|Members of the "Nuns with Guns" Tour|
In response to the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, President Obama has called for “soul searching” about gun violence. He likes phrases like “soul searching,” “teachable moment,” and “national conversation,”; it makes him sound thoughtful and intelligent while not actually having to do anything. (I fully expect him to begin saying the poor economy provides a teachable moment about the dangers of materialism and the virtues of thrift).
But taking the President at his word, I would like to offer some thoughts concerning guns, gun violence, and the place of both in our society.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to mean that individuals could privately own weapons for sport or personal protection. This right, however, is subject to various forms of regulation; for example, it is against the law to own a machine gun; convicted felons cannot own a gun; and there are various registration rules and waiting periods for purchasing a gun. So the Second Amendment right is not considered absolute.
I would contend, however, that any regulations on the right of an individual to exercise their Second Amendment rights is in fact a fundamental infringement on their freedom to make decisions concerning their own bodies. Within the amendment is an implied right to self-defense; otherwise, why have the right to keep and bear arms? What are guns for, except primarily for self-defense? In order for the right to be a right at all, the right has to be absolute. In other words, the Second Amendment in fact guarantees the absolute right to self-defense without any restrictions or regulations.
Several implications arise from this. For one, decisions concerning self-defense should be left up to the individual, perhaps in consultation with a self-defense professional. This would include the type of gun to purchase and how many. This means that all laws restricting or otherwise regulating the ownership of firearms should be repealed. This includes laws against ordering guns through the mail; prohibitions on ownership of fully automatic weapons; waiting periods, background checks, or registration requirements for purchasing guns. Released felons and the mentally ill should not be kept from owning guns. For the former, released felons are often most in need of guns for personal protection because of the people they associate with; and the mentally ill should have access, because to tell them they can’t would be to discriminate against them because of their mental health status. Government has no business in these areas; what goes on in the home should be off limits from their intrusion.
So important is this fundamental right to exercise control over self-defense, that gun ownership should be a wide as possible. Government subsides should be given to help people who cannot afford this important form of personal defense purchase guns for themselves. In fact, groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America should be given government grants to offer gun ownership classes and distribute guns at reduced prices. There should be programs to encourage gun ownership in the inner city, where high crime rates make individuals especially in need of these vital self-defense services.
Now, some will certainly argue that the above proposals will increase gun violence and deaths by guns. This is a bigoted and narrow minded position that shows a fundamental lack of concern for individuals and their personal safety. There is no evidence to show that absolute legal gun ownership leads to more gun violence. In fact, it would be the exact opposite; if everyone had access to guns, then there would be fewer crimes committed with guns because people would be afraid of being killed. Besides, the total number of gun deaths could be reduced if the new technologies in personal protection clothing were made widely available. The government could offer subsidies to people to purchase bulletproof vests, for example. In addition, our schools should have courses beginning in kindergarten on gun use; a 1st grader should know how a gun works, how to load one, and how to put on a bulletproof vests.
For all Americans to feel safe, they must have the right to exercise their freedom of choice when it comes to gun ownership without restrictions. The belief that such a fundamental right to own a gun should in anyway be restricted or regulation betrays an antiquated concept of the Second Amendment more suited to the 1950s than to the second decade of the 21st Century. A man or a woman should have the right to choose whether or not to own a gun, or when and if to use one. And isn’t the right to choose the most important right we have?
[Note: I hope you realize by now what I was doing with this piece. I was applying the same logic and arguments made for abortion rights to gun ownership. The proponents for abortion make arguments that when applied to any other situation would sound extreme and unreasonable. No one believes that the right to own guns is absolute—not even the members of the NRA. So why does NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and President Obama believe in an absolute right to an abortion?]