The Right to Bear Arms

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The Second Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows:

“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.”

Unfortunately, this phrase is a bit ambiguous in its meaning, and the Supreme Court in the past has interpreted it in different ways.

Early in the country’s history, it seems legal cases regarding the the issue of gun ownership and the right to carry them simply didn’t come up. As the country was developing, guns were not only a means of self-protection, but for many a necessary tool to assure survival through hunting. Carrying firearms was common, and the ability or right to do so seems to have been mostly unquestioned.

As the country developed, it seems pressures to regulate and control the weapons available to criminals caused progressively restrictive laws and regulations concerning the ability of ordinary citizens to own guns to be enacted. These laws were supported by Supreme Court decisions that interpreted the Second Amendment as allowing individual States to regulate gun ownership as they wished.

However, beginning recently in 2008 with District of Columbia vs. Heller, and in 2010 with McDonald vs. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court has shifted in the direction of considering the Second Amendment to be an affirmation of an individual citizen’s right to own guns for legitimate purposes, such as self-protection; irrespective of State laws, or membership in a State Militia.

I currently live in New Jersey, and commute regularly to New York City. Both of these jurisdictions have some of the most restrictive laws regarding gun ownership and carry in the country. Most of my friends and acquaintances are horrified at the thought of allowing regular citizens to carry guns in public.

However, as a kid growing up in North Dakota, I had BB guns, pellet guns, slingshots, and by the time I was twelve a 22 rifle. My friends and I would go out to shoot cans and other objects, and it was great fun. We were appropriately careful, and no one got hurt.

Guns can be used safely. While they can be lethal, when handled properly they need not be dangerous.

We can look to the example of states like Pennsylvania, which not long ago transitioned from being a gun-restrictive state to being relatively gun-friendly, and find that gun violence does not escalate dramatically when people are allowed to carry them with proper training and vetting.

In my ideal vision of America, people are free to do as they wish, as long as they are not hurting anyone else. Conversely, when someone is hurting someone else, the person being hurt should have the ability to protect themselves from being hurt.

Most people I have met do not want to harm others unless they are forced to. However, I have met people who do enjoy hurting others, and I have met people who simply have no compunction about doing so when it suits them for other reasons.

People who don’t want to hurt others should have the ability to protect themselves from those who want to hurt them.

As valuable as police are for the preservation of order in society; they cannot be everywhere, nor should they be. When we find ourselves in situations where we feel threatened and have no one else to protect us, we should have available appropriate tools to help ourselves.

While martial arts training can be useful to help us feel more confident in these situations, it is not realistic for most people. Few have the desire, (or time and money) to undertake the lengthy training necessary to enable a smaller person to have a reasonable chance of defending themselves against a larger, more aggressive (and potentially armed) attacker.

Pepper spray, and Taser-type weapons can be useful for slowing some attacks, but they are not effective against everyone.

On the other hand, learning how to handle a gun safely and effectively can be done in a few weeks or less. Skills can be maintained with occasional trips to a firing range for practice. And otherwise weak or frail people can then effectively thwart an aggressive attack by someone much larger.

A gun is likely the most effective tool available to level the power imbalance between someone more powerful (bigger, stronger, more aggressive) and someone otherwise an easy target.  Since with appropriate training they can be handled safely, I believe competent, non-violent, properly-trained citizens should be allowed to own and carry guns for self-protection.

What do you think?

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