As per the International Journal of Epidemiology, “the rate of firearm deaths in the United States (14.24 per 100 000) exceeds that of its economic counterparts (1.76) eightfold.”
In a 2007 piece titled Swiss Mull Tighter Gun Laws, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that “according to a 25-country survey by the British-based non-governmental organization International Action Network on Small Arms, Switzerland’s total number of gun deaths, including accidents, in 2005 was 6.2 per 100,000 people—second only to the US rate of 9.42 per 100,000,” Switzerland being “the country with the fourth-highest level of gun ownership, behind only the United States, Yemen and Finland.”
In a recent commentary, Bill Moyers puts forth that “more settlers traveling the Oregon Trail died from accidental, self-inflicted gunshots wounds than Indian attacks—we [Americans] were not only bloodthirsty but also inept,” and in an interview with Pierce Morgan earlier this week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited a statistic which said that gun owners were 22 times more likely to shoot family members than unlawful intruders. So much for buying a gun to protect one’s family.
Whatever the exact numbers, it seems that, roughly speaking, the more guns, the more people get shot, accidents and suicides included, with the United States leading the pack. Hard to say whether a decrease in gun ownership would spell much meaningful improvement, or if people would simply resort to alternative ways to hurt or kill themselves and others.
Also, in order to accurately assess the total amount of damage inflicted upon society by guns, one must subtract from it all deaths and injuries actually prevented due to the protective effects of firearms by way of deterrence and self-defense, and such a calculation seems rather difficult to perform objectively, i.e., without turning to speculation rooted in the calculator’s personal sentiments toward firearms: Gun aficionados will insist that firearms prevent more harm than they cause and that hence the problem is too few guns, not too many; everyone else will argue the reverse.
Fact is that among “advanced” nations, the one with the right to keep and bear firearms most firmly enshrined in its constitution also happens to be the one with the highest rate of gun-related violence. Naturally, all-too familiar déjà-vus like the most recent mass shooting in Aurora periodically rekindle the debate on the precise meaning and scope of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
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.
(Translation of the archaic ablativus absolutus construction: Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.)
Right off the bat, this provision raises two questions:
- Who exactly is included in “the people” whose right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed? Do “the people” include everybody (with minor restrictions related to legal age, criminal record, and history of mental illness), or do they merely include youngish and able-bodied individuals that could conceivably comprise whatever might be the modern equivalent of a “well regulated militia”?
- What types of arms are meant? Eighteenth-century-style flint-lock rifles and blunderbusses only? Or does the term “arms” include semi-automatic assault rifles and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, for what kind of enemy might this well regulated militia encounter that would be intimidated by anything less than the most potent weaponry available at the time?
As to the first question, basic interpretive logic commands that within the four corners of one and the same document—especially a legal document—one and the same term must refer to one and the same thing each time that term occurs. Unless there is reason to assume that a document was either sloppily crafted or deliberately designed to confound the reader, the terms it contains won’t metamorphose with respect to their definitions from one occurrence to the next. A particular term’s definition may be unclear, but whatever it may be, it’ll be the same on page five as it was on page two.
Therefore, “the people” referred to in “We the People” (Preamble); “the people” whose right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances shall not be infringed (First Amendment); and “the people” whose right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and affects shall not be violated (Fourth Amendment); must be the very same people whose right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
It seems rather awkward to argue that in the U.S. Constitution, the term “the people” refers to the general population every time it occurs except in the Second Amendment, where it refers to a narrow subset of the people only, namely to active or potential members of an organized militia.
Moreover, the Second Amendment doesn’t establish a right to keep and bear arms; it merely emphasizes that the preexisting right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. (You may recall James Madison’s reluctance to append a Bill of Rights at all, as he saw no need to affirm any rights that the seven main articles of the Constitution didn’t empower the government to infringe upon in the first place.)
So the phrasing of the Second Amendment itself indicates that the right to keep and bear arms preceded the composition of the Second Amendment, i.e., it also preceded the composition of its militia-related prefatory clause. And it simply doesn’t compute that the purpose of a provision’s prefatory clause should be to narrow a right that its main clause specifically states “shall not be infringed.” The self-amending amendment hasn’t been invented yet.
