Im trying to understand the current gun issue. People seem to be quite firmly entrenched in their opinions on one side or the other (myself included), and I think this is because it is so much more of an emotional issue than a logical one. No one wants to see innocent people die, but no one wants to feel powerless either. Kind of like the way I see a 28 year old me with makeup and good hair in my mind’s eye, even though when I actually look in the mirror I’m 47 and plain. I think many Americans see ourselves in our mind’s eyes as a ruggedly independent Clint Eastwood character, alone in the untamed wilderness, protecting and providing for our loved ones with our bare hands, when really, we live in pretty organized and interconnected communities.
Leaving aside the Second Amendment for a moment, why do most law abiding citizens want or need a gun?
We have my grandfather’s WWII service pistols gifted to my husband when he joined the army. They are sentimental and are used occasionally for sport target shooting. When we lived in Germany, the guns had to be registered, my husband had to be certified to use them, and they lived at the local gun club, which incidentally, was where they’d be used anyway. I was comfortable with this this arrangement. No guns in the house where curious hands could get to them, yet easily accessible for a few hours of target shooting with colleagues. Germany has similar laws for hunters: in addition to acquiring a license to hunt a deer, or boar or whatever, one must also check out their gun from the club. At a forest hotel once, I saw a man in lederhosen set off into the woods with his dog and rifle in search of game. I’m not sure if he shot anything that day, but it didn’t look like he was too put out by the process of gathering his gear and papers for his day outdoors. Unlike Germany, America has a lot more open land where one could shoot for sport, as opposed to tightly packed cities and regulated forests, so I accept that it would be harder to convince people to go to the gun club rather than out in their “back 40.” Personally, I like the idea of lethal weapons being kept at a gun club, but I understand that it is unlikely to be accepted or enforceable in the US. So, I’m not sure what is reasonable to expect on this front.
Guns are often cited as necessary for protection. If an intruder were to come into one’s house intending to do harm, one could just reach over to the nightstand, pull out that loaded gun, and stop the killer in his tracks. Right? Except the scenario would also leave that loaded gun easily accessible to the curious hands of small kids in the house or teens wanting to impress their friends, or perhaps a thief who could take it for later use on the homeowner, or in an entirely separate crime. Once a person has secured a weapon against these basic threats, then by the time he or she found the keys or code to the lock (stored in a completely separate place of course), retrieved the gun and loaded it, the intruder has either left or proceeded with the bodily harm he or she arrived intending to inflict. As one friend told me, ANYTHING can be used as an assault weapon. She meant it to question why we should regulate or ban guns at all, but I wonder if everything has lethal potential, then why would a gun be significantly better than a baseball bat, kitchen knife, a loud scream, or getting the hell out? It seems to me that the risks of a gun as self defense run higher than the rewards, whereas other forms of defense, while not perfect or certain, also don’t have as high a risk. I’m a pessimist though, and I suspect most people who would prefer to use a gun in self defense also believe themselves to be speed loaders and ace shots (and maybe they are). As something of an example, in our neighborhood, a man walked into a grocery store wearing a large gun. It was loaded, but not concealed. He had a legal right to own it and here in Virginia it’s fine to carry a weapon in public. I keep hearing that people wished they had their guns handy at mass shootings so that they could have stopped the perpetrator. So, one would think that the patrons of this grocery store would have all sighed in relief seeing that a “good guy” was on the premises with a gun to save them in case some “bad guy” came in on a violent rampage. Was this man thanked for his preparedness? No, people called the police and the man was banned from the store. Nope, I’m not buying the “we’re all safer when the good guys have guns” argument.
What about the non-law abiding citizens? Many argue that no amount of laws will stop gang bangers and criminals from acquiring guns and using them. OK, that may be right. I actually believe that humans are by nature violent and self serving and our first instinct is to get what we want by the most expedient manner possible. So yes, those who have decided to act criminally won’t worry too much about laws, strict or lax. But in our human desire to put out the least amount of effort possible, couldn’t it be, that as in Europe where guns are more tightly regulated and not often found in private homes, limited access might lessen the criminal use? A depressed and angry young man is less likely to go to the gun club and check out his father’s rifle to then go back to school and shoot his classmates than one who can roll out of bed, grab whatever is in the family gun safe and be on his way.
Now back to the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms. I suppose it made sense when our country was pursuing Manifest Destiny and forging ever westward, away from established societal infrastructure and it’s police protection. Away from colonial control and into lands inhabited by natives unfriendly to our greedy expansion. Running up against other powers as we established new borders. But the natives have been subdued, and our borders established. What oppressive government would we take up arms against now? Only 1% of our population volunteers to join our nation’s military to protect our lands from outside threats. Does the other 99% think that they are serving their country by having handguns at the ready to preserve our borders from an expansionist Mexico or Canada? I suspect not.
Or, is it that we feel safer with a gun to protect us from our own oppressive government? I suppose people like my husband and other service members could potentially come storming through one’s door and take over a home for use as a military HQ or whatever, but we have laws that prohibit that, and our military is pretty good at following rules. I’ve seen people compare the actions of our current president and many congresspeople to the likes of Hitler, Amin, and Stalin, in justification of keeping our access to guns as open as possible. In that vein, I find the discriminatory politics of conservatives against marriage equality, their forceful policies such as mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds, and insistence that rule of law be based on one religion to be just as oppressive. Does that mean I have a right to take up arms against those conservative politicians whom I did not vote for? Based on the legal consequences faced by others who have tried both successfully and unsuccessfully to shoot our elected officials, I think not.
If the constitution says that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, then why have any regulation at all? Why can’t I have an Uzzi or a surface to air missile if I want? In that regard, which right would have precedence, the right to bear the arms of our choice, or the right to pursue happiness (without someone taking that happiness by gunpoint)? I suppose that is the balance we are trying to find today. Perhaps the amendment means that we as citizens are in effect a well regulated militia with it’s associated arms? But if my household has guns, and some of our neighbors have guns, yet we don’t know who and we haven’t formulated any sort of plan together, then can we call ourselves “well regulated?” Or is the regulation that which we are debating in politics now? In which case it’s not our government taking away our guns as a precursor to fascism, but our government trying to best allow us our fundamental right. Is a well regulated militia the citizen soldiers of the Reserves or each state’s National Guard units? If that were so, then most Americans would not be able to legally own guns if they were not enlisted. The KKK, Black Panthers, and Branch Davidians in Waco Texas could be seen as militias having the constitutional right to bear arms, yet our social contract as a nation seems to draw a line before deeming any of them as necessary to the security of our free state. My husband suggested that if our right to bear arms is so that we can be the militia necessary for our freedom, then perhaps we as neighborhoods, communities, cities, or states, must first certify ourselves as a well-regulated entity in order to secure the guns and other arms we desire. This actually makes some sense to me, just as churches must prove themselves to be a primarily religious organization in order to gain tax-free status, or as one must pass certain tests in order to be able to legally drive a car. Of course, churches and cars are not constitutional rights. It’s far too big of a stretch for our lawmakers to sell the idea of certifying a well regulated militia as precursor to constitutional gun ownership.
I have lots of questions and no practical answers. I’m afraid that our status with regards to guns is what it is. I suspect we as a nation have already reached the median where our right to bear arms meets our desire for safety. Every scenario I’ve contemplated here could be picked apart and an example found to contest it. I guess what I’ve concluded is that gun regulation is unlikely to change in any measurable way, and as long as we Americans wish to cling to our right to bear arms, WE MUST ACCEPT IT’S INHERENT RISKS. I might go so far as to say that the majority have determined that the perceived freedom protected by the Second Amendment is worth the lives of a relative handful of innocents.