The Right to Bear Arms

Introduction

Gun control opponents begin by quoting the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “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 Constitution”, 2006). This, they argue, as were all of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was added by the Founding Fathers to provide a more clear definition of the specific rights guaranteed to Americans. Further, they suggest gun control advocates consider the Second Amendment to be “obsolete; or is intended solely to guard against the suppression of state militias by the central government and therefore restricted in scope by that intent; or does not guarantee a right that is absolute, but one that can be limited by reasonable requirements” (Krouse, 2002). Of course, read in context, this passage refers to the right to bear arms as a part of the need for a militia, which we have; it’s called the National Guard. Why would have the Founders have so carefully worded the Second Amendment in this way? The word ‘gun’ cannot be found in the Constitution. It refers to arms. Does that mean we have the right to bear nuclear or chemical armaments? The topic of Gun Control is controversial and the debate surrounding it is often emotional usually centering on differing interpretations of the Constitution. This discussion will examine the intent of the authors of the Second Amendment as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing arguments on the volatile issue of gun control.

Historical Interpretation of Gun Rights Advocates

In the opinion of gun control opponents, the right to own arms was of supreme importance to the Founders given that it was listed second only after the freedom of religion and speech was documented in the First Amendment. The Founders knew that by ensuring the right to own arms, citizens would have the ability to protect themselves from that which might endanger their life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. This could include bodily protection from persons and animals or from an oppressive government that threatened the freedoms outlined in the Constitution. “The Second Amendment reflects the founders’ belief that an armed citizenry, called the ‘general militia’ was a necessary precaution against tyranny by our government and its army. The idea that government has a constitutional right to disarm the general citizenry is foreign to the intent of the Constitution’s framers” (Reynolds & Caruth III, 1992).

Gun advocates believe that safety and security are dependent on the right to bear arms. They argue that police departments are under no legal obligation to protect anyone or any group and usually are only able to react to a crime that has already occurred, take a report and investigate. “Governmental police forces were created to prevent and break up riots and to keep a general sense of public order. They were never designed to stop criminal acts against individuals and, accordingly, they do this job poorly” (Fulk, 1993). There is about one police officer available for every 3,000 citizens in a given city; therefore, personal safety is the responsibility of each person alone (Fulk, 1993).

Justifications for Gun Control

Gun-control proponents, according to the words of opponents, decry the evils of gun ownership every time a tragedy such as Columbine High School or Virginia Tech occurs and though they would like to see every gun taken out the hands of law-abiding citizens, seldom is an enforceable, workable plan offered that would curb gun violence. Disarming citizens, they say, would be next to impossible because there are more than 140 million guns in the U.S., a third of which are handguns (Wright et al, 1983: 25). Attempting to disarm criminals is a great plan in some fairy-tale land but is a fruitless venture in the real world. “The ratio of people who commit handgun crimes each year to handguns is 1:400; that of handgun homicides to handguns is 1:3,600. Because the ratio of handguns to handgun criminals is so high, the criminal supply would continue with barely an interruption” (Department of Commerce, 1986: 171). The prohibition of guns in an effort to diminish criminal activity is as reasonable solution in much the same way the prohibition of alcohol would diminish the occurrences of driving while intoxicated.

Gun control opponents actually suggest that more guns in the community would reduce gun violence, that if everyone, evidently including high school students, carried handguns, everyone else would be afraid to use theirs. To gun control advocates, that is such a twisted and dangerous manipulation of logic and common sense, it is not worthy of rebuttal. The citizens of the country no longer have a need for arms such as they did 230 years ago. No hostile Indians and little threat from wild animals; the government is stable and elected by a democratic process and the citizens of the country have the most powerful armed force ever assembled by humankind in addition to several levels of law enforcement that protect it. It is also argued that the right to own guns has become a detriment to the safety of society which is in opposition to the intentions of the Founders.

Counterargument

Gun control opponents do accept that this is at least a somewhat valid argument but argue that the underlying rationale for the right to keep and bear arms remains an essential element for the protection of individual freedoms, which the Founders foresaw. An example, they say, can be found the first time gun control was enacted in the U.S. Following the Civil War, many Southern states passed a law that forbade blacks from owing firearms. Because of this, they had no means by which to protect themselves from radical white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Today, minorities of all descriptions including Muslim and homosexuals are better able to protect themselves from hate groups because of their constitutionally guaranteed right to own firearms.

