When I was child, playing war in the woods with my friends, I wanted a gun of my own. I had toy guns, and sticks that resembled guns, but a real gun (chambers empty, of course) would have added a dangerous element to our make-believe. Boys often dream of adventure and glory, and shoot at each other in the forest with imaginary weapons, but when they awake from these dreams, they can still go home for supper. When I finally had the chance to hold a real gun in my hand, and feel its weight and power, I realized it had no place in my childhood fantasies. It represented too much reality.
The inherent purpose of a gun is to wound or kill, or threaten to wound or kill. Collecting guns, and sports shooting, are only secondary uses. A police officer might shout, “Stop, or I’ll shoot,” while a militiaman might declare, “Take away my freedom, and face my rifle.” A father might wound a burglar in order to protect his family, while a burglar might kill a father in order to return to his. And sometimes, a well-armed and unbalanced individual might fire upon a gathering of unsuspecting people, and send many to their graves.
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 —The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution
Thomas Jefferson, a staunch supporter of gun rights, and a man distrustful of the corrupting nature of power, said, “None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.” According to the Small Arms Survey of 2007, America ranks number one in gun ownership, far surpassing number two, Yemen, yet surprisingly the United States is only 28th in gun related deaths. Considering the unrivaled prowess of our standing military, and the fact that we are by no means the most violent society on earth, why do we need so many guns? Some would say that we need them in order to preserve our freedoms, and to counter the tyrannical tendencies of government. Perhaps, but if so, where is the ‘disciplined’ and ‘regulated’ aspect of our armed society? Private militias and citizens alike maintain large stockpiles of weapons, yet many subscribe to a variety of different political agendas, prejudices and religious beliefs. If they were to all come out at once, fighting for their own personal cause, the nation could easily degenerate into a dystopia of chaos and violence. There is nothing ‘regulated’ about that.
The Founding Fathers understood the power of an armed society to keep the government in check, and yet they included the phrase ‘well-regulated’ in the Second Amendment. I believe they worded the amendment in such a manner as to strike a balance between a basic distrust in a fallible leadership, and empowering the people to act if needed, but not to such an extent that private citizens could set up miniature fiefdoms of their own, ruled by fear and firearms. If you doubt the latter could occur, spend some time in the forests of North Idaho among the militias and survivalists.
Just as the right to free speech does not give someone the permission to yell “fire” in a crowed theater, the right to bear arms does not mean a man can mount a heavy machine gun to the bed of his pickup truck and drive around town. That would infringe on the rights of others not to be blasted out of existence, which would abruptly end their right to the pursuit of happiness. Rights, it seems, come with limits.
Sadly, no one can guarantee your safety at all times, no matter where you live, or who you are. Norway, a country with strict firearm controls, learned that painful lesson when one man massacred 77 people in a single day. And yet a society armed to the teeth, or conversely calling for a ban on all firearms, is demonstrating an ‘all or nothing’ argument befitting of a small child, full of fear, clinging to simple explanations as to the nature of government, society and violence. Americans should not live in fear of guns, or complex arguments for or against gun control. This issue is, and has been for a long time, a political nonstarter in the United States. The debate flares up, and then dies down. People die needlessly, and yet the paralysis of our elected officials to deal with gun control in a meaningful way remains intact.
It has been suggested by some that if everyone were well armed, then a Good Samaritan could always stop a would-be killer, before murder turned into massacre. For this to be true, society would have to trust that every single citizen would be armed at all times, could remain calm under fire, know how to accurately target and shoot his or her weapon in moments of stress, and be able to distinguish bad guys (who could never wear body armor) from bystanders. If this were the case, such a trusting populace would have no need of guns in the first place. Americans, it seems, are not so trusting.
According to the Violence Policy Center, the states with the lowest per capita gun death rates, like Massachusetts and Hawaii, also have the strongest gun regulations (state laws above and beyond the federal regulations), while conversely, the states with the weakest regulations, like Louisiana and Wyoming, have the highest rates of gun related deaths. The lesson here is simple. While regulations won’t bring an end to gun violence, they will lessen it. For pacifists, and gun lovers alike, that is a goal worth striving for.
The men who penned the American Constitution were sophisticated thinkers, who understood the nuances of power and governance. They trusted that future generations would be able to deal with unforeseen problems as they arose in a rational, and reasonable way. In order to form a more perfect union, and insure tranquility across the land, we can, and have to do better. Guns have a reason for being, of course, but they should never be our reason for being. When arms, in the hands of the people or the state, rule over us, we cease to be free.
Image, Ready for the battle, courtesy of Shutterstock