In the wake of the Aurora shootings, I have been thinking about, as many of us are, the right to keep and bear arms. I am lucky enough to have passionate people on both sides of the issue, and because of my personal history of growing up in a hunting family in Texas, I don’t want the nullification of the Second Amendment. It is an important one, but we need to have good and many conversations about it. My frustration with gun rights advocates comes not from their desire to protect this piece of the constitution but from their belief (conscious or not) that this right is somehow categorically different from other rights. Somehow superior to other rights. They are misguided.
All rights have limits. In the abstract, they don’t, but name me three people that live in the abstract (then check to see if they have an arsenal in their basement). Freedom of speech is famously curtailed by the rule of “you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater.” Freedom of religion bumps up against the separation of church and state or is limited by the state itself (think about anti-polygamy laws and the FLDS). The freedom of the press is limited by invocations of executive privilege. Right of assembly often now requires bureaucratic paperwork to be legal. We as a society limit our rights in order to have them. We give a little away in order to have the core and important parts of those rights.
Why should the right to keep and bear arms be different? Why should the acquisition of guns and ammo be completely unfettered? Is there anything fundamentally different about this right that requires us not to limit it in any way?
No. I have been going back and forth with my brother about this issue (round of applause to him for this), touching on several aspects of it. The fear of gun owners and gun advocates seems to be the slippery slope. If you allow for a little bit of gun control, the government will take a mile. You will end up with an empty right to bear arms. Aside from the intellectual fear, there seems to be a very visceral reaction to gun legislation or even the idea of talking about gun control. In my life, a comparable reaction would be about curtailing reproductive rights; a reaction I unfortunately have been experiencing quite a bit in the last five years. While I don’t feel the same way about gun rights, I can understand that reaction. Just like for reproductive rights, there are places where we should be able to find some working ground to pass legislation that reflects our values as Americans.
One of the places I think we can discuss is background checks and registration of weapon purchases. Background checks can help to identify people that probably should not be in possession of a deadly weapon. It is of course never going to identify every person, but imperfection really isn’t an argument against it. Registration of weapons keeps us informed of who owns what and where those gun should be. It helps police know if where they are headed is highly armed. It is an indication of responsible gun ownership. As has been said to liberals and progressives many, many times, if you aren’t hiding something, then what are you worried about?
Another place we should be looking at is education. We require people to pass a test in order to drive a car. I think we should require something similar of gun owners/users. It makes sense to me to make this class as universal as possible in order to instill a respect through knowledge of weapons. As I mentioned above, I grew up in a hunting family. I’m actually a pro-hunting vegetarian, because I think if you are going to eat meat then you should be as involved in the process as possible. I’ve shot a rifle. We had guns in the house. My parents took the time with us to make sure that we understood the power of these weapons and that we respected it. Small things like: never point a gun at a person even if you know for sure that it is unloaded, never be around a gun without an adult present, and we do not kill animals for fun. Having an educated gun owning class can only increase good gun ownership.
Finally, ammunition should be regulated. Six thousand rounds of ammunition should be difficult and/or time-consuming to acquire. If we can control how much ammunition it is legal to buy over a given time, then people that are planning atrocities like Aurora will at the very least be forced to plan better in order to amass what they need, which could potentially give law enforcement time to notice that this person is a red flag. Even if we allow people to buy as many guns that they want of every type available, if you control the ammunition, you effectively control the use of the weapon. People can hunt, but they can’t raze a street.
Ultimately, the purpose of gun legislation and control is to promote the responsible exercise of this right, not to strip every gun owner of their weapons. Background checks, registration of weapons, education about weapons and regulation of ammunition purchases will not stop you from using your gun. It won’t even stop you from using your gun against the government. It will declare your intent to be an upstanding citizen in the exercise of your right to keep and bear arms.