The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution reads:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Most Americans have understood this to mean that is it the right of American citizens to own and carry firearms. Most citizens have also agreed that some restrictions on this right are reasonable (you can’t carry fully automatic weapons in most places), though the exact restrictions have been debated as society changed or new weapons are invented.
Lately, what we often see the conversation centered around is the latest tragic incident where a gun was used. Someone kills some people with a gun and we hear some version of, “this would not happen (or not be as bad) if we had better gun control laws.”
Dwayne’s bad chemicals made him take a loaded thirty-eight caliber revolver from under his pillow and stick it in his mouth. This was a tool whose only purpose was to make holes in human beings.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
First, I would like to clear up something that bothers me when I hear people discussing this issue. Sometimes they put forth something to the effect that the full meaning of the 2nd amendment should be considered and that it means something other than, “Americans should have a right to own weapons which can be used to kill people.” This parsing of the argument is bad for both sides and it is not a reasonable interpretation of the meaning. We do not need to talk about “hunting rights” or about “property rights” or any other subset of the full American right provided for in the amendment.
For example, it is sometimes put forward that the starting words, “A well regulated militia” implies that the writers intended that the amendment would provide for local militia groups, not individual gun owner rights. This is simply not the case. Many articles and pamphlets were written by those attempting to get the Constitution ratified after it was completed. The signed paper was no good until the states had voted for it. So there are many published documents that expand and clarify the thinking of those who wrote the amendment. It is clear that they intended the amendment to insure that Americans would have the right to keep up arms against their own government so that they might overthrow the new government if it became too powerful and attempted to take the rights of the citizens. They did not want to finish a war for freedom just to be enslaved by a new government.
It is clear from the body of writing by the authors of the Constitution and by those people who were debating it in newspapers and public forums, that all understood the power in question to be the power to use technology to empower the citizens to revolt. All the watering down of the amendment is a very modern confusion. Let us do away with it.
So, in considering the proper argument, should we now, in our new and more modern society, disarm our citizens? Do we now live in a country where the concerns that pushed people to add the 2nd amendment in the first place are no longer applicable?
At the core, a gun is powerful because it levels the playing field. It does not matter who is bigger when both opponents have a gun. This is the effect of all weapon technology. It gives the advantage to the smarter opponent and removes it from the brutish. In a world without weapons, the bigger and stronger triumph over the smaller and weaker. In a world full of advanced weapon technology, the smartest always wins. And so also, whoever possesses the best, and most of the technology, tends to win. If citizens are unarmed, they are no threat to their government.
I can imagine someone saying, “the main thing guns let a person do is to kill many more people than they could otherwise.” Or maybe, “I don’t care about all that abstract stuff when kids are getting killed in schools.” Well, if you are one of these people I encourage you to stop. Removing technology will not save children, or movie theater patrons. It will however, take away a little more of our liberty (which is a shiny word for freedom):
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
– Benjamin Franklin
Franklin knew, because he was a genius, and because he lived in a time when it actually had been fought and bled over, that freedom is hard fought to win and very easy to give up. And at the bottom, America is about freedom.
So there it is. Would America be safer with gun control? Maybe. There are plenty of articles full of statistics you can read to figure that out. But it wouldn’t be America. It would be the country that was once the land of the free. Like many other things in our country, if we want to live in a place where people are free, we have to be willing to give up some safety in the knowledge that Liberty comes at various prices all along the way.