Amping Up the Effort for Stricter Gun Control

gncntrl11At President Obama’s incitement, gun control advocates and gun rights advocates are facing off again, prompted by another horrific killing of more than four of our fellow citizens (the definitional threshold of a “mass” shooting or killing) at the hands of … well, people using guns.

It is obvious that Obama wants to amp up the efforts for stricter gun control before he leaves office. The recent mass shooting is the fuel he hopes will fire up enough outrage this time to impel action to enact at the very least, what he calls “common sense” gun safety laws.

Emotions instantly escalate and much misinformation promulgates throughout the “discussion” on gun control each time the issue boils up. If we are to have any real, meaningful discussion, it must be based on objectivity with the recognition that any laws or policies arising, either as a result of or apart from that discussion, may, depending on the extent of the changes, have enduring and wide ranging consequences on the citizens of our society and on the very philosophy on which the society is based.

Our society’s view of guns has been rather distinctive among societies around the world. Therefore, it is crucial to begin with the mention of a few things regarding the origins of our unique views on guns, which are based in the overarching uniqueness of our founding and of the two codifying founding documents, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America.

The U.S. founding established a dynamically new governmental system – a massive change in the paradigm of past systems. Its exceptional nature was so much so that it was referred to as the “great” or “grand” “experiment” since nothing like it had been tried on such a large scale before. In this new country, there would be no rulers dictating to, and controlling subjects. Individuals were declared, by their rightful, natural nature, independent, sovereign beings; beings that autonomously possessed inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Government’s function in this new system of the United States of America was not to rule or lord over, but to secure and sustain the inalienable rights of the individual within the societal structure. The individuals in this new system possessed the power, not government. For the convenience of establishing a civil society under the new system, the people, through their Constitution, delegated specific and limited responsibilities to government. Each elected representative (as a whole, the “government”) of the people swore to uphold the Constitution and, thus restrained, were to act only within those delegated responsibilities.

As part of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights (first ten constitutional amendments), further established limits on the elected government. The Second Amendment of the Constitution is the area of focus in the gun control discussion.

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.”

As the Bill of Rights is a set of restrictions placed on government, the Second Amendment prohibits government from infringing on the right of the individual (“the people”) to “keep and bear arms.” The amendment includes the strongest legal language, “shall not,” in stating government’s prohibition.

The Second Amendment is not lengthy, but even its few words have been contrived into points of contention in attempts to move the anti-gun agenda forward. In order to understand the citizens’ rights and government’s restrictions, it is indeed necessary to understand the amendment’s language.

The first half of the amendment language serves as more or less a preamble, setting the stage for the second half. The second half of the amendment is especially important since that part lays out, by itself, the bill-of-rights restriction on government: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Misunderstandings and even misinterpretations have occurred surrounding the simple term “arms.” In a general context “arms” means weapons. To arm yourself means you pick up a weapon. Weapons are instruments of a purpose used in defense of a threat (excluded here is the use of a weapon to initiate destructive force, because in any ethical, civil society the only permitted use of force is for defense). A simple club, then, can be a weapon and thus an “arm.” So can a knife, sword, pickaxe, and gun, either a handgun or a long gun, and many other items.

Most discussions (or arguments) about the Second Amendment, however, assume a narrow definition of the term “arms” to mean firearms. That will suffice for the ‘larger picture’ of the discussion here since firearms are the scornful inanimate objects of the anti-gun crowd. But we must understand, for possible future use, that the term “arms” is not limited to firearms. That’s an important concept not to be forgotten.

The Founders chose the broad term, “arms,” intentionally it can be argued, as opposed to the narrower term “firearms” or “guns,” because using the broadest term possible would permit the individual to use whatever weapon was available or most effective to defeat whatever threat arose. In contemporaneous times of the founding, the weapon of choice against most threats would have been the most advanced personal weapon of the time, some form of single-load firearm. Firearms require an explosive fire to propel an object against a physical threat, hence the name. But in the future, there could be inventions of effective weapons that would eclipse the single-load firearm of the day, e.g., the multiple-load firearms of today, or that would not even require an explosive fire to propel an object to stop a threat, and all such instruments, nevertheless, would be included under the broad term “arms.” So, the term “arms,” taken in its broadest sense, was the most legitimate and best selected legal term for use in the Second Amendment.

If arms are weapons, and the only legitimate and legal use of a weapon is for defense against a threat, it helps the discussion to briefly examine what a threat is. In the ordinary sense, a threat is some action, item or actor that is imminently causing or about to cause (bodily) injury. That threat can manifest itself in different ways of course. For example, there is a very genuine threat (more obvious perhaps at the time of our nation’s founding) of starvation, for which the term arms (in its broadest sense) would include any instrument that could be used in defense of that threat, like a firearm, bow and arrow, or possibly a knife, for hunting game.

Other threats to bodily harm could be from an aggressor emanating outside the nation’s border, or a crazed neighbor from across the street. In these cases guns, or perhaps knives or even swords, could be effective defensive arms.

Some differentiation and clarification is needed at this point regarding an aggressor emanating from outside the nation’s border, and how a defense to that aggression is addressed. We’ve already established that the Bill of Rights, of which the Second Amendment is part, concerns restrictions on government regarding more directly the individual; therefore, each right is expressed more at a personal or individual level, e.g., the crazed neighbor scenario mentioned above. The actions pertaining to the broader nation as a whole, e.g., the above mentioned scenario of aggression by an outside perpetrator upon the nation, are covered elsewhere in the Constitution, such as under the articles of war and the establishment of a military. Declaring war and actions involving the military are broader than individual self-defense actions and are true functions of government, having been delegated those responsibilities by the people.

The principle reason for the Second Amendment and its selected wording was to prohibit government encroachment on the right of each individual citizen to stop a threat to any of their naturally endowed, inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Of paramount importance to the Framers of the Constitution, the Second Amendment was designed to provide the people with the unchallengeable, absolute, last-resort ability to stop a government gone to tyranny; which, certainly, tyranny is an assault on the individual’s inalienable rights.

The “security of a free state” (Second Amendment wording), as in the guarantee of liberty for the individuals of a nation based on liberty, can be best and ultimately protected only by a widely and powerfully armed citizenry. The threat in this case, according to the Founders and the Framers of the Constitution, exerts from government. This is clearly discussed in the Declaration of Independence. To paraphrase a small part of that document: for neither light nor transient causes, the free people of a nation have the right, in fact the duty, to throw off a despotic and tyrannical government and establish a new government grounded in individual liberty. The Framers acknowledged, by the Second Amendment, that the ability to throw off such government can only ultimately be attained through a citizenry appropriately armed.

To secure a free state – to sustain the individual citizen’s inalienable rights – is to guarantee the right to self-protect by hunting; the right to self-protect while directly facing one or more aggressors; and the right to self-protect in a larger sense, as in the last resort defense against government fallen to tyranny.

Government, as a construct and an instrument of the free people of the United States of America, does not possess the right to abridge or abrogate the individual’s inalienable and absolute rights (except, of course, in its rightful actions to uphold legitimate laws of the civil society, e.g., incarceration (denying liberty) for breaking certain laws). Therefore, the Second Amendment, as part of the Bill of Rights restricting government, is a necessary codification prohibiting government from infringing the peoples’ absolute right to protect themselves through the right to arms; both at an individual level, and at a collective level to secure a free state.

Upcoming Part II will continue the discussion.

 

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