Thus, since the right to keep and bear arms preceded the U.S. Constitution, and since the Articles of Confederation lead right up to the U.S. Constitution, the right to keep and bear arms must have existed when the Articles of Confederation were in effect.
Article VI of the Articles of Confederation required that
every State shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.
This means that in the years immediately preceding the Bill of Rights, the states were mandated to stockpile “in public stores” a sufficient quantity of arms to meet all their militia needs, yet still the people had the right to keep arms, and these must have been arms different from and intended for different purposes than those kept in public stores for militia-related purposes—for why the people’s right to keep arms if it was incumbent upon their states to provide them with all the arms necessary for militia-related duties anyway?
Therefore, the right to keep and bear arms, which preceded the Second Amendment, appears to have existed separately from militia-related purposes, and since the Second Amendment emphasizes that this preexisting right to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed,” the Second Amendment cannot possibly be read as reducing the right to keep and bear arms to militia-related purposes.
The other question, namely to determine what kinds of arms exactly the people have a right to keep and bear such that any laws prohibiting or restricting ownership of such arms would be unconstitutional, is far more vexing than figuring out who “the people” are. In order for the Second Amendment to make any sense at all, these must be arms that would be a reasonable match for those the standing army, when commanded by tyrannical leaders, would be in a position to deploy against the people, for who else—other than a well regulated standing army—might this “well regulated militia” exist to fight?
As a self-appointed “sovereign citizen,” i.e., one of those anti-government extremists that think statutory laws don’t apply to them, once put it this way without pulling too many punches:
We do not have the right to keep and bear arms so we can go duck hunting. We have the right to keep and bear arms in order to shoot our own politicians. We have the right to keep and bear arms to shoot the police, to shoot your local government officials, your state officials, your president, your Congressmen, your senators. One of the ways you prevent the misconstruction or abuse of the powers of the Constitution is by letting the people in Washington understand that you are armed. That’s the idea behind this. It’s saying, look, we’re armed down here, don’t mess with us. […] The threat of violence is required, because they will not listen. The system will not listen to people like me unless there are other people who back me up that have guns.
Somewhat over the top as this characterization may be, the rationale behind reaffirming the right to keep and bear arms in the Bill of Rights certainly wasn’t to emphasize people’s right to go hunting or keep intruders off their properties—even though the right to keep and bear arms, which preceded and was subsequently codified via the Second Amendment, surely encompassed those rights—but to discourage potentially oppressive future governments from passing and enforcing laws to disarm the American citizenry; for the people are much harder to oppress when they are armed, as every despotic regime will tell you.
That said, as we’ve recently seen in Lybia and Syria, the types of arms necessary to offer any measure of meaningful resistance against a government backed by a modern military machine—even one that, in terms of lethality and sophistication, lags light years behind the one the U.S. government could unleash upon “rebel factions” within its borders—far exceed what even the most ardent NRA loudmouth would suggest that the average citizen should be allowed to possess. Not even Ted Nugent would propose that the people ought to be able to keep and bear M-16s and anti-aircraft artillery so as to be in a better position to repel crackdowns by the U.S. military.
Common handguns and hunting rifles, however, are no match for the U.S. government fire power. Simply put, the notion of citizens being armed to protect themselves against the standing army or a foreign invader has long outlived its time, for to permit the American people to keep and bear the types of weaponry necessary to this end would obviously be insane.
Yet if one takes the Second Amendment seriously, one must conclude that it secures the right of the people to own assault rifles, missile launchers, and more; because a modern militia simply wouldn’t be battling a lesser equipped opponent.
Therefore, since advancements in arms technology have effectively stripped the Second Amendment of all sensible relation to its original purpose, and because to secure the people’s right to go duck hunting and to confront burglars in their homes resides squarely outside the purview of a federal charter, the Second Amendment must be repealed.
It is so ordered.