Gun Control: A Modest Proposal

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Here’s how I’d characterize the American gun control debate in a nutshell: (1) Gun control advocates say unrestricted ownership of firearms, especially military-style assault weapons, makes us demonstrably less safe. As evidence, witness an unending string of mass shootings. (2) Gun supporters, led by the National Rifle Association and manufacturer industry organizations, say “Tough shit.” The 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution gives us the right to own whatever we please.

There are a lot of people – and I’ve heard too many of them on radio, speaking in response to the Newtown massacre – who believe the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment means Americans can own any sort of firearm they feel like without restriction. That’s a position of no little controversy. Looking at the text of the 2nd Amendment (above), I would disagree. I believe it’s plain the Congress wanted to provide some specific context to the 2nd Amendment that gun fanatics conveniently ignore.

Specifically, the amendment opens with this insight into the Congress’ frame of reference:

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…”

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So, a few things from that. First, the Congress thought of private ownership of firearms as within the framework of a “well regulated militia,” like these guys (see above). I don’t believe they intended gun ownership to be separate from that framework, or they would not have included that specification in the text of the amendment.

Second, think about their frame of reference as to firearms.

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Yeah, like the one this guy is holding (above). This is the kind of gun the Congress knew of and had in mind, the kind of gun that’s now romanticized and even fetishized in rallies and collateral for pro-gun organizations. I’ve heard too often these last few days how personal and unregulated gun ownership is all that stands between we citizens and the rise of totalitarian government control.

As if.

Two things pro-gun spokespeople seem to hold sacrosanct: (1) their reverence for the original intent of the writers of the 2nd Amendment, and (2) their belief that the 2nd Amendment guarantees them the unregulated right to own whatever firearms they want.

So, I hereby offer a compromise proposal.

Let American citizens buy as many guns as they want, as long as they look like the guns the founding fathers had in mind when they drafted gun supporters’ most holy 2nd Amendment.

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I feel safer already, don’t you?

20 thoughts on “Gun Control: A Modest Proposal

  1. I believe the answer to this mass murder problem is to stop rewarding the shooters. They want recognition: to be known, to be a media star, to feel important. So we reward every one of them: we plaster their name, picture and life story in newspapers, TV, internet. They kill and become just what they want: the most well known person alive. To stop these shootings, we should pass laws that say when someone commits a mass murder, it is illegal to publish their name, picture, history, location, family, etc. If we take away the reward, they will stop performing the act to get the reward. As long as we continue to make them rock stars, they will keep killing.

  2. It doesn’t matter. They know they will be famous. If they don’t kill, they remain the anonymous person their entire life. It is the being famous that is important. Not the being alive while important.

  3. Well, maybe, fame is the spur. And maybe not. Suicides (mass murder suicides too) seem to be trying to tell us something — that they’re the only ones right and the rest of us (like their mother), are wrong.
    Be that as it may, Brent I agree with your proposition about the only guns allowed on the streets be like the ones the founding fathers had in mind — but not only should they look like them, they should work like them. I add that point since these days what you see is not necessarily what you get. I figure that someone will make an assault rifle in the image you suggest that works like an M-16.

  4. I’m not a foaming at the mouth gun guy, but I own my share of “assault rifles”. I guess my question is that assuming 2A exists for us for the citizenry to combat the government or a foreign invader, do you think the founders would expect us to use muskets to do so?

    1. Well, the founders are dead, so they wouldn’t be in a position to expect anything. But to answer what I think you’re asking, I think when they wrote the 2nd Amendment individual citizens were the primary agents of security, when they formed into part-time and often ad hoc militias. We now have a professional, highly-functioning, full-time military and law enforcement agencies. Such never existed at the time the 2nd Amendment was conceived and written. And honestly, I think it’s pure macho fantasy to suspect you’d be able to repel a military invader, assault rifles or no.

      1. I think the Viet Cong and Mujahadeen might disagree with you. Your position however isn’t far removed from that of the colonists when debating on breaking away from England. The entire second half of Common Sense is Paine attempting to explain to the people the quite dry specifics of why the overwhelming might of the British empire wasn’t insurmountable.

        I don’t think you’re entirely wrong. Individuals were much more responsible for their own security. I’d say that placing our security and well being in the hands of government agents makes us smaller as a people, but I suppose that’s for a different day.

        But I would charge that 2A exists principally for the people to use weaponry against the government. When you look at the Bill of Rights you’ll find them more as a reaction to what they perceived as English abuses and less as the visionary assertion of inalienable rights we are taught in the religion of “Americanism”.