Global Examples

Many examples of human rights violations have been documented in all parts of the world following laws that banned citizens from owning guns. In 1911, Turkey enacted gun control legislation which led to the extermination of 1.5 million unarmed Armenian citizens of that country by 1917. In 1929, the Soviet Union enacted gun control. From that year until 1953, over 20 million unarmed people identified as political non-conformists were murdered by the state. Approximately 20 million citizens in China were killed for the same reason from 1948 to 1952 following gun control enacted in 1935. (Fulk, 1993)

Gun control was enacted by the Nazi regime of Germany in 1938. From that time until the end of World War II in 1945, untold millions of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, politically-defined mentally ill people, political non-conformists and others considered less than ‘normal’ were exterminated. In 1956, Cambodia enacted gun control which led to the eradication of more than a million of its ‘educated’ citizens from1975 to 1977. Similar genocidal events occurred following gun control laws enacted in Guatemala in 1964 and Uganda in 1970 (Fuller, 2005). What groups such as the National Rifle association do not explain is how any of these instances are relevant to or reflects the current situation in the U.S.

Right to Self Protection

Safety and security is dependent on the right to bear arms according to gun control opponents. Police departments are under no legal obligation to protect anyone or any group and usually are only able to react to a crime that has already occurred, take a report and investigate. “Governmental police forces were created to prevent and break up riots, and to keep a general sense of public order. They were never designed to stop criminal acts against individuals and, accordingly, they do this job poorly” (Fulk, 1993). There is about one police officer available for every 3,000 citizens in a given city; therefore, personal safety is the responsibility of each person alone (Fulk, 1993). Gun-control proponents decry the evils of gun ownership every time a tragedy such as Columbine High School or Virginia Tech occurs and though they would like to see every gun taken out the hands of law-abiding citizens, seldom is an enforceable, workable plan offered that would curb gun violence.

The Genie is out of the Bottle

Disarming citizens would be next to impossible because there are more than 140 million guns in the U.S., a third of which are handguns (Wright et al, 1983: 25). Attempting to disarm criminals is a great plan in some fairy-tale land but is a fruitless venture in the real world. “The ratio of people who commit handgun crimes each year to handguns is 1:400; that of handgun homicides to handguns is 1:3,600. Because the ratio of handguns to handgun criminals is so high, the criminal supply would continue with barely an interruption” (Department of Commerce, 1986: 171). The prohibition of guns in an effort to diminish criminal activity is as reasonable solution in much the same way the prohibition of alcohol would diminish the occurrences of driving while intoxicated (Kopel, 1988).

Conclusion

The hallmark of American society, in which its citizens have historically taken great pride, is the fact that they are self-reliant and strongly defend personal liberties. Gun control is but one case in point of an American society that is moving away from these attributes which have defined the nation’s ideals and towards the belief that the government can best deal with its problems according to gun control opponents. Some people choose to accept threats to their well-being as their fate then depend on the justice system to make everything right. Others, however, choose to defend themselves and their property. Both personal choices are the right of every American, at least for now. Many American citizens would throw away hard fought for freedoms by denying the constitutionally guaranteed right of gun ownership. They would do so without regard to the possible genocidal consequences as exhibited by historical examples or without concern for the safety of their neighbors and countrymen.

Gun control advocates generally want the weapon that kills the most people, handguns, to be illegal but are willing to compromise on rifles and shotguns. In this way, the right to bear arms is protected and so are the thousands that die from handguns every year. Of course, when reading the Second Amendment in context, only armed militias have the right to keep and bear arms. However, given the current strong emotions tied to the issue and the popularity of guns in this country, a compromise is the only solution.. To make the case for upholding the widely perceived ‘right’ to bear arms by allowing rifles and shotguns of a certain length while banning handguns and assault rifles seems the sensible solution and a fight that could be won. This tact has proven effective in other countries such as Britain and many other European nations. Those countries that ban handgun use have a much lower homicide rate than does the U.S.

Works Cited

Fulk, Austin. “Gun Control vs. Our Freedoms.” Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberties. (1993).

Fuller, Al. “Gun Control Revisited.” Odessa FactSheet. Vol. 44. Los Altos, CA: The American Horse. (2005).

Kopel, David B. “Trust the People: The Case Against Gun Control.” Cato Institute. Cato Policy Analysis No. 109. (1988).

Krouse, William. “Gun Control.” Congressional Research Service. (2002).

Reynolds, Morgan O. and Caruth, W. W. III. “Myths about Gun Control.” Policy Report. National Center for Policy Analysis. No. 176. (1992).

Wright, James; Rossi, Peter and Daly, Kathleen. Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America. Hawthorne, N.Y.: Aldine. (1983).