Recent events in Newtown CT and Aurora CO have aroused the concerns of many about the level of gun related violence in America and the safety of public places from schools, to restaurants and movie theaters. Shocked by the level of gun violence many Americans argue that guns of all types should be better regulated and that guns of some types (e.g.; semi automatic assault rifles) should be prohibited from ownership by the public altogether.
Those advocating better gun control would like to see things like background checks for all firearms purchases, licensing of all firearms, safety training for gun owners, required liability insurance for gun owners and a variety of other measures that stop well short of taking all guns away from all private citizens.
Most Americans whether they are gun owners or not feel that an otherwise law abiding citizen ought to be able to own a firearm for the purposes of self-protection, sport hunting, subsistence hunting, recreational target shooting and related types of activities. They think that Americans should be free in this way no matter how the Supreme Court interprets the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
What this group of Americans wants is sensible gun control so that persons who should not have firearms do not have them. They want to stop the completely unregulated flow of firearms at gun shows and they want to see a better (perhaps Federal) data base that is effective in identifying persons who should not be armed.
Most people who take this view realize that better regulation will not prevent ALL gun violence and are not suggesting that lowering the level of gun violence is only a matter of better regulation. They feel it is a common sense part of a broader approach which also addresses our currently dysfunctional public mental health system and other aspect of our society which give rise to social violence.
In contrast to this first group, there is another segment of the population that feels that it should be armed in order to be able to rise up against a government that becomes totalitarian on the model of a Stalinist Russia or a fascist dictatorship. These people feel that if the “people” are disarmed then ipso facto the federal government will gradually take over all liberties, eliminate individual choice in most matters of importance and essentially enslave the people and make them passive cogs in the wheels of an evermore dehumanizing state.
These people tend to see the government (especially the Federal government) as a kind of malevolent force which will gradually grind them into submission unless they arm themselves in a way that would prevent the state from overpowering them. These individuals argue that the framers of the Constitution recognized the danger of state power over unarmed citizens and that Second Amendment to the Constitution’s purpose is to enable citizens to protect themselves from the tyranny of their own government. They do not tend to see the US government, as Lincoln eloquently put it, to be, “of the people, by the people and for the people” but rather as inherently alien to “the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness” as articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Firearms for this group are tools for maintaining their personal and political liberty.
Any attempt to further regulate guns, appears to this latter group to be an attempt to undermine their fundamental right to protect themselves from tyranny and must be resisted no matter how sensible such regulations might seem to the task of lowering gun violence. Some even admit that some of the proposed regulations would likely have some impact on gun violence but not enough of an impact for them to give any ground on what they see as their right to defend themselves from the government and its natural tendency to totalitarianism.
On the gun control side of the argument, no one wants to ban guns completely; just make them less readily available to the wrong people and control the types of guns that are available to those a person might need for protection, hunting or target shooting. The defend-myself-from-the-government side of the argument tends to see gun regulation as the first step on the slippery slope toward the total banning of guns and thus the first step in the victory of totalitarianism over liberty. On the fringe of this movement, we even hear of those who want to make it legal to have things like rocket launchers, hand grenades etc. just in case they are needed for the fight against the government.
There is a lot to say about all this and the very different world views of people on either side of this argument and I will try to address some of them in later posts. For now, I want to come down firmly on the side of greater gun control for greater public safety and health. Our form of government was designed specifically to avoid the need to have an armed populace ready to revolt against tyrants in power. The American experiment is an experiment, if nothing else, in “self” government; i.e., “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The people together shape society by regulating things and practices that pose unnecessary risks to its members. Once we decide that we are part of the American project to build an egalitarian and truly participatory society, arming oneself against that project is self defeating in the extreme.
Labeling efforts at sensible gun control as efforts to ban all guns is both misleading and false. I don’t believe that anyone is suggesting the banning of all guns–just some sensible limitations. Because these limitations will not fix the whole problem, is no reason not to include them in the array of things we, as a nation, decide to do to stem gun violence. Most important of all, we should not fall victim to the argument that guns are necessary to defend oneself from the inevitable tyranny of government itself. If we do that, participatory democracy and the American Dream will have literally shot itself in the foot with a rather large caliber weapon.