January 11, 2013 Leave a comment
The gun debate has been in full swing since the tragic events that transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary in mid-December. This issue is contentious, as it has flared emotions from two very polarizing views. Through generalizations, one argument emphasizes more regulation on guns, while the other focuses on the right to possess guns. There is undoubtedly more views on this subject that range from compromised wants to the far extremes of both sides. However, after watching countless hours of media reports on the issue as well as reading news articles on the subject matter, there appears to be three distinct arguments that have taken center stage. The center piece is safety. The second is the Second Amendment. And the third is regulation. Each topic contains sub-topics that divulge into connected arguments, but ultimately revert to an issue of safety. While I am not a gun expert (or fanatic), I assume a view that is in favor of gun regulation; however, despite this view, I have attempted to remain neutral in the debate in regards to listening to both sides of the argument–which has largely been absent from discussion and debates. Up to this point, much of the debate has centered on, “I’m right, and you are wrong.” Examples of this can be found on Piers Morgan, where the debate has resulted in petitions for the British citizen to be deported from the United States because of his relatively anti-gun stance. In the eyes of some National Rifle Association’s (NRA) fanatics, it has become a debate of ‘Americanism’ where if you are anti-guns then you not truly American. However, this is blown out of proportion because there are principles that are largely more important than guns. However, those that are strictly anti-gun often neglect important aspects of the debate as well.
The American Spirit
Being an American citizen, I am privileged to be endowed with numerous rights and liberties, more so than most countries in the world. The United States Constitution is a renowned political document that grants to its citizens certain rights and liberties. Among these rights and liberties, citizens are entitled to free speech, freedom of press, and freedom from religious persecution among others. Citizens of the United States are also protected from a tyrannical government by setting limits on the government as found in the Constitutions first six sections. However, it was not until several years after the ratification of the United States Constitution that the Bill of Rights was officially adopted. The First Amendment, perhaps the most famous, lists the freedom of speech, etc. The Second Amendment gives each citizen the right to bear arms. While each Amendment is subject to its own discussion, the First and Second Amendments are two most prominent issues in the larger gun debate. The American spirit is found in these first two Amendments: liberty and protection of the individual. Of course, this is a limited view on the American spirit, for it denotes many other political, moral, and philosophical principles. For the sake of this discussion, I think it is vital that an assumption is made that in general American citizens want to feel safe while being allowed to have liberty.
Interpretation of safety and liberty granted by our Constitution is not black and white. It comes down to a matter of personal preference in the end. There are typically three views on constitutional interpretation: strict, implied, and historical. Strict interpretation (textualism for lack of a better word) refers to literal interpretation of the Constitution’s text. Implied interpretation of the Constitution leaves flexibility in overall interpretation. Implied constitutional theorists would argue that the people that drafted the Constitution intentionally left ideas out, for the original drafters new that over time principles and values changed over time and did not want to restrict critical developments later on. The last of the three interpretations is based on a historical knowledge of the founding times. For example, the freedom of religion could be understood through the historical perspective that since that nation was largely of Christian belief, the laws of this nation should reflect Christian principles and values (This view on the matter of religion is largely skewed since many of the founders were deists and went to church per tradition).
How do these views affect the gun debate? For one, strict interpretation of the Constitution reflects a common sentiment of many gun owners, specifically that of NRA members. The Second Amendment, strictly interpreted, allows individuals to possess guns without restriction. However, a more implied interpretation would note that gun ownership is something protected by the Constitution, but is not exempt from regulation. Historical interpretation would likely argue that guns during the time was something that was a part of the time, but also the guns were far more simplistic (or complex depending on how you look at it) and that the original drafters of the Second Amendment did not foresee a day where the average citizen would have access to such powerful weapons (let alone that semi-automatic guns, for example, would exist). With these interpretations, it is obvious that the views come into conflict with each other. Nevertheless, of the three interpretations, of the two larger arguments (pro-gun / anti-gun for short), both have interest in societal safety.
Safety In Our Communities
The concept of safety is constant. It does not stumble in the midst of the heated political debates of our time. However, there are variables in the methods and processes in which society reaches safety goals. The common-person cannot argue with the end result of safety though.
