I’ve been thinking lately about the seeming dichotomy between the recent mass shootings and the outpouring of appreciation I’ve seen for veterans. The shootings are deplorable and the terrible actions of very disturbed people. I grieve with the rest of the American people and am just as upset and angry. The unfortunate reality is that 1) none of the laws currently on the books or proposed would have prevented any of them except one (maybe); and 2) if the people responsible for notifying the authorities of issues had done their jobs appropriately, the other one might not have happened.
There’s a comment that gun control is “a steady aim and smooth trigger squeeze.” I agree; I have long believed in, and research has borne out, our individual right to keep and bear arms as enumerated in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. I haven’t arrived at this decision lightly; I don’t just take anyone’s word for anything. I read; I listen to the considered opinions of others, even those I don’t agree with. Most importantly, on Constitutional matters, I read our country’s founding documents: the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.
The Bill of Rights
I think many people miss a few key points in the conversation and controversy around the individual American’s right to have guns. First, the Bill of Rights is not a “granting” of rights to the citizens; on the contrary, it is intended to preserve and guarantee the people’s existing rights as human beings. There is a good examination of the Second Amendment in particular here.
Historical Context of Language
The second problem is that people ignore the historical context of the language. Nobody would argue that the phrase “all men are created equal” applies to women as well as men; of course it applies equally to both. In the overwhelming majority of writing, the masculine term is applied to mean all people. No one argues this use of language throughout history, but they do argue over “militia.” At the time the Constitution was written, all able-bodied men were members of the militia. It’s somewhat similar to the Selective Service (registering for the draft) in modern times. The term Persons vs. People is an important distinction, too. The People were and are the individual citizens of the Nation. Persons is a term with broader applicability. In the late 1700’s, Persons included slaves. Today, we might say that Persons includes immigrants before naturalization and other non-US citizens.
Declaration of Independence
Third, and I think most importantly, is to take another look at the Declaration of Independence. Probably the most well-known part of the Declaration states in part “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We all know this part. What comes next, I think, is more important to this discussion:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” (emphasis mine)
Such a clear statement of a People’s right and responsibility to replace abusive governments would be useless without the people’s right to have the tools to do so. Telling the world that we, as Americans, have the right/responsibility to alter, abolish, or throw off our government but that we don’t have the tools to do so (guns) is folly. It would be like me refusing to give birth to a baby. As a male, I am physically incapable of doing so. Refusing to do something you aren’t capable of doing is a bit ridiculous.
Yes, something is wrong in our American society. A few individuals are going out of their way to kill as many innocent people as they can. The existing laws aren’t the problem, except that enforcing them is nearly impossible. Criminals have no regard for the law, so how do more laws that we can’t enforce stop someone who is going to break the law anyway? The guns aren’t the problem. If they were, all of the atrocities would be perpetrated with guns. Some have used bombs, others have driven vehicles into crowds. The attempts that were stopped or prevented by a responsible gun owner, legally carrying a firearm rarely get any press. Even if they do, the contribution of the one brave American who willingly stepped into harm’s way is often downplayed. The news celebrates and applauds those who, like me, put on a uniform and volunteered to lay down their lives for a nation of strangers but ignore or downplay the contribution of someone who steps into harm’s way to defend the people in the same room/building/concert. Still, it’s not a problem with the guns.
Our founding fathers specifically protected our individual right to keep and bear arms, just as they specifically protected our right to openly disagree with the government (freedom of assembly and of speech) and to worship how we please (freedom of religion). Throughout 241 years, this right to keep and bear arms has been challenged but not taken from us. Let’s start celebrating those who stop or prevent a crime with the same passion we afford our veterans.