I have to preface this conversation by saying that yes, I can shoot a gun. I enjoy shooting — anything from rifles to handguns to a shotgun a few times. I’m by no means a professional, but I do have experience with them. The reason I have to state this ahead of time is that gun advocates get really defensive when people who have never used a gun want to regulate (or in rare cases, remove) them, and honestly, I can see why. It’s kind of weird to believe that in a democracy someone could vote against a right that they wouldn’t exercise — I mean, why should straight people get a say in same-sex marriage if they’re very unlikely to exercise their right to marry someone of the same sex?
The difference here is that in one of these cases, you can’t really claim to be affected by it. Gay marriage has never infringed on my liberty or made me feel unsafe. On the other hand, the fact that a mentally unstable person, or a terrorist, etc. could obtain one in my country is kind of ridiculous. I’m writing this mostly for myself, honestly, because I need to see if my view is consistent/logical. Warning: this will be a little disorganized.
This kind of rhetoric really sets me off, for a number of reasons, but we’ll get there.
First, the Second Amendment.
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.
Problem 1: People don’t know how to read 18th century grammar. Maybe it’s because I have experience in the KJV translation of the Bible, but it’s pretty clear when you run on statements with commas like this you’re showing reasoning. In other words, I am of the opinion that the Amendment could be rephrased in Modern American English as
Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the Government will not infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
We can’t pretend to know what the Founding Fathers thought 250 years ago anywhere where we don’t have direct records, but it’s very clear that the Second Amendment is conditional — if a militia is no longer required to maintain the security of our free state, the right to keep and bear arms is no longer necessary. One of the earliest major 2nd Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court was in 1939, when the court stated in summary:
“The Court cannot take judicial notice that a shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches long has today any reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, and therefore cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon.”
You can read Cornell’s summary and the Court’s opinion here.
Problem 2: People Make the Constitution Say Things it Definitely Doesn’t
My claim against the self-defense argument for gun ownership also stems from this interpretation of the constitution — this Amendment makes no reference to the defense of one’s self, home or property — only the security of the state. (Or in other words, I would say I subscribe to a weird version of the collective rights interpretation.) Here’s the funny part about all of this — the reasoning that the right is a personal one is actually a modern invention. I have a semi-conspiracy theory that compromise politics probably ended in the 80s because of the right wing’s concerted effort to mobilize Christians by making totally amoral issues into matters of life and death and that’s where this interpretation of the amendment gains a lot of steam from, but suffice it to say the right wing has succeeded into making some issues impossible to compromise on when in reality we would have been able to do that 40 years ago.
Problem 3: There’s No Nuance on the Internet
Let’s face it, on the internet there’s rarely room for nuance. This is still pretty true for any issue where a lot of people have strong opinions, but the problem is that nuance is lost in text too often — how many times have you tried to be sarcastic on the internet and had someone take you seriously? I see this especially with gun control. Either you’re a gun-totin’ God-fearin’ republican who wants everyone and their dog to own a gun except Muslims, or you’re a pot-smoking hippy liberal who wants Obama to take away everyone’s guns so the Muslims can kill us all. People devolve into caricatures very quickly, especially over a socially desensitizing media like anonymous message boards. It’s much easier for someone to be a dick to your text than it is for them to be a dick to you in person — if you are equally a dick in both situations however, you’re probably just a dick. The problem is “expanded background checks” becomes “government gun hunt” and “gun ownership” becomes “An AK-47 for every man, woman and child” really fast, and that’s bad.
I think most people agree violent criminals shouldn’t be allowed to own weapons. I have no citation for this statistic for this, and there’s definitely a proximity bias (most people I know lean towards more regulation on guns) but the VPC does have this excellent write-up on how the NRA has made efforts to arm convicted felons. The Supreme Court has ruled it constitutional to bar felons from voting, so it definitely shouldn’t be out of the question to bar them from weapon ownership — at least within the interpretation we have thus far. What I’m getting at here is that we already recognize that the rights guaranteed by the constitution are not absolute. You do have a right to vote (or not have your vote discriminated against, I guess), but it’s suspended if you’re a felon. You do have a right to bear arms, but the government can regulate them — that’s not an infringement on your right to bear arms.
In fact, most Americans support increasing regulation in some fashion — close to 90% favor expanded background checks using a national registry rather than incomplete or inaccurate state databases. So let’s go back to cars again. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the “right to travel” pretty consistently for the last 30 years, as a basic human right. That said, the court has ruled almost always that restrictions and regulations on cars are constitutional.
So seriously, what if we regulated guns as well as cars?
Every owner should be licensed (and the license should need to be renewed every few years), which has required training or a probationary period — and honestly, if you can’t have a driver’s license, in general you shouldn’t be able to own a gun (with an exception for things like people who lose their legs, of course. All I’m saying is that if you can’t see the road, you can’t see where you’re shooting). The specifics of this can still be left up to individual states. Every owner should be insured — guns do kill people, but if your gun kills someone because you didn’t store it properly or maintained it poorly, that’s your fault. Guns should all be registered in a national database, as well as the names of gun owners. Gun transfers should still need to be registered somehow — I’ve heard a pretty good argument made that using Police Stations as places to conduct registered private gun sales would work, but I honestly haven’t done enough research there to form a conclusion.
Absolutely none of this infringes on your right to own a gun — not even as much as a 2-day waiting period would. And honestly, I think this would help people feel safer — even if statistically it didn’t change much. Honestly though, given how many guns used in crimes are obtained legally, clearly we need to find a way to stop some people from getting guns legally.
I mean, personally, I would be all for government gun buybacks — it worked pretty well for Australia (admittedly an island, but it’s easier to get a gun in the States than it is in either of it’s neighbors, since there’s literally only one gun store in Mexico and Canadians are sane.) In fact, in doing some research before writing here, I learned that the ATF actually allowed a ton of guns from Arizona into Mexico in an attempt to trace them to cartel leaders, and here’s Politifact on the claim that 70% of guns used in drug crimes in Mexico come from the US. (TL;DR: it’s mostly true.)
I doubt anyone is going to change their mind on this issue. In fact, I would say no one should until we have a larger body of research on the issue. There’s a problem though,since the CDC is still afraid to do research on guns because the last time it happened, the NRA lobbied to have the agency lose funding, and even today the agency doesn’t have enough money. As most Republicans would agree, however, there’s no need to be afraid if you’ve got nothing to hide — the NRA doesn’t need to fear research into guns if all of it’s misinformation and distortion is actually true. 😉
I’m publishing this as is, so there’s likely errors left over. If you’d like to talk to me about the contents of what I’ve written civilly and respectfully, you’re welcome to leave a comment or send me a message on Facebook.