A sickening act of terror outrages a nation and people demand strong action to prevent something like it from happen again. Not wanting to appear weak on fighting terrorism, the government proposes sweeping changes that infringe on our civil liberties. The new laws don’t really do much to prevent future attacks, but the government makes full use of the new laws and regulations, bringing charges against people for things that have nothing to do with terrorism.
We’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends, and most of us agree we don’t like it.
The massacre of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina last week in a racially motivated attack. No one disagrees that the shooter should not have been able to get his hands on a gun. This crime has prompted new calls for stricter gun control laws. This would be a mistake.
There is an almost-universal failure on the part of many of our country’s best educated minds to view the right of firearms ownership as a liberty somehow not on par with our other Constitutional guarantees.
Everyone is outraged when people in power tread on our right to free speech or our right to not be subjected to warrantless searches or cruel and unusual punishment. Yet somehow the right to bear arms is considered antiquated and irrelevant. Defending that right is somehow seditious or extreme.
Firearms ownership is a right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, in the Second Amendment, coming right after the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech, of the press and religion. The amendment guaranteeing this right to the American people was placed second among a list of 10. That makes it important.
The argument against the Second Amendment today is that because the United States has a professional military and well-armed law enforcement agencies, that there is no need for ordinary people to have guns. Nothing could be a lazier reading of our Constitution or a more contemptuous view of one’s fellow citizens. Please keep in mind that there are about 80 million legal gun owners in the United States. If a fraction of them were homicidal maniacs, our streets would endlessly run with blood. And while the levels of gun homicides and suicides in the U.S. dwarf the rest of the civilized world, that’s no reason to infringe on the civil rights of our citizens.
Furthermore, exercising one’s rights has nothing to do with perceived need. Most eligible American’s don’t feel the need to vote, but no one would suggest we be stripped of that right or have those rights restricted.
While there is universal agreement that guns should not fall into the hands of criminals or the mentally ill, the laws that are already in place to prevent these dangerous people from obtaining firearms are often laxly enforced or have loopholes. In the recent Charleston shooting, the attacker was legally prohibited from obtaining a gun but took advantage of a loophole and took possession of one as a gift.
There are two central failures to the national issue of guns in the U.S. One is the failure of pro-gun advocates to realize that there is indeed a problem of too many of the wrong people obtaining guns.
But the more alarming problem is the refusal of gun-control advocates to acknowledge that firearms ownership is a fundamental civil right.