As Congress prepares to consider new gun control legislation, I stand firmly against any attempt to restrict the constitutional rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners. As a concealed weapons permit holder, I value the freedom to exercise my Second Amendment right as protected by the Constitution and in accordance with gun laws designed to promote safe, responsible use. The right to bear arms is a unique and fundamental aspect of American liberty because, when exercised responsibly and in accordance with the laws in place, it makes our families and our property safer.
Last week, I announced I would join efforts to filibuster any gun control proposals that seek to restrict the rights of Americans who have never violated the law. Many Floridians, including our large number of hunters and sportsmen, use guns regularly and responsibly and do not deserve to be harassed or further regulated. Especially in light of recent shootings, safety is everyone’s priority. But the way to increase safety is not to take away the rights of responsible gun owners, including those wishing to protect themselves and their loved ones. Instead, by ensuring that those who obey the law can remain the first line of defense against violence, America will become better equipped to handle potential tragedies as they arise.
Current gun control proposals being discussed by Washington Democrats – by the admission of their own authors – would not have stopped the tragedies in Newtown or Aurora. The perpetrators of these actions were mentally disturbed monsters with a complete lack of interest in laws or ethics. For this reason, any effective plan to deal with future violence must focus on addressing mental illness and identifying those Americans who should be forbidden to own guns.
What advocates of indiscriminate gun bans fail to realize is that their efforts to legislate limitations on gun ownership will only work on those of us who are already predisposed to obey the law. Since a disregard for law is the very definition of criminality, criminals will not be deterred by Congress’ efforts to restrict their access to firearms. We’ve seen this in urban centers like Chicago and Washington, D.C. – when these local governments enacted gun bans, only law abiding citizens respected the law. Criminals carried on, emboldened by the knowledge that their victims would be more vulnerable and could be easily overmatched.
So what can we do to prevent future gun violence? Legislators can take some measures, while others can only be achieved by society’s collaborative efforts. To address violence, we must treat it at its source. We must focus on measures that allow educators and families to identify and treat mental illness before it reaches a tragic breaking point. We must also ensure that the lack of adequate information sharing on mental health issues is addressed in a way, of course, that safeguards privacy rights.
There are also societal factors that can lead to criminality. I believe that the breakdown of the American family has led to many of our society’s problems, both economic and cultural, including increased instances of gun violence. Children are raised in a culture today that systematically desensitizes them to violence. The only way to counter this is to create a strong and supportive family structure that emphasizes compassion, respect and responsibility for our actions. Our schools should also instill in our students the belief that not only can they rise above the circumstances of their birth, but also equip them with skills and knowledge that give them real alternatives to the street.
As with most of America’s problems, the power to effect change lies more in the hands of those who drive our culture than those who drive our government. Washington can’t stamp the hatred out of people’s hearts, but families can block it before it takes hold. Washington’s primary role is to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens, not to restrict them in pursuit of political agendas that, by their own admission, don’t actually solve the problem they set out to fix in the first place.
When they began their current terms, the president and members of Congress swore an oath to protect the entire Constitution, including the Second Amendment. This includes defending parts of it that they – for whatever reason – may disagree with. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts we’d like to protect, nor do we get to recast the intentions of the original text to fit our own ideologies.
The Second Amendment is clear in both its scope and intention. Denying responsible citizens this American birthright is as unconstitutional as it is unnecessary. Disregarding the rights of law-abiding citizens will not solve the problem of gun violence. Instead, all Americans, not just those in Congress, must put politics aside and address the heart of the matter.
Marco Rubio, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Floria and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.