Back by non-popular demand, I thought I would weigh in on the “gun debate” issue that has taken just-right of center stage (slightly nudged by Kate Middleton’s impending pregnancy).
I didn’t think I’d be writing on another political “debate,” but once again, I just can’t let certain arguments slide by without comment. Without further ado…
“It’s my Constitutional right! The Second Amendment gives me the right to bear arms!”
This is an odd argument, especially since it’s aimed at opponents that don’t exist. No one is saying that Americans shouldn’t own guns. There is, however, a large consensus that more regulation of those arms is needed (particularly regarding background checks), though support for this is falling since we Americans have such a short attention span.
It’s for hunting! I mean self-defense! I swear!
Regulation of our rights is nothing new, and often it’s a good idea. For example, we have the Right to Free Speech, but certain utterances are still illegal, and with good reason. We can’t go around threatening specific people with violence, or slander or neighbors with impunity. More on point, private citizens can’t (easily) own certain military-grade weapons (like machine guns or rocket-propelled grenades), and nearly all sane citizens are okay with that.
Now some folks want regulations on automatic weapons (ranging from background checks to caps on the maximum size of ammunition clips). The desire is that such regulations will help reduce the number of mass shootings like that which occurred at Sandy Hook. Again, there is no unlimited right to anything in the first 10 Amendments—all of them have regulations of some sort, and the gun regulations fall well within that scope. [Whether or not these efforts will succeed in their goals is a different matter; I’m only looking at the validity of the arguments against such regulations].
Finally, the Second Amendment does give us the right to bear arms—specifically within the context of a “well-regulated militia.” Some people like to gloss over this clause, others try to argue it away. Experts have looked into when this specific language was used during the time period and found how it relates to military matters (i.e. militias), and not private/individual liberties per se.
Regardless of the actual language of the Constitution, in DC vs. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership is not limited to militia—it applies to the individual. I find it hypocritical that many of the same folks who don’t want the Court “legislating from the bench” about whether or not citizens should have access to health care (you know, so they can live), did not lodge the same complaints when the Court made this ruling, which directly references language in the Constitution.
“We need our guns to fight potential government tyranny!”
I hate to break it to these doomsayers, but if there was a violent revolution, the decreased capacity between a 10 round and 15 round magazine isn’t going to make much of a difference to those facing off against the most powerful military industrial complex in the world (which would be brought to bear). There would be plenty of other considerations and scenarios that would necessarily have to play out for such revolutionaries to be successful (I won’t go into them). And by that time, I don’t think anyone would be paying too much attention to background checks or following the letter of the law.
“If they take away my AR-15s, what’s next? They’re going to take all our guns away!”
This is called an Abuse of a Slippery Slope argument, and it’s inherently invalid. Even more than being a fallacy at face value, this one actually has a counter-example as evidence against it. Back in 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed, which did many of the same things they’re currently considering these days. Certain specific weapons were banned, as were other weapons with a number of specific features common to such weapons; large-capacity magazines were also prohibited. Shockingly, we lived with this ban for 10 years and no other weapons were “taken away”!
“We’d all be safer if there was less regulation on guns (i.e. more people had them). Perpetrators of mass shootings would be stopped because intended “victims” could fight back and shoot them.”
This came up again just after the Aurora theatre shooting, and it would be laughable if the circumstances weren’t so tragic. In this situation, a man dressed in tactical gear (gas mask, ballistic helmet, and other bullet-resistant clothing) entered the theatre, threw 2 canisters of gas (smoke and/or tear), and began shooting with a variety of weapons. Even if some of those in the theatre had weapons, shooting at this man in a darkened room full of panicked patrons, with gas and chemicals further obstructing peoples’ vision via smoke and watering eyes, would not have resulted in stopping him. Most likely, it would have resulted in more civilian casualties. But why think critically through scenarios when we can just make unsubstantiated statements?
Nor would more people carrying guns in general create a safer environment. Just owning a gun makes it almost 3 times as likely that one of those family members will be killed by another family member or intimate acquaintance. Domestic violence in households where a gun is owned increases the chances that a woman will be killed by more than three times as non-gun owning households. And there are some 10 times more deaths caused by handguns than by long guns (rifles and shotguns)—and the former aren’t even being regulated for the most part.
So no, more guns doesn’t equate with a safer population.
In summary, I don’t think the right to bear arms is an inviolable right. I think it can and should be regulated with thoughtful and efficient laws (that alone is a near-insurmountable task when dealing with Congress). I think there should be background checks, if only to rule out those most likely to use guns in criminal acts. But I also think it’s going to take a lot more than a few laws to change our violent culture which is only exacerbated by the plentiful supply and easy access to firearms.