That’s the text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted December 15, 1791, for those of you scoring at home. There are perhaps no other sentence that is so divisive in U.S. law, bar something out of Roe v. Wade. Those 27 words have been subject to millions, if not billions of pages of legal arguments, and billions, if not trillions of dollars to lobby over.
But just what the hell are we arguing about? I’m no legal expert, but I do subscribe to logic and reason—and, yes, I quite realize law and logic don’t often intersect. So without looking at thousands of pages of case law and judicial interpretation, I’d like to offer some thoughts on the matter.
Those who would defend as absolute the rights of citizens to bear arms often get back to the intent of the Founding Fathers. Some would say that the people have the right to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. That has some merit. After all, we had just come from the oppression of the English government during colonial times. But, adopted in the Bill of Rights, at the same time as the Second Amendment, was the Fourth Amendment, which states,
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In other words, Number Four says the government can’t come in your house without something else called “probable cause.” So, with that protection, why would you need a weapon? Besides, in modern times, the po-po showing up at your door with a warrant and probable cause will probably have you out-gunned anyway.Speaking of modern times, let’s talk for a moment about the “arms” to which the Fathers referred. Probably what most people had back then was the old Brown Bess musket, which took a highly trained user 15-20 seconds to load and fire—in other words, three shots a minute. They were still 70 years away from the Gatling Gun, and could not even fathom a modern assault rifle, which could fire those same three rounds in under a second. Part of the reason that people carried “arms” back then, sometimes even required, was so that the government didn’t have to supply them with weapons in the event of a military event which required the activation of a civilian militia. No such problem now. Uncle Sam has plenty of guns.
Now, before I go any further and be labeled a soft, wussy bleeding-heart, scared-of-guns liberal, let me declare the following: I firmly believe in the right of a home/landowner to defend with a firearm his or her life and property from hostile parties. I believe that right is absolute, and non-negotiable. You know that old saying, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”? Well, your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of my shit ends when you enter my house unwelcomed. I have the absolute right to repel you by force, because shouting the text of a law barring breaking and entering isn’t going to stop you in the process of coming for my flatscreen—or worse yet, my kids. Now, what kind of force should I be allowed to repel you with? We’ll get back to that.Let me also declare that I firmly believe in the right of hunting as sport. Now, personally, I’d never go out and kill Bambi for fun, but for some people, northern and southern, it’s a way of life. I’ve got no problem with that. I also have no problem eating what they kill—love me some deer sticks. But shooting a weapon at something that’s no threat to me doesn’t seem very sporting. Now, what kind of weapon should you be allowed to use for hunting? We’ll get back to that.
Finally, let me also declare that I have no problem with sport shooting at a gun range. I’ve done it twice in my life—once, with a shotgun shooting at clay pigeons about 15 years ago, and once with a handgun at an indoor range with my dad last year in Arizona. I sucked with the shottie, but was very good with the pistol, especially for a first-timer (thank you, Halo). And I’ll do it again—I had an absolute blast. Now, what kinds of weapons should you be allowed to use on a gun range? We’ll get back to that.
Let us return to the prompts for this piece—the awful events in Newtown, CT. And Aurora, CO. And Littleton. And the Giffords event in Arizona. And others. Gun control has again, suddenly, been thrust into the national discussion like never before. It seems that even some staunch pro-gun supporters think that there at least needs to be a little bit of an examination of current regulation and enforcement policies.
But is it too soon for that examination? That’s a political hot potato in and of itself. “Let us grieve for the children, and then we’ll talk,” say some. That, however just seems like it’s coming from those who are against stricter gun laws, in hopes that after the grief goes away, so will the fervor to take action. Lockstep liberal U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) penned an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune less than 48 hours after Sandy Hook, so, clearly, he wasn’t waiting. And there’s plenty of turmoil at FOX News, whose weekend coverage was ordered to NOT discuss gun control, despite FOX parent company boss Rupert Murdoch pleading on Twitter for tighter gun controls within hours of Sandy Hook. That’s in direct conflict with FOX News Channel President Roger Ailes, who, according to the linked article, has a concealed-carry permit in New York. And, bless his heart, the only anchor at FOX who knows what the deal* is, Chris Wallace, had on Durbin and fellow Democrat Joe Lieberman to talk gun control despite the order not to.
So, let’s examine—and I’m not going to get into individual states’ or cities’ laws or anything too terribly specific. I’ll leave that to the politicians. But I want to start with concealed carry. It took me a long time to understand why some people are in favor of it, until it finally occurred to me: some people just like carrying guns. Carrying a sidearm makes you feel cool, it makes you feel powerful, it makes you feel like John Wayne. And there’s no tragedy, not even one like Sandy Hook, that’s going to change the minds of people like that. They’re just going to want to carry a gun so they can feel like a badass. “But, it’s for my own protection!” they’ll protest. Well, unless you’re in a forward military zone, you really don’t need to worry very much, now, do you? I wonder how many times people who have been mugged or something, have actually used their concealed weapons to successfully defend themselves. Chances are, the bad guy jumps out unexpectedly, whaps you over the head, steals your purse or your wallet and runs off. Now, he’s got your gun, too, after he pulls it out of your holster or if it was in your purse. Congrats. You’ve just armed another bad guy. Would concealed carry have stopped any of the mass shootings we’ve talked about? Not likely. It might stop a guy sticking up a grocery store or going into a place of business after he kills “only” one or two people. But a lunatic with an assault rifle, however untrained or inaccurate, will likely do much more damage than a soccer mom with a Glock trying to stop him. I’m against concealed carry. This ain’t the Wild West anymore.
