Last week, the Supreme Court made a huge decision on the Second Amendment through the court case DC v Heller. What they decided was the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is applicable as an individual right, not a communal right (ie, via a militia of some kind). From what I’ve read, this discrepancy has been up in the air for over a century, and really since the thing was written in the first place, poorly I might add.
What are implications of this? Firstly, the point of the case found that the Washington DC ban on handguns was found unconstitutional. The law was fundamentally flawed because DC, if you’re unfamiliar with American geography, is a small parcel of land surrounded by other states that don’t have the ban. So really, picking up a handgun if you wanted it, was easily done.
Secondly, the larger implication is that the personal ownership of a firearm is guaranteed. Further, the amendment should be read as a personal right to protect oneself and one’s family and property. This protection should also be understood as against both personal attacks as well as tyranny by the government. The reasoning behind this point comes from English rule and our Colonial days, and the fact the Second Amendment was putting into written law a long-standing belief.
So far as how much Heller changes things, no one seems to be certain. I know I am still up in the air. I always have been able to see both sides of the argument. But one interesting thing has come out of reading commentary on the ruling: comparisons between the US and Europe, with the US having a lower crime rate.
Apparently, we have a much higher homicide rate, possibly due to our right to lethal weaponry. However, overall crime is lower. I don’t think by much (I’m writing this on hearsay, I haven’t read any numbers). That being said, Europe has the higher rate of injuries from crimes, America has the higher rate of deaths. That just seemed interesting to me.
Another thing I have read several times is the fact that guns do not change the crime rate. They may affect the lethality of the crimes, true. But there is also the factor of victims being less likely to fight back against someone with a gun, and the factor that those who defended themselves with a gun without firing a shot (warded off their attackers) aren’t likely to report it.
Now comes to my opinion on the topic of gun control. I will admit, I have argued in the past, usually as the devil’s advocate to my father’s opinions (always in good fun, Dad), that the well-regulated militia clause of the Second Amendment was the lynchpin of the whole thing. And now that we built ourselves a standing volunteer army, there really is no need for we civilians to own firearms anymore.
I have indeed been persuaded by the opinions of the court, and will defend an individual’s right to own a gun to protect their family and home. However, it was not solely the court that has swayed me in this direction. My adolescence falling to my adulthood during the anti-liberty hell of the Bush Administration also shifted my views. Now I am quite ready to maintain a couple of arms in my own home should the government attempt to stifle my right or access to free speech. And at this point, I do feel we should take up arms against the evils that have been perpetrated in our good name.
Sorry, I digress.
Now, on to more of my views. I am very glad that the ruling still left plenty of room for regulation of firearms and their use. I will fully admit that the presence of a gun culture in the United States is valid and very real. Anyone who has existed outside of full urban areas for more than just traveling to another urban area will know this. There is a history to this continent that cannot be told without the long arm to one’s side.
I must stipulate at this point, I do mean long arms. I think that the right to own a rifle or shotgun should not be infringed. The West was won with the shotgun in the hands of settlers (great for hunting food and home defense). Wars have long been won with rifles. Handguns, while occasionally handy, were not at the fore of such things.
To me, pistols just kill the people around you. That’s why, in principal, I am okay with the idea of banning handguns. The idea of regular folks walking around with little to no training and, I do partly blame the media for blowing bad stuff out of proportion, jittery that everyone they run into is a potential mugger/rapist/murderer is frankly frightening. It calls to my mind this scenario:
I will openly admit, though, that since handguns do exist, and that since they exist in the hands of criminals, I think that we civilians may be better off having them available to us. Still, everyone walking around with a glock is frightening.
I think my biggest feeling of fear comes from knowing there are people handling these weapons without any training. There are some absolutely basic things that everyone must know. My dad, though thoroughly capable as he was, could have taught me himself how to handle a gun, put my butt into a hunter’s training course as soon as I was old enough to get a license.
So I say if people have to have licenses to handle the biggest killers in the country, cars, they should have licenses to handle firearms. If you are going to drive a car, you better have it on you. If you are going to use a gun, you better have it on you. If you’re going to drive a big truck, you will need to have extra training and a higher-level license. If you are going to carry a concealed handgun, you better have a higher-level license. That’s a big reassurance to me that the person holding the thing has been trained to.
Though I will ask, please, for the love of all things good in this world, make sure the license requires better than a 70% accuracy on the test to pass. Even upping it to 80%, a lousy B-, would make me feel better (for both tests, really). And there should well be a child’s permit alongside it, where they begin training to handle firearms, but not without an adult presence until some specific age. I am not sure which, but I am sure that there can be permits graded by age alongside caliber so that a twelve year old is just handling a 22 squirrel shooter out on the ranch.
I am very glad that, again, the court ruling allowed enough free space to permit the creation of licensing without infringing on the Second Amendment.
I do hope that, in progressing from Heller, cool heads prevail. I hate to see it all boiled down to a culture war between those people that like guns and those that don’t, as it often does. I would much rather see the discussion be, We as Americans have a very ancient right to own guns; how can we best ensure that they are reasonably accounted for and safely used?