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American Individualism Regarding the Right to Bear Arms

The inextricable link to individualism and our right to bear arms is ruining our ability to sympathize with others as a collective. The type of individualism, in which people prioritize themselves and their self-interests over society’s interests. In America individualism is idolized. Here, you need to put yourself before others in affairs so you can climb higher up the totem pole and it undoubtedly bleeds into our every day interactions. While there are considerable benefits to individualism, there are also some disadvantages. Believe it or not: many individuals believe their safety is more important than others, and the possession of guns has overshadowed people’s ability to see its dangers and be outraged enough to do something about it. Unfortunately, Americans are divided among political ideology more than ever before, and the gun debate and laws connected to this controversy are one of the main driving forces for the divide.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, a mass shooting is an incident where four or more individuals are shot or killed in the same general time and location and there has been a significant amount of these mass shootings in recent years [1]. Last December, in Las Vegas 58 concert goers were killed at a stadium when a gunman opened fire on 22,000 people [2]. In Sutherland, Texas, 25 people were murdered during their Sunday church service [3]. On February 14, 2018, 17 students and teachers were killed in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School [4]. These senseless tragedies were just a few of the many mass shootings that occurred in the United States in the last two years, and they will continue to occur if Americans do not stop and realize that their selfishness is killing our loved ones. In 2017, there were 384 mass shootings, and there have been 154 mass shootings thus far in 2018 [5]. Comparative to other developed countries across the world this number is disgraceful. The United states holds 5% of the world’s population but makes up 31% of the worlds mass shooters [6].

Parents reacting to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School | CBS News

It should be noted that I am in no way trying to discredit any of the previous mass shootings; however, I am concerned about examining recent mass shootings and their effects on Americans today. American individualism has increased to a level that is unheard of and it has come to a point where we are starting to become numb to gun violence. After asking Dr. Arthur Evans, chief executive of the American Psychological Association, about the frequency of mass shootings, he told CBS News, “Studies have shown that when people are exposed to continuous light or sound, they become less sensitive to that stimuli [and] it would be expected that if people are exposed to these kinds of events in the news all the time, they’re going to be less reactive” [7].

Student crying after reuniting with a loved one after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School | CNN

Mass shootings are inextricably linked to individualism through debate and law. Preceding every mass shooting was a debate concerning the American people’s right to bear arms, however, this was solidified in the law by the Supreme court in 2010. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in a close 5–4 vote that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right for “traditionally lawful purposes” [8]. This groundbreaking decision made it clear that the Second Amendment was about an individual’s right to gun ownership, “even if it is unconnected with service or militia,” according to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia. Now the “right to bear arms” not only meant that guns keep us safe, but regulating gun use will infringe upon every American’s ability to protect themselves. This decision permitted the legitimacy of guns in America and gave guns the opportunity to be valorized in the law.

This idea about an individual’s right to bear arms is rooted in self-interest. Americans have become so obsessed with personal freedoms that they forgot about the consequences those freedoms can have on others. Guns have become such an embodiment of freedom that Americans are unwilling to see the downsides of the powerful instrument despite its dangerous impacts.

The AR-15 is the most common gun used in mass shootings. “The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and [will] cause catastrophic bleeding, leaving exit wounds to be the size of an orange,” yet it still is acceptable for civilians to purchase this gun [9].

Bud's Gun Shop

Powerful guns like the AR-15 and similar models should not constitute self-defense. As a result of the District of Columbia v. Heller decision, guns like the AR-15 can be used for individual purposes despite the fact that the AR-15 is a semi-automatic, military-inspired weapon that was designed to kill large quantities of people in a short period of time. “Because AR-15-style weapons are semi-automatic, the shooter must pull the trigger to fire each shot from a magazine that often holds 30 rounds. However, a bump stock — a legal device in many places — can be added to a semiautomatic weapon to approximate an automatic rifle where the gun will automatically keep firing until the ammunition supply is exhausted" [10].

Even more scary is the fact that AR-15-style weapons are so easily accessible. “In Florida, Moti Adika, the owner of a gun store within a mile of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, told CBS News ‘if you are a law-abiding citizen,’ it should only take about a quarter of an hour to purchase an AR-15 at his store" [11]. This, however, should not be the case. It should be much more difficult for civilians to access small arms but every time there is suspicion that there will be tighter gun control laws to prevent gun violence, there is a proliferation in the purchase of small arms. This Supreme Court decision not only affected the way people looked at firearms, but it also influenced people’s behaviors and their use of guns. After the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012 where 20 first graders were killed in under 11 minutes [12], 2 million guns were purchased compared to the 754,000 guns that were sold after 9/11 [13]. This phenomenon conveys that the purchase of firearms is not necessarily about the concern for self-defense as the Supreme Court decision suggests, but rather it is rooted in fear of lack of individual freedom. If Americans are buying more guns after the death of young children comparatively to the largest terrorist attack the United States has ever experienced, there is something wrong and it is the potency of American individualism.

This form of American individualism is a threat to our democracy because we are failing to be there for one another in the time of tragedy. Part of what makes our country so great is the chance to collectively come together when change must occur, however, Americans have become polarized due to the gun debate. Americans failing to sympathize with one another because many still believe their access to guns is more important than the overall harm that guns contribute to our society as a whole. In light of this I think Americans should remember the importance in coming together for the greater good. We saw this after 9/11 when a compensation fund was created for the families who lost loved ones that day. We also saw this after Hurricane Katrina when millions of dollars in aid was sent to the people who lost their homes, family members and most valuable possessions and America’s response needs to have the same level of unity and empathy when the discussion is about guns. When innocent lives are lost and families are left to suffer as a result of guns, Americans do not come together the same way they do for other tragedies. Our sympathy for one has become eclipsed by individuals’ own self-serving interests and agendas and this needs to change because this is not who we are.


[1] Courtland Jeffrey, “Mass shootings in the U.S.: 346 mass shootings occurred in 2017,” ABC 15, Feburary 15, 2018,

[2] Laurel Wamsley, “Coroner Releases Causes Of Death For All 58 Victims Of Las Vegas Shooting,” NPR, December 22, 2017

[3] CNN Library, “Deadliest Mass Shootings in Modern US History Fast Facts,” CNN, May 23, 2018

[4] CBS, “Florida school shooting” CBS, Feb. 14, 2018

[5] Gun Violence Archive, “Mass Shootings,” 2018,

[6] Kara Fox, ”How US gun culture compares with the world in five charts,” CNN, March 9, 2018

[7] Maggie Astor “Columbine Shocked the Nation. Now, Mass Shootings Are Less Surprising,” The New York Times, November 10, 2017 2017

[8] Luis Acosta, “United States: Gun Ownership and the Supreme Court,” Library of Congress, July 2008

[9] Heather Sher, “What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns,” The Atlantic, February 22, 2018

[10] Greg Myre, “A Brief History Of The AR-15,” NPR, February 28, 2018

[11] Dan Evon, “How Long Does It Take to Buy an AR-15 in the United States?” Snopes, February 22, 2018

[12] CBS News, ”A look back: Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,” CBS News, 2018,

[13] Gregor Aisch & Josh Keller, “What Happens After Calls for NewGun Restrictions? Sales Go Up”, The New York Times, June 13, 2016

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