I’d like to preface this post by saying that I fully support the 2nd Amendment and the citizen’s right to bear arms. That said, I do think that the argument isn’t being had the correct way.
The Second Amendment and Prior Action:
First, what is the Second Amendment? The text is as follows:
“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.” – Second Amendment
As a native English speaker, the way I read this is “Since a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. From a cursory glance (with no constitutional law degree) it seems to suggest that no law may be passed which infringes on the individual’s right to keep and bear arms. That stuff about a militia in front seems to be a justification for why the amendment exists. I also notice something special about its words. It says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”. To me (again, no constitutional law degree) this suggests a presupposed right to keep and bear arms. The 2nd Amendment doesn’t give you the right to keep and bear arms, it protects it. You already have the right to keep and bear arms. This amendment prevents laws from being passed that restrict it.
Now we need to ask the question what a restriction on your right to keep and bear arms is. Suppose certain firearms are prohibited from use or storage, that could be a restriction on your right to bear arms. Requiring all guns to be stored at some government facility, that could be a restriction on your right to keep and bear arms. Really, what we’re looking for is any law that prevents the user from owning their firearms.
This is why I never buy the argument on the right that gun regulations, making guns more difficult to obtain legally is against the 2nd Amendment. Sure, some things that have been done could be argued to be unconstitutional. For example, the assault weapons ban of 1994 is unconstitutional. It restricted firearms you may legally own to those with some number of modifications. It seems incredibly silly to me, because it seems that you could have all of the components of a prohibited weapon but as long as they’re all apart from each other it’s fine. It’s like if vehicles with six wheels were illegal so you took out a middle row of wheels and put them under the vehicle. You’re still driving on four wheels but you have the ability to switch to a six wheeled vehicle…
The purpose of the assault weapons ban was to prevent mass shootings. You can argue about whether or not it was effective. In terms of mass shootings we see that during the ban there were 16 mass shootings or 1.6 per year of the ban. After the ban we have had over 30 mass shootings over a ten year period (2004-2014). The rate has practically doubled. This is also somewhat troubling because crime rates have been dropping for decades. Despite an overall crime rate drop, why do we see a doubling in the number of mass shootings?
I tend to favor reading this as a correlation rather than a causation. Especially when we see 17 mass shootings from 1984 to 1993. The rate seems to have spiked since the 2000’s. Did anything happen in the 2000’s that may have led to more mass shootings? In today’s political climate, I’m sure people want to hop on the War on Terror argument. Looking at the names of the perpetrators at a glance, I wouldn’t want to hop on that train at all. I do not believe mass shootings are a War on Terror problem.
The (Poor) Arguments:
With all of that hullabaloo out of the way (and I can’t believe spell check isn’t throwing a fit over hullabaloo) let’s get down to the right vs. left argument. The right maintains that a regulation of who may purchase guns is an infringement of rights. I disagree. The laws in gun regulation by and large regulate who may purchase guns. This is not restricting who may own guns. However there are restrictions are who may own guns in federal law. Among the list are people addicted to controlled substances, fugitives, and domestic abusers. There are also a series of non-citizen clauses but if you’re not a citizen then you’re not protected by the United States constitution so I wouldn’t bother going down that rabbit hole.
Focusing on the United States citizens cases, (fugitives, domestic abusers) I don’t think people would generally disagree that these people shouldn’t have firearms. However restricting their right to bear arms is a violation of the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms was presupposed. There wasn’t an exception “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed unless they abuse their spouse”. I imagine the laws stand because of public opinion and safety concerns. But to me, this is a clear case of the Second Amendment being hit. I’m a firm believer of “slippery slope” applying to arguments in law because of how precedent is used. But that’s just my take on this.
“It’s to prevent tyranny”
This is an argument from the right. It’s suggesting that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to prevent tyranny, so that if the United States ever wanted to crack down on the people, they could defend themselves. If the United States wanted to enact martial law (and the armed forces were willing to comply) there isn’t a whole lot you can do with your gun against their tanks and nukes. Seriously, what is this argument even. Again, that doesn’t mean that I believe you shouldn’t have your guns, it’s that the argument itself doesn’t pan out. Could a guerilla warfare force take down the United States? I suppose it’s possible, but highly unlikely. There’s just too large of a technological gap/organization for the people to win. Would this be solved if civilians could own tanks? We’d probably need a lot of tanks. Especially since civilians currently cannot own tanks that actually fire rounds (which I personally find odd because again… the firing mechanism is the “arms” part of the tank).
I do not believe that there is a way to fix this argument.
This one gets played a lot. It is used to justify arguments about what the founding fathers intended. It may be a correct in all terms of historical context, I won’t argue that. But we don’t live in the time of the historical context. If it only makes sense in context, and we’re not in context, then why should it apply? I think this is actually a recurring theme in the arguments from the right. Even if the arguments are justified, most of them seem to be focused on observing tradition. I’m sorry to say that requiring us to observe tradition because we observe tradition is a circular argument.
