Except no, that isn’t true. I came across a comic portrayal of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting today that seemed to suggest that it was true, among several other things. Here’s the comic, I know it would make ME feel smug and justified in gun ownership:
There is this notion out there among many conservative gun-nuts that if everyone is allowed to own a gun, then nobody will successfully go on a shooting spree because the majority of upstanding citizens will carry guns around and when something goes down they will just pull out their guns and show the shooter what’s what. That argument assumes two things: 1) that the majority of upstanding citizens will actually choose to carry their firearm around with them in a paranoid and largely unnecessary manner, and 2) that your average citizen would be both willing and able to take down the shooter. One of the most ridiculous things about the “comic” that is the subject of this article is that the people in the crowd have every right and opportunity to buy a gun and carry it with them, just like on the day of the Giffords shooting. Also, cartoon illustrations are one thing, but what happens when the would-be rescuer misses and hits somebody else? Hell, police are specially trained to pick their targets and be aware of their line of fire and they still end up shooting two-year olds. But I digress.
The cartoon above is obviously a reference to the recent shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. It seems to suggest that were the Second Amendment to function unimpeded in America today, a whole crowd of men women and children would not have been sprayed with a Glock, because somebody could have just taken Loughner down. I won’t even bother confronting the assumption that somebody would have been able to retrieve their weapon and take aim before Loughner unloaded most of the bullets in his extended mag semi-automatic pistol (which, for those of you who don’t know, fires as fast as he can pull the trigger). What I will confront is the commonly held, commonly conservative belief that Americans’ constitutional right to own a firearm is being somehow infringed upon by the government or the Obama administration or by the Democratic party.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which was adopted along with the rest of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, 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.
First of all, the date. This amendment to the Constitution was added at a time in American history when magazine-loading firearms did not exist. There was no such thing as a shooting spree. People fired and then reloaded. Had our forefathers known the types of weapons that would be available in the future, I would wager that they would save us the trouble of imposing regulations by specifying the exact type of weapons to which they referred. Alas, hindsight is indeed 20/20.
Second of all, the purpose of this amendment as it reads is to preserve the security of the state through a well-regulated militia. Given that militias at the time were comprised of any and all American citizens who wished to join, this has been, and for good or bad will continue to be interpreted to mean that every member of society has a right to gun ownership by default.
The key word here is default. We are also afforded the right to vote by default. That right can be revoked if, for instance, we commit a felony. In addition, we have a right to vote in certain forums– believe it or not you can’t walk into Congress and throw your ballot in the hat. There are different types of voting just like there are different types of arms. Wouldn’t you agree that you don’t want a liberal commie/fascist/socialist like me having access to a nuclear bomb launcher? I mean it’s a form of armament. Do I have to be able to hold it or something? Slippery slope fellas.
Which brings me to my third point- the 2nd Amendment means that everyone has the right to own a gun. This provision has been reasonably interpreted to have certain limitations, much in the way we impose limits on freedom of speech by not allowing people to shout “FIRE” in a movie theater- it only makes sense. It also only makes sense that we put some kind of cap on the amount of power that we’re going to put into a single persons hand. Some of the weapons out there today won’t just kill a single person, they can kill a shopping mall/highschool classroom/college dorm/office building full of people. Hoping someone else is there with a gun does not make sense- it’s reckless and irrational.
It is only reasonable that we don’t put guns in the hands of the mentally disturbed, or those who are demonstrably prone to initiations of violence. We want people with such power to be able to exercise self-control and only use that power when it is absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, mentally disturbed persons are still able to obtain weapons in our current system. How do you think Loughner got his? He walked into a store and he bought it. And he bought a bunch of bullets for it. And he bought an extended magazine for it. At no point was the person who sold him the gun aware of his long, long history of mental illness and paranoid schizophrenia.
And who can read that poster? Anyone who knows how to read, like this cheery fellow:
The argument that removing all restrictions on firearms will result in the majority of people suddenly locking and loading and thus balancing the equation is a massive oversimplification, one which is unsurprisingly made by those ignorant many who believe that the guv-ment is trying to disarm the entire population. They aren’t and it’s not going to happen. Would you be surprised to learn that most of the people that make these kinds of arguments support the conservative party? They sure are serving the kool-aid up strong these days.
Nobody is trying to take your guns away. A concealed carry permit is not a difficult thing to obtain. Depending on the state, firearm regulations may seek to require psychological and criminal record screenings in order to obtain them. Such screenings are meant to detect people who show major red flags, such as a history of violence, psychotic episodes, etc. I think we can agree these are the people who should not have guns. Regulations also seek to reduce the potential for destruction that can rest in the hands of a would-be mass murderer, so that should they succeed in evading the screening process (which at this point is clearly not very difficult), the harm they cause will at least have a limit. Imagine if Loughner was allowed to purchase an even larger magazine, or a fully automatic version of the same handgun he used in the shooting– how many more children would have been shot before he had to reload and was taken down? No state has put in place a law or regulation that removes the right to own a firearm from innocent, upstanding citizens. It just isn’t the case. It would be flatly unconstitutional and would be overturned in a heartbeat.
I’ve fired a gun before. I know the rush that you feel with such a precise, powerful instrument in your hands. I understand the confidence and security that comes along with knowing that you can defend yourself against whatever comes your way. All I’m suggesting is that we slow down for a moment and try to look at the issue objectively. Undeserving people are killed every year by guns. That isn’t an accusation, it’s just an acknowledgement of reality. The more conscious people are of the dangers of firearms, and the responsibilities that need to be imposed upon those who wield them, the better off society will be. I cannot make it clear enough: I do not argue for stronger gun regulations because I think the American public should be disarmed, I argue for stronger gun regulations because I perceive our current level of gun regulation to be pathetically inadequate. Innocent men, women and children die every year because of that inadequacy. I, like every other red-blooded American, want to avoid as many tragedies as possible on American soil. Don’t you?
If you haven’t figured it out already, I happen to support strong regulation of firearms. I think our system for screening and mandatory reporting is severely lacking. I think that there is absolutely no reason that civilians need to have access to assault rifles or fully automatic weapons. These types of weapons transcend self-defense and enter the realm of excessive danger and force. If somebody wants to argue about appropriate levels and types of regulation with me then I welcome them to do so (hit the comments section below, it it pleases you). I am more than willing to acknowledge first of all that this is a grey area and second of all that it can and should be argued by both sides. That is how meaningful compromises are reached- adversary and detail-oriented debate. We do not create a valuable discourse with oversimplified and ignorant comics such as the ones featured above. We create ideological stalemates and disinformation. We’re better than that America. We must make progress.
Painfully. Slow. Progress.