t is inevitable that talk of gun control will arise as a renewed national discourse following the Aurora, Colorado movie theater murders. I am thinking that this is perhaps the best time to reaffirm the Second Amendment canon. If James Madison’s reasoning cannot withstand examination during a time of testing, then it probably is not reasonable.
For perspective, I am writing this from my home in Colorado, about 25 miles from the movie theater where James Holmes shot 70 people early Friday morning. Columbine High School is also less than 15 miles from here. My company responded to a call by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office during the 1999 Columbine standoff to attempt network communications with people inside the school. The son of one of my colleagues lost the use of his legs in the Columbine shooting and I suspect that I will soon hear personal accounts from friends in Aurora with few degrees of separation from the theater attack. These shootings are not distant news items for me.
The Second Amendment to the United States 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.”
Arguments abound for qualifying the application of this ultimate individual right. The two strongest grounds for controlling personal gun ownership are death statistics and the implication that the Second Amendment was intended only for a standing army (militia).
The naive theorist will challenge NRA members with, “Would it not be preferable to surrender individual gun ownership in order to stop all this senseless violence?” The statistics flow from these believers with numbers of accidents, unsuccessful struggles with burglars, and the biggie -- 11,000 annual deaths from gunshot wounds. And I think that we err in responding directly to the faulty premise of their appeal.
The motivations for defending the right to individual gun ownership generally fall into three categories; personal protection, citizen defense against an oppressive state, and hunting. I am not a hunter. I don’t even fish. But I love taking frequent hikes into Pike National Forest, which borders the west side of my home. I am always accompanied by two border collies and a Ruger sidearm loaded with hollow-point bullets. I frequently come across the remains of deer and elk who were not as well protected against the Rocky Mountain’s very covert mountain lions.
I bought that portable hand gun so that I would be equipped to kill an animal if necessary while hiking. Twenty-four years ago, I also bought a tactical pump 12 gauge shotgun so that I would be equipped to kill a person. Over the course of three months in 1988, a man was breaking into my house frequently and unpredictably. He would not steal anything. Instead, he would leave twisted sexual messages directed at my wife and our ten-year-old daughter. I hated buying that shotgun and I dreaded the thought of violent confrontation. But, I was very willing to defend my family and our home. Fortunately, that situation was resolved without my having to deal with the trauma of shooting another human. While I have long been grateful for the right to quickly acquire a weapon when I needed one, I have since come to appreciate that America’s Founders were not primarily concerned with mountain lions and sexual predators when crafting the Bill of Rights.
The right / left political scale positioning for this issue is not easily recognizable. As in most partisan debates, the political leadership on the left usesmisdirection to leverage a more popular urgency that would result in the desired outcome. Rank and file leftists are single-minded with the expedient solution of eliminating personal weapons in order to eradicate violence against citizens. Leftist leadership, however, wishes to eliminate personal weapons in order to prevent the people from having the power to uprise against the state.
Virtually every historical figure of tyranny can be quoted as including gun control within their plan of nationwide citizen management. Centralized control is a basic element of the utopian formula, and specifically rejected by the band of revolutionists who signed on to the Second Amendment. These were the very souls who earlier signed a declaration that instructed future generations that, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
I deeply value the right to protect myself and my family against predators, both animal and human. But neither of these is directly addressed in the Second Amendment. Madison’s original draft read, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.” The principle here is to maintain the distributed power of force in the collection of individual citizens. The preamble phrase in the final version shows the intent of a militia as differing from a standing state army.
The Third Amendment, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law,” seems obsolete without this context. It makes more sense when coupled with a proper understanding of the Second Amendment.
Of course I realize that maintaining due respect for the people’s right to bear arms does not directly address the horror of some lunatic shooting people in a movie theater, or students at Virginia Tech, or a Congresswoman at a shopping center. Nor does it speak to criminal acts of selfishness and desperation. Those crimes are appropriately addressed with self-protecting citizens, backed by well-trained and well-equipped law enforcement.
And we need to put a stop to the self-destructive practice of releasing bad actors to repeat their crimes on even more innocent victims. Regardless of whether he is found to be insane, James Holmes should face a firing squad with no black hood.
The appropriate response to the gun-control advocate who cites death statistics where gun ownership is allowed is to cite death statistics where gun ownership has been denied. With Second Amendment rights in the United States, there were 11,000 homicides using firearms in 2010. With no such rights in the former Soviet Union, the state murdered over 6,000,000 citizens annually. China topped out at 3,500,000 each year. And Germany exceeded 2,000,000 in annual murders during their Nazi era.
Individual firearms control is the sign of a misplaced fear.