Why I'm NOT in Favor of Gun Control
Regular readers might know that one of my mantras is "editors needed everywhere." It's something I say when I run across a hilarious ambiguity or a howler of a typo.
A truly tragic case where an editor was sorely needed concerns the poor wording of the Second Amendment. There are actually several slight variants, but basically it goes, "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."
That's just badly written, is all. Nobody knows quite what it means, and nobody has ever known what it means, exactly. "State" as in a whole country and its government, like when Louis XIV said "I am the State"? Or an actual U.S. State, such as, say, Connecticut? Does "people" mean populace (collectively), or persons (individuals)? How exactly does "shall not be infringed" interact with "well-regulated"? Those ideas seem to contradict each other. Some people think "Militia" is equivalent to "The National Guard"—but others dispute that. And so on.
Sometimes when words are inscrutable their ambiguity can be exquisite, pregnant with nuance—but this gabbled sentence is not worth all the close textual analysis it's been subjected to. It's just a mess. Any high school English teacher would have circled it in red pencil and scrawled "Vague" next to it in the margin of the page. Any editor would have gone to whoever wrote it and said, "Uh, we have a problem here. This is unclear. What exactly are you trying to say? Let's do a little more work on this."
This is why I'm not in favor of "gun control." I'm in favor of the repeal of the Second Amendment.
...But not permanently. What I think we ought to do is this:
- Repeal the Second Amendment.
- Draft five alternate versions that are well-enough written to be clear in their meaning—ranging from one extreme to the other. The NRA could draft the wording of one outlier and the other end could be an outright ban on any citizen owning or possessing any sort of firearm for any reason. The three options in the middle would range between those extremes.
- Hold a single-issue national referendum. A vote. Make it one of those nifty "instant-runoff" votes (you can Google that) where every voter gets to signal his or her first and second choice, so that a vote for one of the extreme positions wouldn't necessarily remove a person's vote for one of the more moderate positions.
- Re-insert whichever one wins into the Bill of Rights.
Then, nobody gets to complain. If we as a people (populace) decide we want to arm ourselves to teeth even if somebody's little girl gets shot in the face for no reason every now and then, well, fine. If we decide that anyone who ever lets a gun into their home gets thrown in jail till they rot, well, the people have spoken. (We wouldn't decide either of those things, of course.)And if we decide that, hey, we're actually a sentient, reasonable, and essentially benevolent nation of humans who can actually do a decent job of balancing freedoms and rights when we set our minds to it, such that most of us will be reasonably happy with the result and as few people as possible will object....
Well, we are, you know. We're not bad people. We're decent people. We should act like it. All we need is a little more clarity, so we can at least all understand what our principles actually are.
The laws we enshrine in our foundational documents might not make everyone equally happy, but they should at least be clear.
"Open Mike" is the Editorial Page of The Online Photographer.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Parick Perez (partial comment): "As reasonable as your suggested approach may be, implementing it would require first a new amendment implementing the process."
Ed. Note: In the case of partial comments, please see the Comments section for the full text of that reader's comment.
rnewman (partial comment): "Actually, the wording was much clearer to the readers in 1787. Remember the context. The Revolution had officially ended a few years earlier. Everyone (almost) owned at least one firearm. For many it was a need to get food by shooting it. For many more it was a means of protection against crime. The concept of a police force, as developed by Ben Franklin, didn't apply to most of the country. Each individual was expected to protect himself and his family with whatever force was needed. Further, in 1773, the British governor of Massachusetts seized all the firearms the redcoats could find in Boston to prevent any objection to his actions. Finally, remember that the term 'militia' meant something different than today. No national guard or army reserve. If called, every ablebodied free man was expected to respond, bringing his own rifle/musket, with ball and powder.
"All this was common knowledge and of recent memory to the people in 1787. I expect they largely understood that the amendment had a twofold purpose. It was to assure that one could protect family and home against threats, and it was intended to assure that no one could 'hijack' the government, and if a militia call was needed, that they could respond."
Steve Boothe (partial comment): "Actually, the meaning of the Second Amendment is quite clear and concise. A well-regulated militia is defined elsewhere as all able bodied males 17 to 45 years old. Organized militia consists of National Guard and Naval Militia; unorganized militia consists of everyone that meets the requirements that are not in the organized militia. There was no organized, federally funded militia (National Guard) until 1903. The State is the United States, all inclusive. 'The people' has been defined through numerous court rulings over the past 200 years as individuals in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th and 10th amendments. There is no debate, only attempts at obfuscation by detractors. The right of the people (individuals) to keep (own) and bear (use) arms, shall not be infringed. Plain and simple language if ever there was."
Dave: "I have a kindergarten aged daughter. My sense of apathy towards our legislative process has quickly turned to rage. Thanks for the sensible idea."
Paul Amyes: "The sad fact is that to non-Americans it seems that the right to bear arms is more sacred than the right to live. It seems absolutely crazy that the murder of so many people can be seen as collateral damage for allowing an armed society. There seem to have been so many shootings where the death toll is in the tens to twenties and that doesn't seem provide any impetus for change. I wonder how many more will have to die before the average American citizen says enough is enough. America is a great country with so many benefits but the firearm problem is a huge blight."
David L.: "I am in favor of gun ownership having grown up with guns on a farm. However in my opinion, the problem is not so much the guns, but the gun culture. I see it too much in this country. There is a level of insanity in gun culture/doomsday preppers. Guns have fetish status to many people, they provide strong feelings of power and invincibility. I go to gun ranges and see so much zeal with weapons. Pick up any firearm magazine for more examples.
"Old taboos against guns targeting people are faded. When I was young it was inconceivable to point a gun at another person. Guns were for hunting, and for the army. If there was an intruder it was normal to persuade him to leave, while displaying one's firearm, sometimes unloaded. It was considered poor taste to use silhouette targets as I remember. People simply were not targets. Nor were innocent people. That was very taboo, but not today apparently."
T Bannor: "The reason for the Second Amendment was not, in part, because the founders feared a takeover of the government, as seems to be widely believed. It was because many of the founders did not believe in a standing army. Hence the 'security of a free state' verbiage. If you don't have a standing army, you need an armed populace to defend the nation. Switzerland has this arrangement today and has higher gun ownership than the U.S. The difference is, training and membership in the militia is mandatory."