Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Right to Bear Arms

In the late 1780s, years after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, the fledgling government of the United States was still sorting out what sort of government they really wanted to be. The country's first political parties, the Federalists and the cleverly-named Anti-Federalists (who eventually became the Democratic-Republican party), were debating the merits and problems with a strong central government. A strong central government offered security and regulated interstate quarrels, which were a big concern at the time. On the other hand, if the central government was too strong that opened the door to tyranny, the war against which everyone was still kinda recovering from.

Unfortunately, the country's first attempt at a constitution created a government too weak to do anything at all, so clearly there needed to be some compromise. So, in 1791, two years after the Constitution of the United States of America established a much stronger central government, the first ten amendments to that Constitution were ratified: the United States' Bill of Rights, which guaranteed certain freedoms to the country's people in the hopes that such rights would save them from tyranny.

Many of these rights have been debated in the 224 years since their ratification, and some of their guarantees have been chipped away a bit for the sake of safety and common sense. Currently, the guarantee at the forefront of America's collective mind seems to be the Second Amendment. So, let's talk about it.

The second amendment to the Constitution of the United States is as follows:
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.
This single sentence is causing quite a fuss here, 224 years later. Given a recent series of mass murders around the country, including several in schools, many people around the country are arguing for more federal control over who should get to own firearms. On the other hand, many other people point to the Second Amendment, not just because it protects their right to own guns, but because it gives a reason for people to have guns: because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state.

What does that mean? In short, the possession of arms helped a person defend his property, both from nature and men, and defend his country, both from tyranny from within and tyranny from without. This right was guaranteed to English citizens by the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and, as such, when England overstepped its bounds according to the American colonials, they were armed enough to start pushing back.

So, you can see why this amendment was important to the people of the early United States. They had just won a war that they simply couldn't have won without the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment continued to be helpful through the years, as the nation's people held their own in skirmishes along the frontier and as they worked to fulfill the country's manifest destiny. However you may feel about early and expansionist America, you can't deny that the Second Amendment was integral in turning the United States of America into the country it is today.

That said, we live in quite a different world today than the world in which our country was founded. I think the risk of our country becoming tyrannical is extremely low, and the risk of our country being invaded is even lower.

Our nation's military is lauded as national heroes, and rightly so. They're not just heroes, though: they're our children, our siblings, our parents, and our friends. If our government were to turn tyrannical it would be our friends and family who would have to enforce that tyranny, and I think it shows a tremendous lack of faith in our friends and family to assume that, given the order, they'd turn their guns on the American people. Further, if somehow the armed forces of the United States were inclined to blindly follow orders and enforce a tyrannical government on American citizens, what exactly could an armed militia of citizens do against trained soldiers with vastly superior weaponry? It wouldn't be colonials versus monarchist soldiers; we wouldn't stand a chance.

Given that, I think the justification of the Second Amendment no longer holds true: a well-regulated militia is no longer necessary to the security of a free state. We now have government services for that: a huge network of law enforcement for internal conflicts, and the largest, most technologically advanced armed forces on the planet to deal with external conflicts.

That said, I come from a hunting family, as do many people around the country. Though I personally never took to the sport, I can say firsthand that hunting is a way of life for many people, and one they feel intensely about. As such, I could never advocate the eradication of guns from the citizenry. It's a tradition, it's recreation, and it's an industry, not to mention a decent source of food if you have a taste for it. Plus, on very practical level, there's no way you'll take away the guns of many gun owners without a fight, and I mean that literally. There's no way to abolish the Second Amendment that doesn't end in bloodshed.

So, since I can't advocate the abolition of the Second Amendment, I instead urge people to focus on the second and third words of the amendment: "well regulated." If we can't remove guns from the population, we should, as the amendment says, regulate their use. And we do, to a degree, but I don't think we regulate them enough. I'm not sure what the solution is to this problem, whether it's deeper background checks, licensing, or what, but I think we as a nation can figure something out--something that allows people to continue their way of life and let them feel safe without making it easy for criminals and the unstable to get their hands on these weapons.

Hopefully we can figure something out before we have too many more mass shootings. However, right now there seems to be more talking past each other on the subject rather than talking to each other, so the prospect doesn't look good.

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