Gun control has been on the hot seat of political discussion in the United States over the past decade, and with good reason. With recent events in Parkland, Florida, to the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and all the way back to the beginning of the century, the number of mass shootings has increased drastically year-by-year since 2000. FBI reports have shown that while the numbers do fluctuate, these mass shootings are becoming more frequent on a scale of almost tenfold from 2000 to 2014, and show no signs of going away with the gridlock on gun control.
There are two fundamental sides to the gun control, as there are with most political topics subject to party polarization over the past decade. The 2nd Amendment backs the conservative wing, giving their right to bear arms and be gun owners constitutionally legitimate. Liberals want the carnage to end, specifically with the banning of assault rifles and automatic weapons to name a few of the points that most democratic congressmen have covered. The causes of these shootings also have been looked at through different windows; liberals believe that the removal of these assault rifles will eliminate the means by which these shootings happen, while conservatives are instead blaming the small percentage of gun owners who have committed these crimes, and not the means by which they commit them. The ideal outcome for both sides is simple: no more mass shootings or gun violence. That would be something political scientists have been labeling as the “common good” of gun control and 2nd Amendment rights. However, the ends don’t seem to be enough to justify the means for either side of the spectrum. With the gridlock tightening, finding the common good through legislative measures and civic responsibility calls is not going to be an easy task for legislators and the American people. Is this lack of ability to find compromise for the common good a sign that American democracy might be failing? It is a very real possibility, and a definite warning for party polarization
Dan Schumpeter, in his work entitled “The Classical Doctrine of Democracy”, has a few critiques for the democratic principle. There are five that apply very well to this issue of polarization, one of them being that the common good is not a universal concept. The gun control issue highlights exactly this. While it may seem like an end to mass shootings is a clear-cut goal of both sides of the issue, the potential legislation and reasoning behind the issues are completely divisive, thus rendering the common goal completely useless and foreign. Along with the common good issue, Schumpeter writes that problems in democracies also arise from a disagreement over moral values, situations where mob mentality overrides rational thinking, and when humans are easily manipulated. There is a clear symptom for these democratic detriments: party polarization.
The discussion now transitions to how this lack of a common good and lack of means to find it, also known as congressional gridlock, affects the democracy of the United States. Party polarization has been escalating since the early 2000s, and catapulted astronomically around the precaution and aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Every single day, a political problem is discussed amongst polarized media and conversations throughout. Humans are not rational actors and use shortcuts such as confirmation bias and an escalation of commitment bias that strengthen their party alignment and their perceptions of new information. This is bad for two reasons: representatives in the Senate and in Congress will have more polarized notions based on their constituent’s needs, and gridlock is not coming to an end anytime soon. As long as these sorts of ideals among party members are strengthened and the opposing ideal is abandoned, there will be little to no way of recovering any sort of compromise. In the case of gun control, there is a moral high ground and a constitutional provision in play. It’s love against law, and both sides have legitimate cases for their backing. Get rid of guns so that these people won’t have access to them! But it’s not the guns, it’s the people that use them! Gun bans! Background checks! Licenses! There have been many proposed ways to end the gun control debate, but the common good is just too good to be true for the American people, even if it costs a few thousand lives every year to get the point across. Following the shooting at the Marjory Stoneham High School in Parkland, Florida, survivor Emma Gonzalez gave a speech at a gun control activists rally, which has been the spark for a nationwide wake-up call to legislative efforts for democrats around the nation. It is in the democracy’s interests to work extremely hard at some sort of regulatory legislation for assault rifles and firearms at least for the near future. If not, the warning sign of common good ignorance coupled with further de-middling of the two majority parties, which could create a serious rut in the progression of the United States democracy, and the legitimacy of our government.