Keeping and Bearing Arms

A little over a week ago, a man stormed into an elementary school, overpowered several people, and opened fire in a kindergarten class. In all, 28 people, including the gunman (who turned the gun on himself) — 20 of whom were children — were killed that day.

I have a six-year-old son in kindergarten, and the location of the school is in a town where I have many friends and work colleagues. When I visit my in-laws, Newtown, CT, is roughly the halfway point and I often stop there for lunch.

So, yeah, the news affected me.

The second amendment guarantees us the right to keep and bear arms. Or, more specifically,

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.

I’m not going to do a whole lot of parsing of the meaning of this particular constitutional amendment. The Supreme Court has decided numerous court cases in which the right has been infringed by some level of government.

There are a couple of things that do bear mentioning about this particular amendment, though. Unlike other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, this one does not specifically state that congress may not pass laws that speak to owning a gun. Compare it with the first amendment, which begins with the phrase “Congress shall make no law…”

I think it’s safe to say that congress absolutely does have the right to state who can and should regulate the militia. (Note that the meaning of the word “regulate” has evolved a little bit in the more than 200 years since the bill of rights was passed. In the context as it was written, the phrase “well-regulated” means that it works the way it’s supposed to. Modern use of the word “regulated” speaks more to the process of ensuring that it does work the way it’s supposed to.

Let me state up front that I do not own a gun, and have no interest in owning one. And as long as you don’t want to require me to own a gun, I have no interest in taking your gun away from you.

You’re never free to do something unless you’re also free to do its opposite. You’re not free to own a gun unless you’re also free not to own one.

A lot of gun control advocates argue that the founding fathers didn’t foresee — nor could they have foreseen — the availability of weapons capable of firing off a hundred rounds with the pull of a single trigger. That’s true, but they also couldn’t foresee indoor plumbing. Or the telephone. Or the transmission of news from one place to another faster than a day. But the power of the weapons doesn’t make that much of a difference in the interest of maintaining security in a free state.

Gun rights advocates, on the other hand, argue that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Again, true, but you can’t deny that guns make it easier to kill people. Almost too easy, but you don’t need a high-powered assault rifle to prove that point. The same day as that happened, someone went into a school in China and, in a knife attack, went after 22 children. The body count was significantly lower because of the fact that the weapon of choice was not a gun.

As an interesting side note, there’s a reason why murder is monitored within crime statistics as being completely independent of just about any other statistic. The motivation to commit certain crimes can and will waver, but if you want to commit murder, chances are, you either want to commit it, or you’re asleep. Theft — in all of its forms — is a crime of need. Rape is a complex crime with lots of motives, but even the serial rapist will have times when he doesn’t want to commit the crime. Murder stands alone. There are times when I wonder if the only thing that truly drives fluctuations in the murder rate, is the accuracy of the shooter.

As often happens, then, with complex issues, is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Gun rights advocates and gun control advocates have a common ground: stopping tragedies like what happened in Sandy Hook, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech, or anywhere else where someone went on a rampage.

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA, gave a shameful response, and it would have been better if he’d said nothing at all. “Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns,” is demonstrably not true. Whatever the solution is, it’s not more guns. When Ronald Reagan was shot, no one fired back at his attacker, John Hinkley. He was subdued, and Reagan was kept down, but it didn’t deter Hinkley from firing the shots in the first place.

What we need is to ensure that the people who do seek to purchase a gun, are qualified to use it and use it responsibly. From what I’ve read about Adam Lanza’s mother, she was a piece of work, paranoid that some mythical world government was going to come in and take away her freedoms. Even if he hadn’t gotten to her guns, I’d be a little bit worried that someone like her even owned guns like that in the first place.

I’d also like to encourage research into technologies that will make guns safer. By definition, guns are unsafe devices. But one thing that can be done to make them safer, is to do something that would prevent anyone other than the rightful owner of the gun from using it. A fingerprint recognition technology could be co-opted to prevent anyone other than the owner from actually discharging any bullets. This would prevent children from “playing” with their parents’ guns to disastrous results, and would also be good in situations where a gun falls between two people, there would be no need to scramble for it in a kill-or-be-killed scenario.

In fact, that kind of research would actually strengthen a person’s right to keep arms, to say the least.

There are other things that can be done that everyone would agree to. It’s just a matter of suggesting a few things and seeing what sticks.

Because the way the guns in the hands of a few deranged individuals have been going, the state is far from secure, and it’s becoming less free.

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One response to “Keeping and Bearing Arms

  1. I agree with you here. I am a gun owner, and I’m also a rational human being. I am horrified by the ignorant fearful things that come out of the mouth of some gun owners.

    I think they have some sort of minutemen type Revolutionary War fantasy where they use their guns to save the country and preserve freedom for all future generations. They don’t seem to understand how different things are now, compared to the days of Paul Revere.

    I think they should be rallying to protect their first amendment rights. This is really what protects us from the government. People who fear the government should be educating themselves and getting involved in politics, not hoarding guns.

    Meh… Preaching to the choir.

    My heart aches for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary. Some friends and I are making snowflakes this weekend, to send to them.
    http://newtown.patch.com/announcements/help-our-sandy-hook-pta-family#comments_list

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