The Commentary
The Gun Control debate.


Saturday, May 17, 2003  

Well, if we're going to hold a discussion, it does require one of us to start, so I shall. This blog was established because of a fairly heated exchange between Jack of The Road Not Taken and Rob at Gut Rumbles - AKA "Acidman" over guns and the right to bear arms. Jack, being an Irishman living in England has a very different take on it than Rob (and for that matter, me) but Rob's debating skills on this topic are, shall we say, vitriolic. So I volunteered to debate Jack on the topic. The opening thread in question is here (so long as Blogspot's links are working) or you can just go to The Road Not Taken and scroll down to the heading The Right to Bear Arms.

I won't quote that section whole because it digresses from the right to arms, discussing whether or not Dubya is a doofus and Rob's bonnet, but I will take several of the statements and discuss them. Jack can then respond, refute, or clarify his positions and ask me whatever he wants.

Jack opens the debate with this statement:

"In the United States, a big deal is made of the right of US citizens to own and bear arms. It's laid down in the Second Amendment to their constitution, right under freedom of speech and religion."

Yes, it is a big deal - at least to some of us. That much is obvious from the amount of media coverage it gets and the number of people blogging about it over here.

"Or is it? The Second Amendment states (and I quote): '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 is correct, weirdly placed commas and all.

"Now, I do not believe that this gives US citizens a blanket right to own and carry weapons. Specific reference is made to a "well regulated Militia" and, to me, that does not imply that anyone who feels like owning an AK-47 should be allowed to do so. However, I do believe that it means that if a group of people form a militia, if they behave responsibly, if they liaise with the proper authorities and, as long as there are no fears that the militia will be used for any other purpose than to defend the freedom of the State, then those people should be allowed to keep and bear Arms.

"On the other hand, if some kid walks into a gun store off the street with a handful of crumpled bills, I don't think he should be allowed to buy a gun.

"That's my first point - that the Second Amendment does not give any fool off the street the right to keep and bear arms."


First point taken. And that is the position that people espousing gun control have been using for the last thirty to fifty years. But first let me correct a misassumption. Neither the Second Amendment nor any of the other members of the Bill of Rights "gives" anybody anything. Read carefully the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The Fourth Amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Note that the First Amendment doesn't say: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech hereby established...", nor does the Bill of Rights say "This Constitution hereby grants the following rights..." This point is made explicitly by the Ninth Amendment:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

The enumeration of certain rights, not the granting of them.

This was universally understood at the time of ratification. In fact, ratification was held up until the Bill of Rights was agreed upon and added to the Constitution as a hedge against future infringement of our pre-existing rights. This was stated plainly:

"The whole of the Bill (of Rights) is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals.... It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of." --Albert Gallatin of the New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789. (My emphasis.)

So the right in question in the Second Amendment is "the right to keep and bear arms" - a right fully recognized prior to the Bill of Rights, and designated as inalienable by the Second Amendment. So why the preamble, and is it irrelevant? As many argue, does the naming of the militia make the right to keep and bear arms a right of "the people at large"? If so, as many have said it was the best kept secret of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as no known writings by any of the Founders even suggests this possibility, while numerous citations exist to support the individual rights interpretation. What the gun control people avoid is what the Second Amendment was actually there for: as a final protection for "the People" against government.

It's not about hunting, or target shooting, or even self-defense against common criminals - it's there to ensure that the People have the means to oppose tyranny. Hunting, target shooting, and self-defense are givens if the people retain the right to arms against government. Samuel Adams said it best:

"And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; or to raise standing armies, unless necessary for the defense of the United States, or of some one or more of them; or to prevent the people from petitioning, in a peaceable and orderly manner, the federal legislature, for a redress of grievances; or to subject the people to unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, papers or possessions." (My emphasis)

That pretty much covers it.

Now to Jack's second point:

"I drive a car. In order to drive that car, I had to pass a theory test, in which you are quizzed about the rules of the road, and a practical test, in which you demonstrate that you can implement the theory you have learnt and that you can drive safely and competently. If I drive dangerously, if I speed, if I drive while drunk, I'm liable to have my licence taken away from me.

"I think it should be the same with guns. Unlike most Europeans, I've used a gun. They strike me as incredibly dangerous things. Their sole purpose is to injure or cause death. I'm a kind of jocular guy and I often joke and mess around with stuff, but when I'm around weapons, I stop messing around, because it's just too dangerous. I pride myself on having passed my weapons handling test first time, and I really, really don't like being around people who aren't competent or careful with weapons.

"Therefore, I can't even comprehend why you would want to give a gun to anyone without ensuring that they are competent to handle and use it and without registering the fact that they keep it. As I understand it, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, there are places in the United States where you can walk into a gun shop, show your driving licence to prove your age and walk out with a gun and ammunition. No competence test, no registration, no enquiry as to why you want to own something whose primary purpose is killing people.

"To me, that is just plain dumb."


