The gun control debate has long been devoid of common sense. Maybe the absence is less due to common sense and more due to a lack of historical perspective. In order to make sense of this argument we should go back to the bill of rights and take a deeper look at the second amendment. By now, everyone has the verbiage memorized, but we need to look at the important issues of the day to see what the framers really had in mind when the penned the following:
“A well-regulated militia being necessary for the defense of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms should not be infringed.” If they really wanted everyone to own firearms without regulation then why did they include the part about the well-regulated militia? The answer goes back to what the forefathers were most concerned with at the time of the revolution. Contrary to popular belief, it had little to do with Big Brother coming to take away their guns. After all, Big Brother itself was a reference that would come in a book more than 150 years after the revolution.
To truly understand the Bill of Rights, we have to look at the first eight amendments as direct responses to the problems they saw with the British government. Sure, they waxed on about inalienable rights and rights given by God, but has anyone ever seen those rights enumerated in the Bible? I think I saw a reference to the quartering of troops in Leviticus. Seriously though, the bill of rights was a response to the abuses of British rule, and seven out of eight of those amendments remain directly on point.
When looking at the second amendment we have to ask ourselves a very important question. Were the framers more interested in making sure that citizens kept their guns or were they more interested in making sure that the new United States did not keep a large standing army? If you think about what they had just experienced then the last one would be more logical. They had just experienced a large military force in their homeland. How do you protect yourself without a large standing army? It seems that a well-regulated militia would be the best way to do that. You have a well-regulated militia when you allow private citizens to keep and bear arms.
What I find most interesting is that many of the same people who are most concerned about protecting the sanctity of the second amendment are the same people that want to see us increase our defense budget. Apparently, the largest standing army in the world is not large enough. This is increasingly ironic as we look back at what the forefathers feared the most. While we might debate about whether they were really that concerned about individual citizens owning guns, we know for a fact that they did not want a large standing army.
After all, even if a large standing army were to never turn on their own people (as the forefathers feared), history has clearly shown that presidents and Congresses love to use that large standing army overseas for what most people would call questionable campaigns. Regardless, one of two things has to be true. Either, the government has betrayed the wishes of their forefathers or they have simply adapted to changing conditions throughout the world.
Few debate the necessity of the standing army, but when you read the second amendment it is at least likely that the forefathers were concerned about that. If conditions in the world make it necessary to disregard that portion of the amendment then couldn’t conditions also make it possible to disregard the other part as well. After all, police forces and fire departments make it less necessary to keep an arms for our own protection. Furthermore, murder rates were astronomically low when the forefathers were dreaming up the second amendment. Technology, population density, and myriad of other societal factors make an unregulated right to bear arms a bit far fetched.
If we return to a position of common sense, we know two things. First, the courts have already maintained that the government has the right to limit our ability to bear arms. Secondly, we know that most sane gun control proponents want law abiding citizens to maintain the right to own firearms. They simply want to make sure that criminals and the mentally unstable can’t get legal access to them. Some also want to completely ban automatic weapons and some semi-automatic weapons. No one is coming to your door to confiscate your guns.
However, it is more than a bit hypocritical to completely overlook the building of the largest military in modern human history and yet argue that the government to strictly adhere to the constitution and what it says. You can’t have it both ways. Either you are a strict constructionist or you aren’t. If you are then great. Let’s argue for a deep cut back on defense spending and maybe balance our budget in the process. If you aren’t, then leave the constitutional talk aside. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it is irrelevant, but its relevance has to be weighed against the knowledge that our world is a very different world than it was 24o years ago. A free, healthy, and responsible society has to weigh the interests of personal freedoms with the interests of public safety. Reasonable people can disagree about specifics, but as long as we adhere to outdated notions we will never get there. This is especially true if we don’t even adhere to those all the time.