On Guns

Another high schooler takes a gun to school and uses it. Washington State voters consider an initiative to tighten gun ownership regulations. I still have no idea about how to talk about gun ownership.

One approach would be to study the historical context of the Second Amendment. For example, we could turn to Michael Waldman’s “biography” of the Second Amendment. Here’s an excerpt of a Mother Jones interview with Waldman.

MJ: What preconceived notions about the Second Amendment did the history that you uncovered confirm or debunk?

MW: There are surprises in this book for people who support gun control, and people who are for gun rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in Heller, Justice Scalia said he was following his doctrine of originalism. But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there’s simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting. Emphatically, the focus was on the militias. To the framers, that phrase “a well-regulated militia” was really critical. In the debates, in James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention, on the floor of the House of Representatives as they wrote the Second Amendment, all the focus was about the militias. Now at the same time, those militias are not the National Guard. Every adult man, and eventually every adult white man, was required to be in the militias and was required to own a gun, and to bring it from home. So it was an individual right to fulfill the duty to serve in the militias.

MJ: You point out that the NRA has the Second Amendment inscribed in their lobby, but with the militia clause removed.

MW: Yes. That was first reported in an article inMother Jones in the ’90s. But I didn’t want to rely on just that, so one of my colleagues went out to the NRA headquarters to look at the lobby. And she had her picture taken in front of the sign so we could confirm that it was actually still there!

MJ: Based on the history you’ve uncovered, do you think the founders understood there to be an unwritten individual right to arms that they didn’t include in the Constitution?

MW: Yes. And that might be noteworthy for some. There were plenty of guns. There was the right to defend yourself, which was part of English common law handed down from England. But there were also gun restrictions at the same time. There were many. There were limits, for example, on where you could store gunpowder. You couldn’t have a loaded gun in your house in Boston. There were lots of limits on who could own guns for all different kinds of reasons. There was an expectation that you should be able to own a gun. But they didn’t think they were writing that expectation into the Constitution with the Second Amendment.

MJ: So then why focus on the Second Amendment and not the English Bill of Rights or other things the framers drew on that more clearly address individual gun ownership?

MW: We are not governed today, in 2014, by British common law. Law evolved, the country evolved. It was a very rural place. There were no cities. There were no police forces. It was a completely different way of living. So gun rights activists turned this into a constitutional crusade. Those who want more guns and fewer restrictions realized they could gain some higher ground if they claimed the Constitution.

When I learn about the historical context of the Second Amendment, the question I’m left with is this: Is the threat of a federal government take-over at the hands of anti-American insurrectionists so great that local police, state troopers, and the National Guard can’t be expected to repel it?

But no matter how reasonably the “historical context” argument is made, the pro-gunners will never accept Waldman-like interpretations of the amendment because doing so would impose limits on gun ownership and that is an anathema to them. Making that approach a complete dead-end.

What about appealing to safety in public spaces? Also a dead-end. Most pro-gunners believe school cafeterias, legislative buildings, movie theaters become safer as a greater percentage of people in those places carry licensed guns. The thinking being upstanding private citizens will gun down the evil ones perpetrating acts of violence on innocent bystanders before authorities are able to respond.

For example, if the food service workers in the Marysville High School cafeteria were carrying, one of them could have killed the shooter from across the cafeteria before he had the opportunity to kill and injure any of his classmates. I guess we’re supposed to assume that she hits the perp, but no other students because she regularly receives expert firearm training.

What about pointing out the loopholes in gun ownership laws, the propensity of some parents not to hide or lock their guns, the uneven training gun owners undergo, and the number of mentally ill people that manage to get ahold of guns. Dead-end. The pro-gunners think that if they give into any tightening of gun ownership requirements it will lead to more, and eventually, the confiscation of their guns.

What about comforting those most afraid of dying at the hands of violent criminals with what we know about how most people die?

Number of deaths for leading causes of death—2011 (Center for Disease Control)

  • Heart disease: 596,577
  • Cancer: 576,691
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438 (1. poisoning; 2. car accidents; 3. gun violence)
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,974
  • Diabetes: 73,831
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

A dead-end too because pro-gunners will argue that if you’re more likely to die while driving than at the hands of violent criminals, it’s proof that the status quo of relatively uninhibited gun ownership is working. My reading of those statistics is that no amount of weaponry will protect the mostly sedentary masses from what and how much they eat.

One dead-end after another.

3 thoughts on “On Guns

  1. It’s the false sense of security that attracts people to the need for gun ownership and the naive belief that they will act rationally in a terrifying episode where someone else is threaten them with a gun. Aiming and firing your weapon when frightened effects poor control and innocent bystanders are likely to get hurt.

    People in low income areas and women have perhaps the most legitimate right to fear for their lives and owning a gun makes sense with these groups at some level. But the other fears exploited by the gun manufacturers’ lobby – the NRA – are made up to justify opposing any restrictions of owning any and every kind of weapon.

    And many of these same fear mongers are now incorporating the idea of a militarized police into the debate to justify how we need guns to actually protect us against the very people we expect “to serve and protect” us.

  2. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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