        1A came about because of dissatisfaction with the British shutting down colonial partisan presses. 4A was due to British officers entering homes without warrants for evidence of tax evasion. 6A for the removal of colonials accused of tax evasion and assaulting British troops from friendly juries and transported into Newfoundland for prosecution. 3A is the clearest of all: no quartering soldiers.

        If 2A exists specifically to use military grade weapons against the standing army the founders warned of (which I’d say is exactly what our modern police force is), then surely we wouldn’t want to be facing down the military and police with musket balls. And I’d also charge in the days of Patriot Act abuses and voter fraud (Bush v. Gore anyone?) it’s all the more pressing that the people be sufficiently armed.

        As to it being a macho fantasy, I think that’s a fair charge. I know many a survivalist/gunny type who is too out of shape to serve in a military unit. However, as a former infantry Marine and combat veteran I can assure you of the effectiveness of a guerilla.

      2. You make some fair and thoughtful points. I believe our insecurity due to the ownership of guns (mostly by the untrained, insane and/or irresponsible) far outweigh any potential benefit as a bulwark against the possibility of federal government abuse. Real people are being killed now. All the time. Every day.

  5. Well it’s a reasonable concern. Everything we do in this life is a game of odds. We see the certainty of daily firearm deaths and have to weigh that against a maybe of needing those guns to protect millions against our own government/foreign invaders etc. Mine is an uphill argument to make, especially when it’s regarding an issue so emotionally charged — emotions which are fanned by the media. As a student of history I’m confident my position is the correct one, but it is not at all unreasonable to be skeptical of it. I just wish it were possible for us as a country to have the conversation without demonizing each other. To be perfectly honest, I’m quite firmly in the “cold dead hands” camp, but I don’t think someone’s desire to ban guns makes them evil.

  6. I think hoplite’s onto the best, and most important, argument in favor of Second Amendment private gun ownership. And I think there’s good scholarship suggesting that that was in fact the rationale for the amendment.

    Until we invaded Iraq my own view was that the high price we pay in gun deaths (soon to eclipse motor vehicle deaths if you can believe it) was worth it to have the means to resist an oppressive government. But after we took over Saddam’s Iraq, we found as we tried to secure the territory block by block and house by house, that every male over about 15 owned an AK-47. Every one of them. Did that stop Saddam from lording over a brutally oppressive military dictatorship?

    Unfortunately not.

    Not to say having guns to oppose an oppressive regime isn’t important, but the Mujahideen — to the extent they’ve had success in various places — and the Viet Cong, didn’t prevail until they had the muscle of a major military power behind them. Today’s armies can’t be matched with any gun you can keep in your house. Effective resistance is standing in front a a tank — without a gun — in Tienanmen Square, not grabbing our Bushmasters and manning the barricades.

    So while the Second Amendment looms out there as an obstacle to getting to the gun control that would prevent or reduce the obscene number of gun deaths in the US, I no longer think that the price we pay to keep it in place is worth it. In today’s more sophisticated world, having a heavily armed citizenry does very little to protect against an oppressive government.

  7. think hoplite’s onto the best, and most important, argument in favor of Second Amendment private gun ownership. And I think there’s good scholarship suggesting that that was in fact the rationale for the amendment.

    Until we invaded Iraq my own view was that the high price we pay in gun deaths (soon to eclipse motor vehicle deaths if you can believe it) was worth it to have the means to resist an oppressive government. But after we took over Saddam’s Iraq, we found as we tried to secure the territory block by block and house by house, that every male over about 15 owned an AK-47. Every one of them. Did that stop Saddam from lording over a brutally oppressive military dictatorship?

    Unfortunately not.

    Not to say having guns to oppose an oppressive regime isn’t important, but the Mujahideen — to the extent they’ve had success in various places — and the Viet Cong, didn’t prevail until they had the muscle of a major military power behind them. Today’s armies can’t be matched with any gun you can keep in your house. Effective resistance is standing in front a a tank — without a gun — in Tienanmen Square, not grabbing our Bushmasters and manning the barricades.

    So while the Second Amendment looms out there as an obstacle to getting to the gun control that would prevent or reduce the obscene number of gun deaths in the US, I no longer think that the price we pay to keep it in place is worth it. In today’s more sophisticated world, having a heavily armed citizenry does very little to protect against an oppressive government.

    1. (Aargh. Sorry about the double posting. WordPress login confounded me, then made me login w/2 different logins.) (Stephen Voltz = extraordinaryuniverse, no secret!)

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