A way to fix this argument is to apply the reasons for that tradition and see if they still hold today. For example, let’s suppose at some time it was illegal to sell cow meat because all cows were infected with mad cow disease for some reason or another. If we’re here 200 years later and we’re pressing to lift that sale restriction, do we say “No, cow meat has been illegal for 200 years, why would we change it now?” Or do we say “That ban existed for a reason. We have now addressed the cause, as cows no longer have mad cow disease. We may now safely lift the ban”.
“It’s what the founding fathers intended”
I personally find this one to be the worst argument (and it comes from the right) despite being backed up by quite a bit of history. What this argument is really saying is that there is a religion of the Constitution in which the founding fathers are Gods. This is a faith argument. It has ties to a ‘social contract’ argument (which would be valid) and a ‘precedent’ argument. However, it fails out of the gate if we accept EVERYTHING that the founding fathers intended. The founding fathers said that standing armies were dangerous yet here we are with the armed forces. The founding fathers had intended that only educated land-owning citizens be permitted to vote because they had a larger stake in the running of the country than the plebes. Yet here we are with voting rights for any person over the age of 18 years old. The question then becomes, if you want to follow this line of reasoning, why are some intentions of the founding fathers followed yet others are not?
Now I don’t like the idea of the religion of the founding fathers. I like to think that the founding fathers intended for our nation to grow and change with the times, which is why the Ninth Amendment exist. I do not believe there is a way to fix this argument to suit the debate.
“The founding fathers never expected these weapons”
This one comes from the left, often as response to the argument above. I refuse to accept it on premise. I find it odd that the founding fathers didn’t know about the existence of tanks (they should’ve been familiar with Leonardo da Vinci). They knew about machine guns, grenades were used in the Revolutionary war, cannons had existed for years… So to think that these educated individuals didn’t one day expect us to be flying spacecraft or have weapons that fire 10x faster than the fastest firing weapon of the time seems ludicrous. I also don’t think that it’s relevant. Again, there is no religion of the Constitution. We should not be worried about what the founding fathers would’ve wanted. We should examine the Constitution as it is and see how it applies to law.
Ultimately, these ‘intention’ arguments boil down to ‘Not what you said but how you said it’.
“Don’t you care about the 32,000 people that die every year?”
This is an appeal to emotion. It’s not an argument. Suppose we did remove guns from the hands of every law-abiding citizen. The non-law-abiding citizens would still have guns and you have no proof that removing guns makes crime happen less often. We actually have an experimental test case to look at: Australia.
In 1996 and 2003, Australia released mandatory firearm buyback policies. The question now follows, did crime drop after the buyback? Certainly not for homicide. In fact, the homicide rates go UP after the gun ban. It seems crime goes down as enforcement officials go up, not as guns go down. Who would have thought?
I do not believe that there is a way to fix this argument. If the intent is to get the opponent to recognize guns to be a threat to society, you need to bring in numbers. To put this into perspective, about as many people die in the United States by firearm (this includes suicides) as people that die due to motor vehicle accidents in the United States. The average household has about two vehicles (a wash and a wear I suppose) while the average household has 4.4 guns per household. If we look at this from a very elementary point of view, the more guns we have, the more gun deaths we have. If we have twice as many guns as we have cars, we should see twice as many gun deaths (or at least substantially more gun deaths) as we see motor vehicle deaths. But we don’t. So where’s the data that says more gun regulation means less deaths?
On top of that, this ‘argument’ presupposes that I do care, and that I would like to reduce that number. What if I don’t care? Then you need to convince me that we’re better off with those people alive. And since a good majority of them are suicide, removing guns from the picture won’t save 2/3 of these people. The short version is, to fix this argument you must make it a logical argument.
That’s all of the arguments that I could think of off the top of my head that I have a fundamental disagreement with. I believe that if we want to have this gun debate, we need to move it into the realm of logic and away from these arguments of ‘faith’. We need to look at the arguments for increasing gun regulation and the arguments for decreasing regulation. Yes, people seem to agree on more regulation. Not many people have put forward what that regulation is, but they seem to agree that it is necessary. And if that’s what the people want, then our representatives should get on it. This is how our democracy works.
I think that we, as a nation, have to decide how we want to handle gun ownership. I maintain that as the Second Amendment stands, there are no restrictions on what you may own. That said, addressing how guns are sold through legislature does not seem to have an impact on the Second Amendment. What you are really arguing about there would be your right to purchase a firearm. It should be covered by the Ninth Amendment, in that you have a right to purchase a firearm. But restricting how you purchase a firearm isn’t an infringement of your right to own a firearm. Worst-case scenario you still be able to make whatever firearm you want and own that firearm.
If as a nation we decide to continue to produce and sell firearms, we should be ready to accept the consequences when those firearms are used to commit not only acts of evil but acts of good. If that means 32000 deaths a year and 75000 injuries per year, then that would be the cost of having this freedom. This has been my opinion on the gun debate. I’ll get back to work on the voter stuff soon. Thanks for reading.