In the wake of the latest mass shooting at a United States school, and almost certainly not the last, comes the inevitable madrigal of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, as well the also inevitable refusal to make any significant changes to curb these tragedies in the future.
The merits and efficacy of gun control are clear and undeniable and I shan’t be reiterating them here - others will do so, and rightfully, but I wish to take this debate in a different direction.
The implacable argument from the gun cult is ever the same. The 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution. The right to keep and bear arms. I won’t be debating the semantics of the amendment and the obvious anachronisms of such legislation.
I want to talk about the American Constitution itself.
The US Constitution is treated as an almost holy text by most, if not nearly all, Americans. The document itself is viewed as the apotheosis of legislature, divinity made manifest in the form of a set of laws. This document is the standard upon which all others might be judged, and they will be found wanting.
One cannot question the Constitution. Is its perfection not immediately apparent? Is this not the document that made America the greatest country on earth?
Even in the opening scene of The Newsroom, where journalist Will McAvoy gives a scathing assessment of the state of America, its dubious claims to be the ‘greatest country in the world’ and the follies of blind patriotism, even in this excoriating analysis McAvoy describes the Constitution of the United States as “a masterpiece”.
But is it? Is it really?
Is even Aaron Sorkin drinking the kool-aid?
Can a document that enables regular and predictable mass murder of innocent people really be a “masterpiece”? Can a document forged by dissidents and soldiers during a violent rebellion ever be considered a “masterpiece”?
But Americans seem - not even unwilling - but unable to see such a document as flawed. As anything less than perfect.
The fact that such a document even has amendments should cast some aspersions on it. The US constitution has been amended twenty-seven times. 27 times it has been revised. It has been found wanting in the past. Why should it not be examined again?
Contrast this to the Australian Constitution.
Australia was not founded in blood or fire or war. It was founded through democracy. We voted ourselves a nation. Our constitution was able to be drafted, revised and planned. It was not the hasty result of a cessation of hostilities but of a nation with the time and freedom to think about its future.
Consequently the Australian Constitution has been amended only eight times.
Once to slightly alter the terms of senators. Twice to clarify the issue of state debt. Once to extend federal control over social services. Once to extend voting rights to territories, once to set a retirement age on federal judges and once to clarify casual vacancies in the senate.
Relatively minor things really.
Oh and once we amended the Constitution to recognise the rights of the Indigenous population.
That this was not in the original document is a stain that the nation will forever have to live with, but it is a recognition that the document was flawed and the nation was called upon to revise it.
Which we did. Resoundingly.
We saw something wrong and we fixed it.
The US Constitution could use some of that introspection right now. Americans in the past recognised that the conditions under which the document was drafted left some glaring holes and these were patched with amendments.
Once to recognise the freedom of speech. The infamous “2nd amendment”. Quite a few about trial by jury, the law and the conditions upon which those laws can be enforced. Truthfully everything from the 4th to the 9th really should have been in the original draft.
But necessary they were.
The Constitution was never intended to be something so deified as to never be scrutinised or updated. But that’s what it has become.
It needs to be looked at again. It needs to be updated.
The Second Amendment is a relic of a bygone era whose time perhaps never even existed in the first place. It is an anachronism at best and at worst a blight which sours America’s perception in the larger world.
The Constitution can be changed. The Constitution should be changed. There’s even a precedent within the Constitution itself. The 21st Amendment exists solely to repeal the 18th.
There’s nothing that says the 28th can’t exist to repeal the 2nd.
The only thing stopping it is this unnatural reverence that the United States has for an amendment drafted in the year 1789. 25 years before the fall of the Holy Roman Empire.
Australia’s last mass shooting was in 1996. Since there was no provision in the Constitution mandating the right to firearms preventative legislation was passed at a government level. There was never even a need for a plebiscite. As such Australia has not had a mass shooting in just under 22 years.
America’s last, before today’s events, was 27 days ago.
Maybe it’s time you were willing to take a look at that Constitution again?