What if…the United States held a national referendum on gun rights?

Let us be clear: there is no mechanism in the United States constitution to amend the constitution by popular national referendum. A change requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and then three-fourths of the state legislatures to adopt the amendment.

It simply ain’t going to happen, because the United States is not a popular democracy like, say, Ireland or France. It was designed to protect the sovereignty of states (although not the right to leave the union. It’s not the EU!) and let’s be honest: the Founding Fathers tried to design a system to keep out the likes of Trumpolini.

That system, of giving the small states the protection of the Senate and a super majority to amend has worked as intended. But it has also created a situation where a clear urban majority of the population can be held at gunpoint (literally) by a rural minority. 

What’s to be done? Just accept the next mass shooting (which, I promise you, will happen within 72 hours of my posting this blog) as the American way of life? Or is it time for a fresh approach.

There’s no point liberals saying “get rid of guns”. That is not going to happen because the majority of Americans do believe in gun rights. But by the same extent, there are plenty of responsible gun owners who do not share the extremism of the NRA and would support storage laws, restriction of certain guns, red flag laws and gun registration. 

What if the states with gun control majorities decided to hold a statewide referendum on the same day in each state. It’s not impossible that 15-20 states could agree to such a proposal, with anything up to 150m eligible to vote on the day. 

But what to vote on? What if the states in question agreed the wording of a new second amendment. Now, that in itself would be a huge challenge, and so requiring of detail as to make the revised amendment even more complicated and open to Supreme Court interpretation. 

What if instead the proposal is aimed not at placating one side of the other, but recognizing a reality of today’s America. What if the amendment said something like:

“The interpretation of the Second Amendment as it applies within a state shall be decided by the state legislature of that state, and only by the state legislature.”

What does that mean? It means Texas can continue to permit AR15s whilst New York can ban them. It means that, on this issue, neither state can impose its prevailing culture on the other. It’s a huge lean towards States Rights, traditionally a source of anti-progressive foot dragging, but that’s no longer the reality. The US is now made up of progressive and populist (I won’t say conservative. Conservatism doesn’t really exist in the party system anymore) states and it’s time for liberals to look again at States Rights in terms of creating liberal bastions and refuges.   

That’s all well and good, says you, but even if you could get both sides to agree to that compromise, and even it it passed in state-wide plebiscites, it still means nothing in terms of the US constitution nor the US Supreme Court.

Again, all true. But this will allow governors and state legislatures of the states that pass such an amendment by popular vote to claim a popular and democratic mandate to ignore the Second Amendment at state level and dare the federal government to do something about it.

But let’s be clear what we are talking about. I do not believe there is majority support, even in dark blue states, for abolishing the right to bear arms. There is support for gun control, and they are not the same thing. The sort of reforms that setting aside a populist reading of the Second Amendment would allow are about banning certain military weapons, etc but would still leave unchanged the rights of the great majority of gunowners holding sporting weapons or handguns for home protection. On top of that, a period of buyback could be allowed, and it could even be possible to permit those who already hold AR15s to be permitted to keep them provided they comply with background checks and storage requirements. Worse case scenario, they can move to Texas. 

Opponents of such proposals warn in dark tones that such a policy could result in an insurrection by armed militias of bitter people, but that sort of proves the point. These angry heavily-armed people are exactly the sort of people who should be living near schools in Texas, not Massachusetts. Anti-gun control Texas parents will welcome them with open arms.

In fact, I’d go one step further. Blue states could pay them to move to Texas. I’m sure Greg Abbott will be delighted to have them. Everybody wins.    

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