There can be no inalienable right to a gun, because the vast majority of Earth’s inhabitants predate the existence of firearms by thousands of years.
The inalienable right is to defend one’s life and property, and to this end, assault rifles and high capacity clips are not required.
The Second Amendment is not explicitly about defending oneself against a tyrannical government, as many gun advocates argue. This is an element of the Second Amendment, but an element that is no longer relevant. It’s usefulness has expired.
It’s not that our government is now incapable of becoming tyrannical, but it’s because the capacities of the military so far exceed those of the citizenry that it’s a moot point. If you plan to take on a drone, F-22, or Abrams tank with an AR-15, you will need “thoughts and prayers.” The National Guard satisfies this demand of the Second Amendment.
When the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written, we did not have a standing army. Enter the Second Amendment: “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.” National security is the import of the Second Amendment. We needed a militia, or a military raised from our citizenry, in order to defend ourselves against foreign invaders. Now that we have a standing army, we no longer need a citizen militia, and therefore, this facet of the Second Amendment is also outdated.
Implied in the Second Amendment’s explicit meaning, the right to defend country and countrymen, is the right to defend oneself and one’s property. This aspect of the second Amendment is not outdated. The government has to guarantee individual’s access to weapons that fulfill this right. However, that guarantee is not contingent upon access to assault weapons.
Access to (most) shotguns and handguns is guaranteed by the Second Amendment because both are common and effective means of self defense. The AR-15 is not. The AR-15 was not designed for self-defense. Of course it can be used to defend, but so can a shovel or an RPG, though neither are ideal, nor is an AR-15. When defending oneself against a home invader or a carjacker, for example, the AR-15 is far less effective and therefore not commonly employed. For this reason, access to the AR-15 is not required for the government to guarantee its citizens their Second Amendment rights. Handguns and shotguns monopolize self-defense, because they are more effective instruments of self-defense.
Moreover, the government is well within their purview to regulate exceedingly dangerous weapons not commonly employed for lawful purposes, i.e., self defense. The AR-15’s higher fire rate and shorter reload time (along with its destructive aura) make them a favorite of sociopaths who want to terrorize people, and therefore exceedingly dangerous with little to no redemptive self-defense value.
An assault weapons ban would, in my opinion, help to deter certain types of mass shootings, but would do little to curb gun violence in general. AR-15’s are the weapon of choice in large-scale mass shootings that occur in highly populated arenas like schools and movie theaters, but in run of the mill mass shootings (four or more victims), handguns outpace rifles two-to-one, and in standard gun deaths, it is not even close. And since handguns are a common and effective means of self-defense, they are protected by the Second Amendment (District of Columbia v. Heller). Therefore, the conversation regarding gun violence must include an assault weapons ban, but it cannot stop there.
Since handguns account for the vast majority of gun deaths, but are protected by the Second Amendment, measures other than bans must be considered. Congress could close private-sell loopholes, expand background checks, include mental health components, impose waiting periods, and mandate gun safety classes for all prospective buyers. I think the brightest glimmer of hope on the horizon is smart gun technology. If they are an effective means of self-defense, but notably safer, the government may be able to ban all non-smart weapons and remain within the bounds of the Second Amendment. Smart weapons prevent accidental discharges and nullify unlawful transfers and theft, not to mention the conceivable advantages that are inevitable as the industry develops.
In addition, taking steps to secure our schools would go a long way to preventing horrors like Sandy Hook and Parkland. Schools are soft targets that enable sociopaths to inflict the greatest amount of harm on society with the least amount of resistance. Make it more difficult for these people to get on campuses by installing card-key activated turnstiles, and designing single points of campus entry manned by guards, much like in gated communities and large factories. It is also hard to argue against the presence of armed police officers on campuses at all times, with their cars parked out front as a physical deterrent.
Finally, I’d suggest the media quit publishing the faces and names of shooters. Publish age, gender, race, and any other detail relevant, but not identifiers that grant them the infamy they crave. The First Amendment grants the press nearly illimitable freedom, so this is not a measure than can be legislated. This the public must demand by choosing to read and share articles that abstain from publishing names and photos.
Nearly all of these measures enjoy historically high support; according to the latest Quinnipiac University National Poll: 66 percent of people are for stricter gun laws with 31 percent opposed; 67 percent support a ban on the sale of assault weapons while 29 percent oppose; 83 percent want mandatory waiting periods for all gun purchases while only 14 percent oppose. At this moment, there is possibility of enacting change. We shouldn’t squander this opportunity running down rabbit holes the Supreme Court has already deemed unconstitutional.
We live in a country of laws and the Second Amendment is one of those laws. We cannot argue for repealing the Second Amendment. This is a straw man that plays right into the NRA’s strategy. Banning assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and expanding background checks, as well as taking action to secure schools at state and local levels, are all practical and effective steps to ending this epidemic.
Author: Benjamin Riggs
Image: Flickr/AK Rockefeller
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
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