Liberty, Personal Responsibility, and Guns
Our Constitution is a brilliant and historic document . . . by 'historic' I don't merely mean it is old, that it is a document from our historic past - I mean 'historic' in that it was unique in it's time and changed everything. A mistake I think many make is to not recognize that America is still an experiment, it simply wasn't that long ago that the world only knew kings and military overlords, etc - America is an experiment in self-governance, an attempt by a people to choose their own leaders, representatives of 'we the people'. The point being, we must not alter the Constitution, perhaps especially those initial 10 bill of rights, without great deliberation and the most circumspect consideration.
Yet, one of the most profoundly genius aspects of our Constitution is that it recognizes the need for it's own amending, that times change, that men in 2012 will not be living in the same world as men in 1787. Here, it seems to me, is the pull-and-tug on this point; the right of the private citizen to own a gun is a principle clearly asserted by our founding fathers, it was an idea at the core of what America was established to be, land of the free - but the large clip rapid fire assault weapons of today were unimaginable to men of 1787. So, the question becomes, does limiting the accessibility of large clip rapid fire assault weapons intrude on the framer's principle that every citizen has the right to own a gun . . ?
Some will simply say it doesn't matter what men in 1787 thought, some will not count the core principle of freedom and personal responsibility as sacred, some will incautiously seek to change the Constitution. And some will simply assert that 'this' is what the document says and so 'this' must and only be the way things remain. But the question, certainly, needs real and thoughtful consideration - there are easily far too many news stories that we again and again have to wrestle with grasping for some solution.
Now, 'solution' is a key word here. Is gun control the solution to these nightmare incidents? I think it’s looking to gun control as a fixer of this mess is what leads us to the oft repeated back and forth debate that divides the nation between folks who think those who count it their right to own a gun are (at least just about) evil and obviously don’t care about children and are just anti-intellectual conservatives, etc – and folks who think those who seek stricter gun control laws are knee-jerk do-gooders who think more and more government encroachment and regulation of the individual and are just spoon-fed liberals, etc. Enforcing the gun laws we already have and adding stricter regulations on gun ownership, outlawing guns altogether will not ‘solve’ the problem of violence and murder. We always will have and always have had people willing to do violence to others, to murder others, to have their way.
Even if you mock Genesis as an accurate account of the beginning of man, even if you count it an ancient fairytale, it tells us something about human nature – either that this is the way we are or that this is the way we (ancients) set us forth to be. God made man, He made Adam and Eve – the first man that we (man) made, the first man born of a woman, was Cain . . . besides his mom and dad, there was only one other fellow around and Cain murdered him . . . and that was his own brother. The history of man is a history of murder and violence and crime. Before there was such a thing as guns, when there is no gun, with bare hands, man has always and will continue to murder to get what he wants – legislating authorization to own a gun or legislating prohibitions against owning a gun, is no solution . . . all (or I should say, many) of the now cliché arguments are sound; gun laws will only keep law abiding citizens from owning guns, private gun ownership will have guns falling into the wrong hands, accidents, why does anyone need an assault rifle for hunting or home protection, you are just as dead if you’re murdered with a knife, should we outlaw cars when there’s a hit-and-run, etc, etc?
If, or when, we talk about gun control as a solution we throw ourselves into a maze of confusing principle with emotion and pitting desire against practical application, etc. Gun legislation simply will not end murder and violence, that’s not the direction to take if we’re seeking to end murder and violence – but, might stricter, or maybe different, gun legislation save some lives, is any manner of regulation of private gun ownership contrary to the Constitution? If private citizens were not permitted to own large clip rapid fire assault weapons and there could be a successful confiscation of these weapons from the criminal underground, then it seems likely we might suffer through far fewer mass shooting incidents – but could that be a workable scenario? Of course, there would still be multiple shooting scenes with handguns and some evil people would simply turn to explosives, etc, but some significant number of lives might be saved.
The question becomes, as a good, decent, law-abiding, interested to help others type of citizen, why can’t I own an assault rifle if I want to? This is America, the home of freedom and personal responsibility, who is the government, my government, to tell me what to do in my private life as long as I don’t harm others? This is no small matter and I’m not saying this with a cowboy machismo disregarding the consequences of maintaining ‘my rights’ – this is a critical philosophic point that will define much of the life we have to live and our future. For me, I have to then ask, how about a bazooka, can I own my own bazooka? How about a tank, can I fly around in my 2 seat Cessna with a couple of bombs, can I have my own missiles in my backyard? At some point, of course, the possibility of damage and the sheer number you could harm come into play.
The founding fathers established that each citizen has the right to own his own gun – were they guaranteed the right to own their own canon? The country was new, things were being figured-out . . . I don’t think any citizen or government body would have had any trouble at all with George Washington owning his own canon and keeping it on his own property – but if Joe the tavern owner set up a canon in front of his establishment pointing right across the way at Sam the innkeeper’s place, I tend to think legislation might have been passed. We are still figuring this stuff out, we are still struggling to work-out how your freedom can not infringe upon my safety, how a multitude can all enjoy liberty and safety and the question very frequently comes down to which of those ideas you treasure more – do we want perilous liberty or regulated safety?
The most immediate point here is that no one needs to rail in anger and think those who see things differently than they do must be evil, must not care, are only following some party-line, etc. We will never improve things if we start with the assumption that ‘our side’ is simply right and the ‘other side’ is simply wrong, that ‘our side’ is good and smart but the ‘other side’ is bad and stupid . . . we are still trying to figure this (freedom) out.
Gun legislation is not going to ‘solve’ the problem of man’s violence against man, but for me, personally; times have changed, I firmly believe the founding fathers’ core principle of the private citizen having the right (not the permission, but the right) to own his own gun is sacred to America, to our experiment in freedom – but I believe the large clip rapid fire assault weapons of today were not what they were thinking about when they said “arms”.
In the end, personally; I would rather live in under a risky liberty than under an overly regulated safety.