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The 'Right' to Bear Arms

Protester urges Congress to ban assault rifles.
A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Every time there is another mass casualty shooting, those on the Right scream about the Second Amendment and how Liberals are “coming for your guns”. They use terms like “law abiding citizen”, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” and Molon Labe (Come and take them). They blame the mentally ill for these deadly events, calling for more help for those afflicted while cutting off funding to do just that.

Those on the Right conveniently ignore the part about the Second Amendment that mentions a “well-regulated militia”, and insist the only meaningful part of the amendment is the part that guarantees them the “right” to bear arms. They claim firearms possession is a God given right as they hypocritically clutch a Bible in one hand and an assault weapon in the other.

Owning firearms should not be a right; it should be a privilege. It should be reserved to those who have a demonstrable need to posses them. Law enforcement and members of the armed forces should have this privilege. Those who engage in the barbaric practice of hunting should be restricted to having a specific type of firearm capable of completing their acts of false machismo only during the times when seasonally appropriate. Once the season is over, they should be required to turn in their weapons to a proper facility for safe storage.

Obviously this will never happen, especially with a Supreme Court stacked with Conservative justices who insist that the Constitution should be taken literally. They maintain that the Founding Fathers were endowed with such incredible foresight as to anticipate any future developments that would otherwise arise.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Great Experiment

America has been called The Great Experiment. At no other time in history had the type of representative democracy been attempted in the way the Founding Fathers were proposing. Like any experiment, it had its flaws and was intended to adapt, change and correct these flaws to continually improve upon their original intent.

And the flaws quickly became apparent. Even before its ratification there was a split between those in the Northern and the Southern states over representation. The resulting three-fifths compromise meant slaves were only partially counted and were not given the rights of citizens, but were instead considered property. That also called into question the phrase “All men are created equal” since it excluded people of color, women and Native Americans. It was also limited to landed White men when it came to selected their elected officials.

In a typical experiment, correcting these flaws would be a matter of basic logic. In order to improve upon something, it was necessary to make changes. But changing the Constitution would not be so easy. It often caused serious acrimony and even blood to bring about meaningful change.

This is especially true when it comes to those who deny science, believe America is a Christian nation and that the words written in the Constitution were to be taken as literally as those in the Bible. If we learned one thing from the recent pandemic, as well as the presidential election, it’s that there are those in our country who will refuse to accept facts that do not confirm their rigid views.

Because “the right to bear arms” is essential to their basic insecurities, those on the Right refuse to accept any type of restrictions, even as more and more people die needlessly.

Why Own Guns?

When America was founded it was both cities and wilderness. The cities had no need of self protection from marauders, wildlife or other hostile forces. The Revolutionary War showed them that a well armed militia, AKA the famed Minutemen, could ably defend them from foreign invaders and Native American attacks. So, there was strength in numbers that created a sense of safety, making the need for firearms unnecessary.

This was the case with those who decided to enjoy the ever growing American wilderness. To survive, they needed firearms to hunt the animals that would provide them sustenance. They also required protection from Native American attacks because it was likely they were encroaching on their land. Taking away their firearms would be to condemn them to death, either through starvation or being murdered by the natives.

Today’s firearms have changed greatly from the muskets and flintlocks that were the norm at our nation’s founding. These weapons were capable of firing a single round in about a minute. Today’s firearms are far more lethal, capable of firing dozens of bullets a second resulting in many more casualties. But, if you listened to those on the Right, this was the intent of the Founding Fathers. They wanted everyone to have access to equally deadly weapons.

And today’s legal gun owners can be divided into three distinct categories, each with their own reasons for possessing lethal weapons. There are those who own guns for hunting and home protection. Then, there are legitimate collectors. Finally, there are the lunatics. Each of these groups owns firearms for different reasons, but there is some overlap within these groups.

Those who own guns for hunting or home protection are likely to own more than one weapon. Hunters will use different rifles depending upon what they are hunting. For example, a deer rifle would not be appropriate for duck hunting, while those who have guns for home protection will likely have guns in different rooms for easy access.

Gun collectors typically own firearms either from a specific era, such as the Civil War, or want to show how guns have evolved through the years. They proudly display their weapons at a variety of shows, but don’t often use them unless involved in some historical reenactment. They collect guns as a hobby, much like coin collectors or stamp collectors do, so their interests are generally harmless.

Then there are the lunatics. While they represent only a fraction of legal gun owners, they are the most dangerous. Like gun collectors, they possess multiple firearms, but they regularly use them in mock exercises to simulate war games. Like homeowners and hunters, they claim their guns have a legitimate purpose for have their weapons, but will regularly go out in the public, where it is legal, with their firearms openly displayed as a way of intimidating others.

This last group is composed of mostly White males. They form their own “citizen’s militias”, somehow wrongly justifying the “well regulated militia” language of the Second Amendment. They are throwbacks to a racist era and believe there will be an uprising of the Black population or that of illegal immigrants (see Replacement Theory), therefore justify their need for multiple, and more lethal, kinds of firearms to be prepared for an event that will never occur.

They falsely refer to themselves as Patriots, with their pickup trucks adorned with American flags and “Back the Blue” bumper stickers. Instead, they were among those who took part in the attempt to violently overthrow the government on January 6th while attacking the very same members of law enforcement they claimed to support.

This is the group that is behind every single mass casualty attack in our nation. Their devotion to guns borders on obsession and can be compared to a mental illness where the possessor has an unhealthy need to own more and more lethal types of firearms.

Yet Republicans are only too willing to call them “law abiding citizens” and defend their Second Amendment rights in the face of multiple incidents. They refuse any efforts at realistic gun control measures. They deny these shooters are allied with any particular group despite the shooters having published manifestos pledging support for the Oath Keepers, QAnon conspiracies adoration for Kyle Rittenhouse, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh.

The most recent attacks have President Biden calling for a renewal of the assault weapons ban that Republicans let lapse in 2004. Given the short window of time until the new, Republican-led House of Representatives is sworn in, the measure is doomed to failure . Who knows how many lives could have been saved if the ban was still in place?

Being an American comes with certain rights and privileges. We call them “inalienable rights”. Those born in this country automatically are guaranteed these rights while the rest of the world has millions who struggle to get to America so they too can enjoy these same rights, only to be met with resistance, hatred and threats of violence, particularly by those who wish to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

Perhaps the Founding Fathers were mistaken when they labeled these as rights. Giving someone rights that have not been earned gives them an unfair advantage. It’s like those born in this country are given a Participation Trophy simply by virtue of being born here. Maybe it’s time to differentiate between what are rights and what are privileges, because unlike rights, privileges must be earned.

Chief among these is the “right” to bear arms. Automatically granting anyone access to unlimited firearms is precisely why we have such a proliferation of these dangerous weapons. Instead, it should be a privilege granted only to those who have earned it. Then, perhaps we wouldn’t be burying our children so frequently.

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