These too are arguments - good arguments - used by gun control promoters. Let's discuss them in reverse order. I as an individual can walk into a gun shop, pick out a gun, show my driver's license or other acceptable form of photo ID, fill out a form, undergo a background check, and if I pass it lay down my money and walk out the door with a firearm I have no idea how to operate. This is a given. As to whether or not a registration has occurred, there are differing opinions. I did fill out a government form, and I did undergo a background check performed by a government entity. As to whether that information ended up on a list somewhere, we'll have to pass on that question for the time being. However, if you accept that the Second Amendment protects a RIGHT to arms, then doing what I just described was me exercising a constitutionally protected individual RIGHT. Driving a car (an admittedly lethal instrument) isn't a right.

I'm not comfortable around people who are incompetent with weapons either, but I've yet to see a way to prevent those yahoos from having arms without also risking my own disarmament. However, as with other protected individual rights, we're allowed to strip people of them if they prove themselves unworthy. If Bob Mouthbreather does something felonious, his right to arms (along with his right to liberty and possibly even his right to life) can be stripped from him - but only AFTER the fact, and only after due process of law. His right to arms cannot be denied to him for something he might do, only something he's actually done and been convicted of in a court of law. (Now, however, there is an exception for people under restraining orders and for misdemeanor domestic violence. There's that slippery slope again.) If people had to prove competency and get a (government issued) license, then the government could make getting that license more and more difficult until it didn't give out any licences at all. And if all guns were registered and all gun owners licensed, then the government could come and collect them all. Or at least collect them from the people honest enough to register.

England's done that already with fully automatic wepons, with semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and with all handguns. In the name of public safety. And it hasn't made England any safer by any measure. Like the old saw goes, only the criminals (and the government) have guns there now. Which brings us to Jack's third point:

"A lot of people make the argument that people should have guns for self-defence, because criminals have them. In American, the Second Amendment doesn't mention self-defence. It only mentions a militia, so, in my opinion, you can't say that the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to carry weapons in order to defend themselves against criminals.

"So, remove the Second Amendment from the argument and it comes down to a straight question - if criminals use guns to commit crime, should law-abiding citizens be allowed to carry guns to defend themselves?

"I don't think so. I think that if criminals have guns, you need to tackle that problem head-on, not exacerbate it by allowing everyone to carry guns to defend themselves."


Again, the Bill of Rights doesn't "give" citizens anything - it protects our rights against government infringement. The question of carrying weapons in order to defend oneself is an interesting one, as the earliest court cases involving the right to arms discussed this very topic. The conclusion of the majority of those cases was that laws prohibiting concealed carry were constitutionally OK, but laws prohibiting OPEN carry were not. Self defense was one of those non-enumerated rights, and the Second Amendment protected the means of self-defense. On this question Jack and I have a major disagreement. Jack continues his point, saying:

"Here in the UK, there's been some debate and tabloid headlines about the police shooting and killing people who've turned out to have been brandishing replica guns. People say that the police should be more careful, et cetera, et cetera. I say fuck 'em. If you're stupid enough to go waving something that looks exactly like a gun at the police and you don't put it down when you're told to, then you deserve to be removed from the gene pool."

What Jack has done here is separate out the police - people who should be allowed to remove other people from the gene pool - from the general public, who should not. I have a real problem with that. The police cannot be everywhere all the time. If they are, you are living in a de facto police state - something no one wants. If someone attempts to rob, rape, or assault me, I cannot depend on the police to be there to protect me, so I have two options: submit, or resist. England has apparently chosen to advise its subjects to submit. It has passed law after law making resistance legally dangerous. It has, in fact, made the job of the lawbreaker substantially less risky since the passage of the Prevention of Crime Act of 1953 made it illegal to carry any kind of weapon with which to defend yourself, and it's only gotten worse since. This law did what Jack wanted - it disarmed the average citizen, but left the criminals armed.

So a question, Jack: Why should the police be the sole arbiters of whom is a suitable candidate to remove from the gene pool?

Jack concludes his piece thus:

I(n) conclusion, I'd just like to say that I'm not against gun ownership in principle. I thought it was really, really bad that the backlash after the Dunblane massacre led to a ban on sporting target pistols. British Olympic shooting competitors now have to go abroad to practise because their weapons are illegal in this country. That is just dumb."

I thought it was really, really bad too, but I was not at all surprised. It was licensing and registration that made it possible. It was laws preventing the use of firearms for self-defense, and ever more stringent licensing and storage and documentation and recreational use requirements that reduced the number of law abiding gun owners in England and Wales to the point that they had no effective voice in Parliament that allowed the ban to be passed. England provides the template for "proper gun control legislation" that the supporters of such want to implement here. The Second Amendment prevent this.

Those old rich white guys knew what they were doing, didn't they?

posted by Kevin | 19:55


Friday, May 16, 2003  

Well, I'm here! And I hope the debate will be interesting. Would you care to open, Jack?

posted by Kevin | 19:16
 

The Big Debate



Gun ownership and all that good stuff...

posted by Jack | 08:27
archives