I wanted to write down my thoughts about gun ownership.
As with almost all of my political beliefs, my thoughts are based on the Declaration of Independence… and in this case, two particular phrases:
that they are endowed … with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty …
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
I believe that every person has the rights to Life and Liberty. An immediate (and reasonable) implication is that you also have those rights necessary to protect your Life and Liberty.
There are 3 primary threats to our Life and Liberty.
Threats from other individuals
Threats from other nations
Threats from our own government
Threats from other individuals
It is fortunate that we have a police force, but the fact is that their primary job is to catch someone who has committed a crime, NOT to prevent a crime from being committed. It is true that the presence of a police force does tend to deter some crimes from being committed, but certainly not all, and in almost all situations, the police become involved only AFTER a crime has being committed.
So how do I protect myself (and my family) from others who want harm us? The most effective way is to be as well armed as the person who wants to commit a crime that could deprive me or my family of our right to Life.
My right to Life is an unalienable right. It was not granted to me by the government, and it must not be taken away by them. My right to protect my Life is a necessary condition to this right, and the right to bear arms is a fundamental component of that right. It is absolutely not sufficent for them to provide a police force capable of punishing a criminal.
One unfortunate weakness in our constitution (or more accurately, the Bill of Rights) is that the right to bear arms to protect Life is not mentioned anywhere. The 2nd amendment is the only one to address the right to bear arms, and it does not address this directly. As a result, gun controls have been passed since they do not seem to violate the 2nd amendment.
The wording of the 2nd amendment needs to be made stronger. Something
like the following would be much better:
The right to keep and bear Arms, being necessary to the protection of Life, shall not be infringed. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall not be infringed.
Of course, the right to bear arms is not without limits. For example, if someone has committed an armed robbery or assault (or some other crime), they may have forfeited the right to bear arms.
It is also reasonable to place some limits on when and where it is appropriate to bear some types of arms.
For example, I have the right to bear arms in order to protect my life, but it would not be appropriate for that to include a stick of dynamite since it would be virtually impossible to use such a weapon in a way which did not endanger the life of other innocent individuals. Similarily, it would not be appropriate to use a machine gun for self-defense in a public area… there is too much danger that someone other than the criminal would be hurt, and just as my Life must be protected, so must the Lives of other people who might be hurt by my use of arms (even if the intent is strictly to protect my Life).
It is also not unreasonable to require that a person be properly trained to use a weapon before being allowed to carry it. This also would help to protect innocent bystanders.
Threats from other nations
At the time the constitution was written, the militia consisted primarily of citizens who provided their own weapons. As such, restricting gun ownership effectively weakened national defense.
The situation is very different now. Given the nature of modern warfare, the use of personal weapons to protect us against a foreign power would be nearly useless. The weaponry owned by even the smallest of nations would make it nearly impossible for individuals to protect their lives.
Fortunately, the military has also evolved over time. We now maintain a standing military with weapons supplied by the government using our tax dollars. Although there are a number of valid reasons to complain about specific ways that our military budget is spent, the general purpose for maintaining a military are sound, and perform a necessary function.
The purpose of the government is to secure our rights (including the right to Life). As the individuals’ ability to protect their Life from foreign powers has decresed, the government has stepped in to fill that role, and that is actually a very legitimate use of the government who’s role it is to secure our rights (even though it doesn’t always do it).
Threats from our own government
The third purpose of private gun ownership is to protect our rights from threats from our own government.
The founding fathers recognized only too well how a government could deprived individuals of their rights. They had repeatedly tried to work with the government of England to secure various individual rights, but been repeatedly rebuffed. It is quite instructive to read the Declaration of Independance which lists briefly some of their attempts, and the reaction they received. Ultimately, they recognized that the government of England was not going to recognize their rights, and so Thomas Jefferson wrote the following (from the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration of Independance):
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.
This, perhaps more than any other reason, was the purpose of the 2nd amendment. The founders of this country recognized the need for citizens to bear arms in case they needed to abolish a government that was depriving individuals of their rights, and replace it with one that would secure those rights.
Unfortunately, as our military has evolved to protect our nation from foreign powers, it has also evolved beyond the point where privately owned weapons will be effective.
The constitution is all about checks and balances. Each branch of the government was given powers necessary to carry out it’s function, but checks were placed on it to prevent it from exceeding it’s constitutional authority.
Unfortunately, many of these checks are eroding. The use of the military in “police actions” instead of declared wars has been used as a way to circumvent checks. The use of executive orders is used to circumvent the constitutional order of enacting legislation. Recently, there was discussion of making a change allowing congress to override a Supreme Court ruling. The 17th amendment removed a critical check that the states had on the federal government making this amendment (in my mind) the most damaging change to the constitution ever made.
The right to bear arms was a check that citizens had on the government. The government could never feel secure in stepping on the rights of citizens knowing that at any moment they had the means to rebel.
That check also has eroded (though this has been through technological advancement rather than political maneuvering).
The single most important change that could be made to our government would be to somehow restore the checks on power that have been eroded over time.
Some checks are easy to understand (for example, the 17th amendment could be repealed, which would be a good first step to restore that check).
Unfortunatly, I do not know how to fully restore the check that armed citizens have on our government. However, it is absolutely critical that the right to bear arms be maintained. An armed population bearing handguns and rifles would not be terribly effective against the full power of the military… but it’s better than an unarmed populace!
One question which I periodically revisit is the question of whether gun ownership should be mandatory.
I’m sure that many people immediately reject such a notion… and I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea, but I’d be more in favor of that legislation than on laws that infringe on the right to bear arms.
Our rights must be secured. Our right to a government that derives is’s power from the people is a basis for the fact that we elect officials through voting. It is critical that people exercise their right to vote.
Likewise, it is critical that people exercise their right to bear arms.
We risk losing any right that is not secured and exercised!
Even so, I don’t think that it should be a crime not to own a gun (or not to vote)… so at this point, I don’t feel gun ownership should be mandatory.
I DO feel though that you are not securing a vital individual right if you do not own a gun!