Home History A right to self defense

A right to self defense

Moments in Time

Heber overgaard, az

Returning to my series on the Constitution. As we work through the amendments the next one to cover is, the Second Amendment.  Most people know this one. However, many will debate to its intention.  There has been a lot of debate lately on how to handle gun violence in light of a number of mass shootings.  So, what should be done?


When it comes to mass shootings, there are a number of things we could do to remedy the problem but ultimately, we do have cultural problems, but not necessarily the guns themselves that are to blame.


Some have argued that “when the 2nd Amendment was written, only muskets were being used.” First of all that’s not true but even if it was, if we are to limit it to the technology available at the time, does that mean the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the internet?  They certainly would have been aware that technology would advance, as it always had.


We could look at what the actual text of the Second Amendment says.

“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.”


What is the militia?

Some people argue that since it says “militia” that means only members of the military should have guns.  The early Americans saw the citizens as the militia that could be organized if needed, and there was a general fear of a large standing army, although the Constitution would allow for the power to raise an Army and Navy. The term “well regulated” is also often misunderstood. Whereas today that might mean highly restricted, at the time the Second Amendment was written, the phrase “well regulated” meant well trained and organized.  Even when they were not organized into a militia, there really wasn’t any question at the time of its ratification that the right extended to civilians, the right of the people means it is for each individual. They saw the right to bear arms as an extension of the natural right to self defense, as well as a deterrent against tyranny. When tyranny comes, it is in part caused by the restriction of speech and of the press, but also tends to come with the banning of guns, at least by civilians because, in reality there are still people with guns who enforce the ban on guns. This is one reason the right is seen as so important.


Most of our current understanding comes from District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) which, found that Washington, DC’s ban of handguns violated the Second Amendment, and clarified further in McDonald v. Chicago (2010). Under these decisions, restrictions are allowed for felons and the mentally ill.    We have background checks.  That is a reasonable solution to ensure someone doesn’t have a history of violence.  Felons are already restricted when it comes to owning guns.  Also, a gun shop could reserve the right to not sell to someone they deem a problem.  Mental health checks have been a standard precaution as those with certain mental issues are not seen as being responsible enough, which is upheld by Heller.


Additionally, a suggestion I have for the media is, don’t give mass shooters publicity, that’s what they want.  Whenever there is a mass shooting, the media gives the shooter’s name constant attention. Even if the shooter died, they now have a legacy, no matter how negative.  Perhaps if they didn’t get media attention, they would be less likely to do it.


As a point of comparison, Switzerland has their own particular gun laws. They come in not far behind America in gun ownership, but they have one of the lowest violent crime rates.  How do they do it?  One thing they do is that they ensure their citizens learn gun safety.  They are educated in how to properly handle a gun at a young age, and this likely leads to less accidents.  Kids are often encouraged to practice at shooting ranges. Switzerland also hasn’t been directly involved in a war in over 100 years and their gun culture may actually be one reason for this. During WWII an invasion was possible and while the reasonings behind it not ultimately happening is one of the biggest mysteries of the war. One theory is that the population was so well armed and well trained. (The difficulty of a land invasion due to the mountainous terrain was likely another.)


So what can really be done, is education.  If people are informed about proper gun safety and understand their importance, then we might not see as much fear surrounding them.  It is better to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them.   You may even be able to deter a crime without firing a shot. Overall, in terms of violent crime, we are not as bad off as you might be lead to believe.