The variables of safety in communities in regards to the gun debate is based on two fundamental thoughts: gun control and more guns. The first, people argue, is guaranteed to stop fatal/violent community shootings. Those who believe that gun control is a solution reason linearly: if no guns are out there, there is a decreased risk of violent attacks against innocent citizens. However, most people would not argue for complete dissolution of guns. Most individuals look at the most recent of shootings (Sandy Hook, Oregon Mall, Aurora Movie Theater, etc.) and realize that there are assault weapons in the hands of volatile individuals, who are willing and able to commit mass atrocities. If we take these [more] dangerous guns out of the hands of all citizens, the world will be more secure. Of course, there are inherent flaws in this line of reasoning. As long as guns exist, they will continue to find themselves in the unfortunate individual who will use them for incorrect purposes [Of course, there is a topic in itself: what is the correct purpose of a gun?]
The flip side to the coin is that there should be more guns present in society. Individuals who present this view are confident in the role of the individual to protect others around them. There has been various speculations on how the role of gun will actually improve society. Among others, some propose that placing a police officer at every school, regardless of level. If a figure of authority is present, it will deter further causalities if an event occurs, if not deter it altogether. Also, arguments have been made that if all citizens are permitted to carry concealed weapons, individuals would be able to prevent events if the situation of harm. This argument is largely based on hegemonic power dynamics that focus on the ability of an authority figure being able to effectively and safely distinguish harm in society. However, like the latter argument, increased influence of legal authorities in populous areas and less restrictions on concealed firearms is flawed. There is a large enough portion of the population [assuming] that have no interest in carrying a gun. Also, placing an armed officer at schools, mainly that of lower level education presumes that danger is imminent. While it is preemptive strategy, living in a state of uncertainty and fear is not a positive communal value. [Ok, yes, the police officer should reduce this fear in principle, but is there not a mental stigma that denotes danger or potential harm--even discrimination--if the officer is present? Just food for thought]
Why Not Regulate?
On January 10, 2012, Joe Biden submitted a proposal to President Obama regarding the potential of putting new regulations on guns. [Sources: Huffington Post, New York Times, Human Events] To ensure transparency, these three sources help look at the issue, with Human Events being traditionally more conservative than both Huffington Post and New York Times. However, while the unanimous view is that the proposal is faulty, the principles must be looked at. While many have argued for a ban on assault style weapons, Biden’s proposal examined the legal methods behind obtaining guns. His proposal sought to put tighter regulations on background checks. As it stands, background checks are faulty and only seek minimal information. Background checks are also absent from many gun shows in which the ability to obtain guns is nearly effortless.
Annually in the United States, it is estimated that there are about 20,000 – 30,000 gun deaths. In certain circles, this number is debated, but approximately half of the deaths by guns per year are homicides. [Fact] If regulation on guns could decrease this number by even 10% would it not be worth it?
The concept regulation boils down to three subtopics: Background checks, ban on assault weapons, and ability to distinguish mentally ill people. First, as mentioned previously, background checks would attempt to tighten the legal reigns that have been already established. Background checks would not ban any guns, but instead keep guns out of unwanted hands. The background check would potentially look at an individuals standing with the law, mental capacity, age, etc. The process has positive aspirations, but many argue that this an unduly restraint on the Second Amendment (to be discussed).
Others that are more opposed to guns argue that a ban on assault weapons is necessary. Originally manufactured to be in the military, assault weapons have been developed into guns that can be easily purchased at any store that sells guns. Many non-gun owners are at a loss of why a person would even need such a gun. Putting regulations on the sale of assault-style weapons would take these guns off the normal market. However, members specifically of the NRA argue that this is a direct violation of the Second Amendment. Also, banning assault weapons would automatically increase black market demand of these weapons, becoming more ‘valuable’ in the sense that individuals who enjoy the thrill of guns would have increased incentive to find a ‘rare’ gun.
