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Fear and freedom are incompatible
Recently, during a BBC World News America interview, a Texas gun shop owner asserted that the Second Amendment and its guarantee of the right to possess firearms is assurance of freedom. This came in the context of the ongoing debate over firearms legislation following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December, 2012.
The logic behind this sentiment is a belief that armed citizenry counters government intrusion into people's lives. A recent illustration of this view would be the 1992 Waco, Texas, stand-off between the Branch Davidian sect and federal law enforcement officials. The results of that stand-off were unnecessary deaths – including innocent children – and Timothy McVeigh's revenge in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building five years later.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association claimed in a press conference that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. In other words, a match of guns, or violence for violence! With the arsenal already in people's hands, we are the heaviest armed nation in the world and the least safe from violence against one another.
Before commenting on the emotion that stirs up our uncompromising passion for firearms (which is the second part of this discussion) it would be helpful to glimpse at the historical background of the Second Amendment.
During the process leading to the adoption of the Constitution, serious and genuine questions were raised regarding the possibility of tyranny by the central government. Obviously such fears were prompted by the experience of the struggle for independence. In response to these fears, the First Congress proposed 12 amendments to the Constitution.
The Second Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, was enacted and ratified in response to those fears of infringement. At the time it was ratified in 1791, memories of infringement of personal and civil rights by the colonial masters were still fresh and vivid.
Ironically, more than 200 years later, those sentiments still persist and the object of suspicion today is our own government, not a foreign colonial master.
The FBI estimates that there are over 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States. Along with firearms owned by the military and law enforcement agencies, there are, on average, a weapon for every individual – man, woman and child – in the country! No legislation can adequately prevent the proliferation of an arsenal of this magnitude into the hands of criminals or those with mental illnesses. The tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School is an illustration of such a nightmare.
True, some people seek guns for sporting events and hunting. They deserve the protection of those rights. Yet, hunting and sporting events are hardly the reason behind the explosion of applications and rising sales of firearms in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. Nor are AK 47s and similar assault weapons items of sports.
These trends stem from fear: First, fear that in the near future it may be more difficult to acquire firearms than it is now, and second, fear that without a firearm one is consequently defenseless against violence. Fear is debilitating and needs to be defeated if we are to think clearly and rationally.