Gun rights advocates are correct about at least one major point in the debate over regulating firearms.
No measure of gun control in itself will reduce gun deaths and injuries. The core problem is that we are a society steeped in violence.
Virtually every aspect of our culture glorifies brutality, and many of us accept that aggression is a valid technique for resolving conflicts. Until we acknowledge the perverse way we promote violence, it will always haunt us.
But gun enthusiasts must accept that they are both a symptom of and contributor to this phenomenon. The sad irony is that the rate of gun ownership among U.S. homes has been decreasing over the past several decades, all the while the number of guns in circulation has been increasing.
This means that fewer gun owners actually possess more guns. And the sadder point is that they equate hoarding more firearms with being free.
But the reality is that they are isolating themselves behind a false narrative that feeds on fear. How can they believe this in any way represents liberty?
Perhaps the most extreme gun enthusiasts are those who run around with their tri-cornered hats waving their Gadsden flags (along with their guns) and organizing groups of patriots sporting logos with bald eagles on them. They fashion themselves as modern-day minutemen ready to battle the forces of tyranny.
The problem is theres nothing modern about this mentality. We are not living in colonial times, and none of these people is Paul Revere or Patrick Henry. Rather than honestly discuss how our 21st century society can restructure itself to balance freedom and security, they often reject any talk of change as unpatriotic by parroting misguided platitudes or rattling off quotes from the Revolutionary period.
They are trapped because they dont understand life in the 18th century of which they are so fond and cant deal with the reality of the world in which they live. Proof of this is found in their gross misunderstanding of their professed favorite written work, the Second Amendment.
Gun enthusiasts delight in citing the Second Amendments guarantee that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. But here is their first mistake. They conveniently ignore the preceding part of the Second Amendment, A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,
The Second Amendment makes a clear connection between gun ownership, military service and protecting the homeland. So if youre not a member of the U.S. armed services keeping the nation safe from its enemies, how does the Second Amendment apply to you?
Examining how the government enacted its gun laws following the ratification of the Bill of Rights reinforces this argument. Legal scholar Adam Winkler offers some surprising insights into what the notion of gun rights meant to the founders.
[W]eve always had gun control. The founding fathers instituted gun laws so intrusive that, were they running for office today, the NRA would not endorse them, Winkler wrote in an article titled The Secret History of Guns, published in the September 2011 issue of The Atlantic. While they did not care to completely disarm the citizenry, the founding generation denied gun ownership to many people: not only slaves and free blacks, but law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution.
For those men who were allowed to own guns, the founders had their own version of the individual mandate that has proved so controversial in President Obamas health care reform law: they required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.
The founders put the Second Amendment into effect by passing this gun law several months after the Bill of Rights was enacted. They saw gun ownership not as a right of all people, as Winkler wrote, but only those they deemed worthy of upholding the ideals of the Revolution. So those who were ineligible of serving in the militia were often denied the right to own a gun.
The primary purpose of allowing private gun ownership was so that these select men would use their personal weapons to carry out their obligation to serve in militias and keep America free. And these weapons had to be registered by the government upon reporting for duty.
Time and again, the founders connected private ownership of firearms to having citizens fighting for their common liberties (as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 46) as members of a militia. And now we have a full-time military to preserve the rights our founders enshrined.
Thats a far cry from what many Second Amendment proponents claim. This is unfortunate because their twisted allegiance to a make-believe notion of unfettered gun rights has contributed to centuries of bloodshed.
We all share responsibility in creating a broken society that idolizes violence, and its not solely a problem with guns. We display aggression through our entertainment, in our dialogue and with our politics.
Gun enthusiasts, however, have a role to play in helping this nation move beyond its perpetually combative mindset. We are addicted to violence, and many gun owners are among the first ones who need an intervention.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.