Many gun enthusiasts have proposed that instead of regulating guns and initiating stricter background checks, there should be more effort worked into finding the mentally ill of society. While these intentions are probably for the best, who defines mentally ill? I believe that it is important that we keep guns out of the hands of those that are incapable of using a gun properly. However, I’d argue that in many instances when these shootings the media overly portrays individuals as mental ill. (Yes, it is mentally disturbing that an individual would take the life of another person, but I’d imagine that many of the individuals have problems that would not fit the mold of mentally ill). James Holmes, for example, is an individual that in all seriousness looks crazy. However, there is a back story. He was a graduate student studying neuroscience. No individual that is mental ill would likely get there. There are events that lead up a decision to take the lives of others. [In no way am I defending the actions of James Holmes, but to read further look here or here] People snap out of frustration. Some people do irrational things out of anger. Studies and medical examinations cannot predict when and where these events will occur assuming it is not a reoccurring issue in the prescribed individual.
A Last Stand
The Second Amendment poses an interesting dilemma, but ultimately comes back down to how an individual interprets the Constitution. For some, limited government is the only correct way to operate in society. On the other hand, some individuals believe that government involvement in various aspects of life is something that should be done. The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Taking a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment would lead me to a definite answer on the gun debate: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It is simple. For many pro-gun advocates, I’d venture to say that many of them do not want the government leaning into this aspect of their life. A lot of them probably believe that this is one the last things remaining that has not been touched by our legal system. Of course, there have been laws passed that have touched on the regulation of gun, with various levels of success.
However, when I look at where our legal system is now compared to what it was, there are noticeable changes. The Constitution on a whole has remained malleable. If the history of the Constitution has told us anything about itself it is that it has not remained constant. All things that have seemed relatively safe from changing have changed. When I question what the Second Amendment, I generally read it from a strict interpretation point of view. However, from the historical standpoint (Well, rather implied interpretation), I see that most powers of the Constitution have been interpreted with implied powers. In light of this, what does the Second Amendment appear to be when interpreted with implied powers? While purely speculative, I would understand it to have limits. Yes, citizens can have there guns and have no limit on how many they buy (even though that is not my preference). Legally, people are entitled to possess guns. If it is in the best of interest of the country, like it has been interpreted for many other laws in the United States, would there not be some restrictions? Even if on a small portion of guns, why must the Second Amendment protect every single gun out there? Are guns not also adept to corruption, i.e. too much power? While I don’t have answers to these questions, I see that the Constitution has been historically malleable and that the Second Amendment should not be exempt from such scrutiny.
Guns, Freedom, and Kittens
As I write this blog, my attempts to figure out an issue that we have at hand is difficult. It is challenging to look at both sides of the picture, but it is possible. As it stands now, I think emotions have been flared too much on both of the argument. People have become so rooted in there argument that they have refused to budge at any sort of legal compromise. All discussions since Sandy Hook have resulted in extremely flared arguments–yelling debates. If any progress is to be done and tensions relieved, people must first listen to the other side. No pre-planned agendas.
What we have is guns, and what to do with them. I am not a gun owner. I have shot a gun a couple of times. I understand that people find thrill and sport in it. I am not position to tell them they cannot do that. Guns are hobbies to millions in the United States. Shooting guns may not be my hobby, but I understand where they are coming from. I have hobbies that I enjoy that other people definitely do not enjoy with the same level of passion as I do. I don’t want to be told that I can no longer participate in my hobbies. I understand that.
However, I believe that life is valuable. I believe that precautions must be taken to preserve the precious life that is here on this earth. I am not a lawmaker, so my opinion will wander on the internet haplessly until someone reads it. What I do hear is the cry of the parents, the family, and the relatives of those that have become victims to tragic shootings. I have yet to hear one affected mother or father advocate for more guns in school or that they should have a concealed weapon. I have yet to hear them say this. Instead, I have heard them speak out against gun violence, not mental insanity like many gun enthusiasts have pointed at. If a law on guns could be put in place within reasonable bounds and reduce the number of deaths by even 10%, I’d say that is effective. That would be equal to 3,000 lives. Those 3,000 people would be indebted to that law. While the methods in which to save these lives may look different, I’d argue that more guns is not necessary the solution. I believe it can be a solution from time to time, but not all the time. No law will ever solve every negative part of society. There are always ways around it. However, we can sure as hell try and say we attempted instead of saying we didn’t.