Should We Further Restrict Our Right to Bear Arms?
There have been some heartfelt responses to the shootings that have been reported in the media recently. Our President has taken the opportunity to lobby for stricter gun legislation in the wake of these tragedies, including a public address to the nation last night. I don’t doubt for a minute that he sincerely believes that restricting gun rights even further is the best road to a peaceful future. I want to say at the outset that I believe everyone involved in this discussion (with the exception of terrorists and violent criminals) has the same goal in mind. We all want fewer gun-related tragedies. We only disagree on how that can be accomplished. It’s important to keep this fact in mind.
Many of my friends are in support of stronger gun legislation and I understand why they feel the way they do. Not long ago, I felt the same way. But recently, my views have changed on this issue. You’re free to hold whatever view you want. I’m not going to tell you that your view is wrong. But I’d like to look at a couple of key points that are often overlooked in public discussions. First, I’d like to examine the idea that we’re experiencing an epidemic of gun-related killings in the US.
Much of the current momentum on the issue of gun control is coming from those who believe that we are at, or near a state of crisis. This belief comes not from looking at crime data, but from evaluating the news reports that have been aired over the past few years. If you look only at the news reports, you might think there is actually an epidemic of gun-related killing right now. But the numbers tell a different story. The FBI has the most reliable information available on violent crimes committed in the US. According to their data, violent crimes (including gun-related homicides) have been dropping steadily year after year for at least the last 20 years. Rather than being in the midst of an epidemic of gun-related killings, we’re in a long, steady downtrend.
Some don’t like these figures and they’ve suggested that the numbers can’t possibly be correct. Their view is that homicides—especially those committed with guns—must surely be more numerous in the last few years, and not less. Under the Obama administration, if the numbers were being manipulated, one would expect them to be fudged in a way that would make the crime rate look worse than it is, not better. That would, after all, support the White House’s narrative that more gun legislation is needed. But that isn’t the case. The numbers don’t support the White House’s position, so there’s no logical reason to believe they’re being manipulated.
Despite what the news and our leaders have been telling us, fewer people are being killed every year in the US by guns. In fact, there are more people killed every year by blunt objects like baseball bats or by the use of bare hands than are killed by either rifles or shotguns. (If you’d like to check out the numbers go to this link for a breakdown of violent crimes by type of weapon used.)
Furthermore, since President Obama has taken office, the number of concealed handgun permits issued in the US has soared from 4.6 million to over 12.8 million. During that same period, murder rates have fallen from 5.6 per 100,000 people to 4.2, which is about a 25 percent drop, according to a report from the Crime Prevention Research Center.
If stricter gun regulation is to be based on the argument that gun-related crimes are on the increase, the argument doesn’t hold water. Gun-related crimes are not increasing despite the fact that more people are receiving concealed carry permits and carrying guns.
The question we ought to ask is why the media and the White House are portraying such a grim scenario that is not supported by the data. Some have suggested that the narrative of increasing gun violence is an attempt to convince us that we need further gun restrictions.
The second point I’d like to make is that when we discuss making further restrictions to the 2nd amendment, we’re not discussing the right of hunters to carry rifles. We’re not even discussing the right of homeowners to defend themselves against criminals. We’re discussing the right of citizens of a free nation to arm themselves so that if their government were ever to become oppressive they would be able to overthrow it by force. That is the clearly stated purpose of the 2nd amendment and it has no other purpose. To make the discussion about anything else is to create a diversion that only confuses the purpose of the amendment.
Some would argue that the framers of the constitution lived in a different era and had needs we don’t have today. They needed weapons back then for hunting and most of us don’t live that way today. While it’s true fewer people hunt today, this is an irrelevant argument. The purpose of the second amendment is not to allow us a way to put food on the table. Its purpose is to guarantee us a way to remove an oppressive government and that need never ceases, regardless of the passage of time.
If we surrender our right to arm ourselves, we abandon all hope that we would ever be able to remove an oppressive regime. If you think this could never happen to us, you might look at the recent problems with governments in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Corruption and oppression in government are more common than some of us would like to admit. No one likes the idea of their government being violently overthrown. But if you refuse to reserve yourself that right, the only alternative you’re left with is subjecting yourself to tyranny.
My third point:
Many have argued that we don’t “need” high capacity magazines or fully automatic weapons and that restricting them is a “reasonable response” to what is perceived to be an epidemic of gun violence. As I already pointed out, there is no epidemic of gun violence, but some still argue that we should follow the rest of the world and ban private gun ownership altogether. They say we don’t need guns any longer.
The bill of rights is a document that guarantees our “rights” as citizens of a free country. It is not a document that guarantees our “needs.” It guarantees our rights. There is a huge difference between needs and rights and some people have lost the distinction between them. No one “needs” to drive a car with 650 horsepower. No one “needs” to live in a million dollar home and no one “needs” to have five pounds of bacon in their refrigerator. But we’re free to have them if we choose to because we live in a country where these “rights” are guaranteed to us, even if they aren’t things that we “need.” Few people need an AR-15, but the second amendment guarantees the right of a law-abiding citizen to own one—even if they don’t need it.
The document in question is called the bill of rights—not the bill of needs. To make the discussion of gun rights about what one person may need (or not need) at any point in their life is to completely confuse the issue. We should not willingly surrender our freedoms—our rights, based on what we perceive to be our needs from one day to the next. Especially if our assessment of those needs is based on an emotional response to what may be nothing more than political propaganda. It seems unwise to surrender our rights because we think (today) that we will never need them.
Lastly, there is the suggestion that we ought to follow the lead of nations like Australia and those in Europe, who have taken the moral (and some would argue the intellectual) high road of banning private gun ownership. It’s been argued that since they’ve banned guns, they have lower rates of gun violence and it only makes sense that we should follow suit.
While it’s true that these nations generally have lower rates of gun violence, that isn’t the whole story. These nations have paid dearly in the past for decisions they’ve made that seemed wise at the time. Again, study your history books and you’ll find that it’s been Americans with their guns who have for the last century come to the rescue of more civilized nations—ones where folks were progressive enough to know they didn’t really need guns—until men like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini came to power. Americans have suffered a lot of criticism over our love of guns. But we’ve been the one nation that others can rely on in a crisis. Whenever trouble hits, the world knows they can call on those gun-toting Yanks to help them out.
One day, we will learn to beat our guns into ploughshares and we will study war no more. I’m looking forward to that day. But until it comes, we must deal with violent men and women who want to oppress those who desire to live in peace. As long as we are the land of the free, we would be wise to retain our right to keep and bear arms.
“The strongest reason for the people to keep and retain the right to bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” ~ Thomas Jefferson