Sunday, March 8, 2020

Week 33: Gun Control

Next to the issue of abortion, little causes more emotive debate than the right to bear arms or the restriction of that right. The right to bear arms is often conflated with other issues, such as violence and mental health. If people are to have an intelligent discussion of the issue, it seems important to unbundle these various topics, understand them, and then reconstruct meaningful and informed proposals. Remembering that, by definition, a right is something inherent in one’s personhood and cannot be bestowed by a government or ruler and cannot legitimately be taken away, let us examine gun control.

In the Fall of 1788, after extensive debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, it was determined that the proposed Constitution – if it were to be adopted – required an enumeration of rights possessed by the people. It was not that the Framers did not respect the people’s rights, it was simply that some saw the Constitution as a guide for the proper functioning of the new government, whereas others, because of their recent experience with tyranny, wanted explicit assurances in the document that the people’s rights would be inviolable. It was clear that proponents of the Constitution would not successfully secure the necessary votes to be adopted if the issue of individual rights was not addressed. Therefore, in 1789, James Madison prepared 12 articles of amendment, which were approved by Congress and sent, along with the Constitution, to the states for ratification. Articles three through 12 were ratified, leaving the original articles one and two out of the ratified social contract. Later, the original second amendment would be passed into law as the 27th amendment, which pertains to increases in the salaries of members of Congress. The original first amendment, which addresses the number of seats in the House of Representatives and has no time limit for ratification, is pending to this day before the states’ legislatures.

The purpose for this history lesson is simply to recall the fact that the Bill of Rights came into being as the result of careful and considered debate.

Article the Second  (as the amendments were styled at the time) of the Bill of Rights 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 Framers were incredible students of history and philosophy. They surveyed the corpus of knowledge available to them – classical and contemporary – to construct the principles of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment, for example, drew on British law, the protections of which the colonists had preferred over revolution, but to which they had been denied. In the British Bill of Rights of 1689, the right to bear arms was expressed thusly, “Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” It was a provision that was based on an understanding of Natural Law, an understanding with which the Framers, too, were well acquainted. Natural Law dictates that it is the inherent right of an individual to engage in self-defense and, by extension, to resist tyranny. It is, therefore, inconsistent with Natural Law to prohibit an individual from possession of the means (e.g., arms) necessary to effect such self-defense and resistance.

In Federalist 46, James Madison writes, “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.” The bottom line of this passage from Federalist 46 is that a government will be kept in check if its leaders and functionaries know that the people have the means to protect themselves from the ambitious abuse of power. Put simply, those who govern would need to think twice about using force against the people, because the people could do the same in self-defense against the government.

Some will argue that it was a different time, and the need to be protected from government’s abuse no longer has meaning.

Indeed, it was a different time. There was no standing army. There was no massive bureaucracy with agency personnel required to carry weapons, such as certain agents of today’s United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Internal Revenue Service, and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, to name but a few. Consider these examples. They are not armed defenders enlisted to subdue enemies from without. No! they are gun-toting agents hired to subdue citizens within.

It seems that in the past 230 years, our government of, by and for the people has been arming itself against the people.

With that paradigm slowly but surely shifted, what do the politicians of today demand of the American people? Disarm yourselves. Surrender your guns. Over time, they have been successful in laying the groundwork for this demand – for the very type of confiscation that former candidate Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke called for during his campaign.

To what end do such politicians make calls for restrictions on or repeal of the right to bear arms? The most common argument is to end the scourge of mass shootings. To be sure, no one can argue that the slaying of innocent people, be it one person or a group, is an abhorrent blight on our nation. Out of respect, though, for those who have been murdered, ought we not assure to their posterity that a proper root-cause analysis is conducted? Is the presence of guns truly the cause of their demise? I would argue that this is not the case.

According to, 37 percent of American households were estimated to own one or more guns in 2019, with no clear upward or downward trend since 1972. Going back a bit further, it is estimated that the majority of American households owned one or more guns around the time of the founding. A William and Mary Law Review article by James Lindgren and Justin Heather, “Counting Guns in Early America” (Volume 43, Issue 5), examined previous work and probate records to reach this conclusion.

If an abundance of guns is the cause of gun-related violence, why has such violence increased over the past half century despite a relatively flat trend in gun ownership? Why was gun-related violence not a national plague at the time of the founding when there was greater gun ownership?

Perhaps the answer isn’t the proliferation of guns; and furthermore, rather than create hysteria about the right to bear arms, we should dig a bit deeper to understand the cause of gun violence.

In our culture, we are bombarded with violence on the television and in the theaters, as well as in graphic video games. Might the liberal elite of Hollywood be numbing our senses to violence and conditioning us to devalue human life? There is some far-from-amusing irony that the same crowd that uses the tragedy of gun violence to attack proponents of the Second Amendment are the same purveyors of violent media that makes mayhem and murder commonplace.

Another possible cause of violence may be attributed to the crisis that is an increase in mental illness. According to the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM), the percentage change in prevalence of any mental illness was an increase of eight percent from 2008 to 2018. Tragically, the percentage increase in prevalence of serious mental illness during the same timeframe was 24 percent. An important factor during this timeframe related to these increases is the sharp increase in mental illness among people aged 18-25.

Also according to the NIHCM, loneliness and social isolation are contributing factors to mental illness. While I am not a psychologist or sociologist, it seems to me that it is conceivable that our virtual world is diminishing personalization and bonding among people. Perhaps this makes violence against others less difficult to countenance.

Regardless of these hypotheses, it is critical to get to the bottom of all violence, including that which is committed with guns. That said, it is critical, too, that we do not abandon a constitutional right for reasons that may be merely correlated but clearly are not causal.

By way of analogy, people decry “fake news.” Do we do away with a free press? Political polarization is causing people to physically attack those of different views. Do we prohibit free speech? I think most people would answer “no” to these questions. And that is the proper answer. However, people are supporting such restrictions on many college campuses today. What were once bastions of free speech and thought are purposefully employing restrictive zoning for the exercise of constitutionally protected rights. But I digress.

Finally, let us not ignore the lessons of history. As Germany was preparing its conquest of Europe, Russia, and the rest of the world, German Führer Adolph Hitler said, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subjugated races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subjugated races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So, let’s not have any native militia or native police.” With this belief firmly in place, with the subjugation of Jews through the Nuremberg laws, and with the degradation of non-German, non-Aryan people (e.g., Russians, Poles and other Slavs) affirmed by the regime, the German gun control legislation of 1938, prohibited gun ownership by subjugated people while simultaneously loosening the 1928 Weimar Republic gun restrictions for German citizens, particularly for those with some affinity to the Nazi party.

I do not use this example from history to argue that this particular Nazi policy resulted in the annihilation of the German Jewish population or that of the nations that fell under German control. After all, gun ownership was relatively low because of limits imposed on all Germans during the period of the Weimar Republic. Rather, I use it to expose the intent of those who would restrict such rights, especially as a means of control. Thinking back to Federalist 46, resistance would certainly be futile if the people had nothing but sticks and stones to check the power of an all-powerful, heavily armed government.

If further restrictions on the Second Amendment are legislated, it will be of great interest to see what exemptions might be part of the law. After all, some of the loudest critics of citizens’ gun rights are themselves protected by heavily armed guards, which is yet one more example of the hypocrisy of the ruling class.

As the election season continues, candidates’ positions on the Second Amendment may provide great insight into their general respect, or lack thereof, for the inalienable rights that you and I have as citizens of the United States of America.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe 18-25 is the window in that people realize the American Dream they were sold throughout their childhood is not guaranteed.


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