I asked earlier what kind of weapon a person should be allowed to use in the defense of their home and property. I think pretty much any handgun is up for discussion, semi-automatics included. You want a Dirty Harry-style .44 Magnum that will allow you to get one shot off before it knocks you on your ass, go for it. How about a shotgun? Maybe, probably. But does one need an assault rifle? Some might argue that they have the right to determine what is the proper amount of force needed to defend themselves and their property, and that an assault rifle might qualify. Well, why not a bazooka, then? There has to be some kind of limit. And there should be some kind of extra insurance for people who have weapons in the home. I got an A in Driver’s Ed and aced my road test and took it all very seriously and was a good and responsible driver from a young age. But my parents still had to pay through the nose to add me as an insured driver on their vehicles. Well-trained and responsible doctors and surgeons, who do nothing but try to help people and save lives must carry insurance in the event of an accidental death. Why would a person who owns a weapon, even a responsible one, not be required to do the same? You could be the best-trained shooter out there, and responsible as the day is long. But if someone breaks into your house while you’re gone and steals your arsenal, now you’ve just contributed to the problem. Sounds unfair, but that’s the truth. Maybe home gun ownership restrictions should be limited to population density. Out in the country, a little more lenient—in a high-rise, a high-caliber handgun or a shotgun that can travel through walls might not be such a good thing. Limit on-site possession to one handgun and one shotgun or rifle, and no more than a 10-round clip in ANYTHING. If you have emptied the clip on your Smith and Wesson in the face of a threat and haven’t stopped it, and have to grab your Desert Eagle, a) you’re a threat to the general public with your lack of accuracy and shouldn’t have a gun to begin with, and b) you’re pretty much fucked anyway.
I also asked what kind of weapons should be allowed for hunting. Depends on what you’re hunting for, I guess. I have no problems with people owning rifles with scopes, or rifles that can take down elk or elephants, or shotguns to blow poor little defenseless ducks out of the air. But let me ask you this—why not have those kinds of guns stored elsewhere? Have them in a secured facility, where you can go and, in advance of your hunting trip, check your guns out and return them when you’re done? I mean, how many hunting trips are spur of the moment, anyway?
And what kind of guns should you be able to shoot at a gun range? Frankly, anything you want, provided you have the proper training, of course. If you’re ex-military and want to send some M-60 rounds downrange out of nostalgia, I have no problem with that. Rocket launcher? Why not, given the proper facility. Sniper rifle? Sign me up. But there’s no reason to have those things in your trunk coming and going to the range, and certainly no reason to have them at home, even safely stored, once you’re done with them. Ranges could have those kinds of weapons available on site for rental use, that way they never have to leave the building or grounds. Talk about a revenue stream!
I’m sure the above four paragraphs are sacrilege to many gun owners. Yes, those kinds of concepts mean additional restrictions on your freedoms and perhaps being a little overly regulated. But let’s get back to Number Two. Isn’t the phrase “well-regulated” mentioned in there somewhere? Oh, right, “well-regulated” are two of the first three words. Isn’t it worth erring on the side of caution (i.e. well-or-overly regulated) when it comes to the kinds of weapons that the Fathers couldn’t have even remotely envisioned?
Advocates might also scream that the right to bear arms “shall not be infringed.” Fair point. But, what are the most sacred rights listed in the Original Top Ten? I would argue, in this country, freedom of speech is probably number one, with freedom of religion number two. The First Amendment prohibits “the free exercise” of religion and the “abridging the freedom of speech.” Pretty cut and dried, I’d say. However, even those most sacred rights have restrictions. You can’t partake of human sacrifice as part of your religion and you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. So, if those sacred freedoms are subject to restriction, why shouldn’t the right to bear arms also be?
Now, if you ‘ve made it this far, congratulations. I appreciate it. But I want to make one other gigantic, critical point. All this money that we could spend on these gun centers and putting trained law enforcement in every school in America (I’m all for it, by the way—put John Effing Rambo at the front door of Fairview Elementary, as far as I’m concerned), I want to say this: for every dollar we put into gun control measures, we should equal the amount of spending on mental health treatment and facilities in this country. Dollar for dollar. Doing one without the other makes no sense at all, because an untreated mentally ill person can do plenty of damage with even the most restricted of weapons. It has to be done, otherwise, well, I might as well go get a FOID card and apply for concealed carry when it becomes legal in my state. As a Facebook friend posted this morning, “If you believe gun control is THE solution, you're being foolish. If you don't believe gun control is PART of the solution, you're being ignorant.”
But how are we going to pay for all of this? Each school district has to pass a tax referendum to pay for full-time guards in schools? You can’t even get some conservative teabag asshats to consider paying a nickel more for new textbooks or computers until the school boards cut their union-bloated liberal-agenda-ed budgets, especially if they don’t have school-age kids. And some liberals would spit their Starbucks at the notion of a loaded weapon in a school building, especially if they have school-age kids. How are you going to fund new mental health treatment centers, especially in a financially ruined state like Illinois, that’s already closing down existing state facilities? The “gun centers” could at least be privately run, subject to state/federal regulation and inspection, and those places could make a hefty profit, I would think. But the rest of it—I’m open to suggestions, as are, I’m sure, the people we send to represent us.
In the wake of 9/11 and some of the additional security restrictions we faced, some folks brought up something Benjamin Franklin said in 1775, and are again haughtily repeating: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Fine. If you’re willing to put your life and the lives of your children in the vision of a man born more than 300 years ago whose idea of rapid-fire was two shots per minute, I offer the following statement from a modern logician like me: click here.
*In this video, fast forward to the 9:25 mark to hear Wallace's statement about the side of the story FOX News tells, and then again at the 10:45 mark when he does not endorse the rest of the network's programming.