It does seem to me that, as a nation, we are awash with weaponry of many types. Apart from cars (which also are involved with people dying) and kitchen knives (which CAN kill, in spite of their other uses), I suspect that guns are, by far, the most common type of weapon. There was, in fact, enough concern about the necessity of the people to have weaponry available for their defense that the idea was encoded in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as: “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.” There is historic precedent for this idea dating back to English law before the United States existed, so this idea was, apparently, a source of concern at the founding of our nation. Of course, there are those who point out that this appears to be referring to the idea of the people having the right to form a “milita” for their common defense, so they question whether this right was truly intended to apply to an individual. The courts, however, have decided that this right DOES apply to individuals, so that there is an individual right to own guns for personal protection, hunting and other sports, etc.
Of course, even such a conservative Justice as Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008:
Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a
right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever
and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions
have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s
opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on
the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding
the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government
buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial
sale of arms.
Thus, there seems to be legal precedent that gun ownership and use CAN, and, perhaps, should be, regulated in some cases.
When we have another example of what has become known as a “school shooting,” we find a fair number of people suggesting that we have laws against the improper use of firearms, just as we have plenty of laws intended to keep guns from the mentally ill, so all that we really need is better enforcement of the laws we have. Or, another notion I’ve heard is that we should make it easier for more people to have and carry guns so they can defend the rest of us. I suppose there might be some merit to the notion that “an armed society is a polite society.” But, I don’t understand how that contributes to keeping guns out of the hands of those whom everybody agrees shouldn’t have them, or how it prevents an “irresponsible” gun owner from getting high, angry, etc., and deciding to “settle things” with his gun, or from mistakenly shooting the someone who seems to be “behaving suspiciously” in the middle of the night when “I heard a funny sound and looked out the window.”
While conceding the idea that there is, and probably should be, a right to self-protection, the statistics I’ve seen suggest that all too many homeowners are killed by their own guns when they drag them out “for self-protection” and have them taken away (and used against them) by the “bad guy.” I also wonder what it would be like to be a SWAT team member (to say nothing of just being a beat cop) who shows up at a “situation” (be it a private home, a fight at a bar, or a school shooting) to discover a person (or persons) waving gun(s) around when they can have no idea who is who and what is what. I don’t know how they are trained, but my reaction would probably be to demand instant obedience of anyone I saw with a gun to stop and put the gun down. And, I would be likely to rather quickly “put down” anyone who didn’t obey immediately or who turned their weapon towards me. Even SWAT members really don’t wish to be shot because somebody was waving a gun around, regardless of that persons purpose. At a school shooting, one might be able to tell that the people wearing uniforms are most likely “good” guys, but I don’t know of anyone who wears a jacket with “I am a trained, licensed gun owner with a concealed carry permit, which is why I have a gun” printed on it when they are “carrying” and I don’t really expect to. What’s a cop to do?
I’ve also heard it suggested that teachers should be trained and issued guns, so that they can “defend” their students, but, of course, those weapons should be locked up so that the students can’t use them by mistake. If they are locked up, they aren’t really very accessible, and I think a lot of people would be concerned about teachers being required to wear sidearms to teach First Grade. That suggests, at least to me, that “SWAT training for teachers” is NOT going to be a required course in Colleges of Education any time soon.
Another argument I have heard against gun regulation is that we have plenty of laws and regulations intended to prevent people from improper (impaired or just dangerous) driving, but we have not stopped the carnage on our highways, so the idea of regulating our way to a better world is futile.
I don’t think so…. According to an NIH report last updated in 2010, “In the mid 1970s, alcohol was a factor in over 60% of traffic fatalities. Traffic crashes were the leading cause of alcohol-related deaths and two-thirds of traffic deaths among persons aged 16 to 20 involved alcohol.” Later, the report says, “Since the early 1980s, alcohol-related traffic deaths per population have been cut in half with the greatest proportional declines among persons 16-20 years old.” and “Today (2010) alcohol is involved in 37% of all traffic deaths among persons aged 16 to 20.” Even without exact numbers, that sounds like some improvement, and I would suggest that any improvement is, in fact, improvement. We are probably never going to solve all of the problems of the world, nor eliminate traffic, or gun, deaths. But, is that a reason to try to make them fewer?
