecticut; he had earlier killed his mother at home. The recent Senate vote, however, is procedural, and only allows debate to start on plans like expanded background checks, such as records of any previous psychiatric treatment, on those trying to buy firearms. A reduction in the size of magazine clips will, however, meet stiff resistance, and any proposal may yet be filibustered. Even if the Senate approves some or all the present proposals, the House of Representatives may reject debate.

In the U.S., gun control is not only a matter of legislation but a difficult constitutional issue, over which several questions remain unresolved. The Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights that Congress ratified in 1791, says, “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.” Therefore, gun control could be a State subject alone. On April 5, Connecticut passed some of the tightest controls in the country, but a Republican-held state like Arkansas now lets people carry guns into churches and colleges. Secondly, many historians argue the Second Amendment was meant to protect the body politic against takeover by a standing army, and not to give individuals an open-ended right to bear firearms. Whatever the historical context, it is absurd that U.S. lawmakers cannot reform a system that provides people such easy access to firearms. Congress is prepared to back the use of force in every continent in order to make the world safer for America but it is unwilling to take a basic step to protect American lives where they are most endangered: in the U.S. of A.

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