Data: CDC. Image: St. Louis Circuit Attorney

This is the first of a three-part series examining the rationale and language of the pro-gun lobby and proposing language to oppose and counter its arguments.

At the end of last year, we commemorated the 10-year mark since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. This year, mass shootings have infected red states, including at an elementary school in Tennessee. Unsurprisingly, the extremist gun lobby — with assistance from both Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and former President Trump’s MAGA movement — continues to put up resistance to new gun laws that would protect the life and liberty of law-abiding citizens and their kids. 

The MAGA-gun lobby’s core belief is that new gun laws will disarm the law-abiding — and will do so when the law-abiding need firearms to defend themselves against either criminals or a tyrannical government or both.

Riju Das

The dual ideals of life and liberty drive the MAGA-gun lobby’s dependence on the Second Amendment: they want unlimited liberty to protect their lives, even if it means other law-abiding citizens lose theirs. This fanaticism has fueled their absolutist and unrestricted role of the Second Amendment, essentially rewriting it to give gun rights to criminals — and allowing criminals the freedom to get firearms and endanger the law-abiding.

As a result, we’re seeing that unlimited liberty for some nullifies liberty for all: even the best-trained law-abiding firearm users are being outmaneuvered, outgunned, and outlived by armed criminals. The MAGA-gun lobby doesn’t understand that you can’t have liberty without life. More starkly, in 2021, guns were the leading cause of death among kids in America; thus, because of weak gun laws that give Second Amendment liberties to criminals, kids are losing their liberty to live.

The clash over whether to simply let kids be killed in class emanates from the difference in ideologies between Democrats, who have led the gun-safety movement for new gun laws, and the MAGA-gun lobby Republicans, who oppose new laws. Democrats are ideologically driven by empathy, caring about issues that affect people they don’t even know. Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, are driven by individualism, limiting their interests to only issues that personally affect them.

Predictably, the Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have shown that they are less than concerned about loose gun laws that arm criminals. It’s evident in their decisions in two landmark gun cases: Heller (2008) and Bruen (2022). Cynically, why would the Republican justices be worried about the consequences of loose gun laws when they and their kids get taxpayer-funded armed security 24/7? 

After all, conservatives at large often aren’t as bothered by a tragedy unless they would have been personally affected. In 2019, the daughter of an Ohio Republican congressman was near the site of the mass shooting in Dayton, prompting the congressman to immediately come out in favor of banning assault weapons; then, more recently, Tennessee’s Republican governor announced his support for red flag laws for the state after one of the victims in the Nashville school shooting weeks earlier was a friend of his wife.

On top of endorsing weak gun laws because of personal views, the Republican justices on the court have done so for another reason: because of their Constitutional philosophy, known as originalism. Under originalism, the justices interpret the Second Amendment, among other Constitutional provisions, based on what they think the founding fathers intended 200 years ago when the founders ratified it. This philosophy contrasts with the philosophy of Democratic justices who typically adhere to “Living Constitutionalism.” 

Living Constitutionalism, as the name suggests, interprets the Constitution based not on what it meant to people 200 years ago but on how it impacts people living today. Shockingly, because of originalism, the Republican justices ruled last year in the Bruen case that any gun law or regulation in place today will be constitutional only if it would have been around back in the year 1791. The result: lower courts have begun to strike down certain gun laws. In Texas, the federal appellate court held that people under a restraining order for domestic violence should be able to have guns. 

In West Virginia, a judge invalidated a federal requirement for guns to have serial numbers, the lack of which would severely hamper police from investigating and solving gun crimes. If the Republican justices on the Supreme Court uphold these dangerous decisions, the justices will be telling us they believe the founders wouldn’t mind if criminals today have Second Amendment rights to gun down kids — just as long as the victims are not the justices’ kids. Sadly, if the justices believed their kids would be at risk, they, in conservative fashion, would likely uphold gun laws, similar to the Ohio Congressman and Tennessee governor who had changes of heart when they were personally affected. In other words, the Republican justices would conveniently adjust their constitutional philosophy from originalism to Living Constitutionalism to protect themselves.

This adjustment wouldn’t be the first time — as Republican justices haven’t been shy in the past from shifting their originalism to Living Constitutionalism. In the Republican justices’ Heller decision that held that the founders intended for law-abiding individuals today to have a constitutional right to weapons, the Republican justices also found that law-abiding individuals have a constitutional right to guns “in common use” today, thus shifting away from their originalist philosophy in favor of Living Constitutionalism. 

In other words, the justices believe a semi-automatic weapon like the AR-15, which mows down kids in a classroom in seconds, is what the founders 200 years ago intended for today. Even if the founders intended this carnage, it would be further evidence that the founders, like all humans present and past, were not perfect. They got some significant things wrong in the Constitution, like legalizing slavery and failing to clarify that voting could not be restricted based on race and gender.

On the other end of extremist gun culture, opposite from Republican judges and the MAGA-gun lobby, are gun-safety advocates. Gun-safety advocates have made significant progress through new gun laws to protect the law-abiding from criminals and protect the law-abiding’s Second Amendment rights. To further this progress and win over more voters in swing districts who will elect candidates for office who will prioritize the law-abiding over criminals, we need revamped messaging, starting with reframing some of the core language of the MAGA-gun lobby so as to be able to rebut MAGA-gun lobby talking points.

Tomorrow: The MAGA-gun lobby’s rationalization of mass shootings.

Riju Das is a Connecticut attorney.