I find the traffic statistics interesting because when I was growing up back in the 1950s and 60s, cars were much more of a symbol of masculine ego than they appear to be today (which is not to say that that appeal has disappeared). Back then, of course it was the “hot rod” (talk about your phallic symbol) or the “muscle car” that demonstrated your virility. It was even widely discussed in advertising (so I have read) that the “hardtop convertible” was invented (about 1950, I think) because men WANTED the sex appeal of a convertible, but a sedan was more practical for a family. So, the hardtop was created as a compromise (sort of like having a mistress in addition to a wife). This was also the time when NASCAR was starting to achieve national prominence, as was drag racing. Sexy, desirable men (it WAS a “guy” thing, primarily, but the use of guns seems to be mostly a “guy” thing, as well.) had fast, powerful cars and used them to “prove” that they were sexy and desirable. I have heard some say that gun ownership has moved to become a part of the same sort of idea today. Having fancy, powerful, preferably “military-style” weapons, big magazines (another blatantly phallic image) etc., seems to be viewed as “proof” that one is a confident, powerful, Alpha Male.
Okay, that’s enough armchair psychology, which may, or may not have any real accuracy. Still, no one (to the best of my knowledge) has launched major protests because in order to drive a car (of any type) one is required to get some, minimal training, to pass a test, to be licensed and to have insurance. Simple ownership of a car, requires that you have it licensed in the state of residence and pay a tax on it as personal property. Some local communities also require licensing and some states or communities require frequent tests for safety and/or environmental concerns. That seems like a lot of regulation to me and it certainly establishes the idea that the state knows that you own a car and that (in order to keep it) you must pay annual fees, taxes, insurance costs, etc. Why does that not upset gun owners?
What is it about gun ownership that demands that it be largely unrestricted, unregistered, unlicensed, and, at least potentially, untrained? I find it hard to believe that we all emerged from the womb knowing everything we might need to know about weapon use. I’m not against gun ownership. I had a .22 when I was a teenager which I used for target practice on a licensed range and I enjoyed it. I don’t, personally, sympathize with hunters a lot, but I can grant that some people seem to enjoy that, even if they don’t hunt for purposes of food. (I’ve never really understood the idea of “trophy” hunting, or fishing, either, but that’s a different story.)
Still, I find it hard to understand why someone needs an AK-47 with a 30 round banana clip to go hunting (which I think it would be illegal in any event, but I’m not that familiar with gun or hunting laws). The NRA seems very worried that if the government knows that you have a gun (i.e. it’s registered), then the government will want to take it away from you. I just don’t understand that idea. I’ve never heard of that happening to anyone who was legally entitled to own a gun, and I don’t see “the government boogy man” taking cars away from people without due process, although they can revoke the “privilege” of driving for a variety of crimes, just as ones right to legally “bear arms” can be revoked for various reasons. The NRA talks a lot about the idea that “responsible gun owners” would be the only ones to suffer from having background checks, etc. to buy a gun. How so? A truly “responsible” person should always be able to pass a background check, although it might delay possession of a new gun for a few days. On the other hand, shouldn’t (isn’t) being in possession of an improperly obtained, or illegal, weapon be a violation of law? I hear of “weapons violations” on the news every so often. Does that suggest that the government should have the ability to identify people who shouldn’t have guns before they can purchase one? At the moment, those people can avoid having their legal ability to own guns checked by just buying them at gun shows, when they don’t just steal them from some “responsible” person!
I’m really not against gun ownership. If that’s what turns you on, so be it. I am concerned about the idea that having a gun for personal protection (at home, work, or in a school) requires having loaded weapons sitting around, easily accessible (where the wrong people [including kids] could get their hands on them) or they can’t really be available for “protection.” It seems to me that requiring the same sorts of precautions we have for driving (at least minimal training and licensing, as well as insurance and appropriate checks on their legal status) isn’t unreasonable, if one really wants to limit guns to “responsible” people. I’ll admit that we haven’t really done a super good job with driver training, etc., but ANY improvement would seem better than none).
I’ve tried to understand the sort of paranoia which says that largely unrestricted gun ownership makes me, my loved ones, and my society safer and better, but I can’t figure it out. Perhaps someone can explain it to me? I’d really like to know. I just don’t understand….