I am not a libertarian; nor am I conservative or liberal; in fact I guess I am a moderate whose views are shaped by the ideologies of libertarianism, conservatism, and liberalism.
Today I find myself torn between the three competing ideologies that influence me on the question of gun ownership and regulation. As a libertarian the notion that the government should infringe upon the rights of individuals enshrined in the constitution is abhorrent; as a Burkean conservative I understand that at times the rights of individuals must be tempered in order to provide for the commonweal of the larger community; and as a liberal I believe that the government has a role in regulating the lives of the people for the betterment of society.
I find myself torn over the question of gun ownership. I do not know what the right answer is? But what I do know it is a discussion that I and other responsible gun owners along with every citizen in the nation must have. We must be willing to listen to those with other views, but they also must listen to our views. This is a discussion that must be based on fact not emotion, it must rational and without rancor, for each sides view must ultimately shape the answer.
If this is not handled properly, if like the healthcare debate, the elites ram down a solution on the masses of law abiding gun owners I fear mass civil disobedience and possible revolution; if nothing else there will be wedge firmly driven between the educated east and west coast elites and the great mass who view themselves as the common man. As a gun owning Democrat I generally reject the view of those who believe the Democratic Party wishes to confiscate guns, but given the rhetoric of the last week I am not so sure.
While the left can be accused of a tin ear when it comes to the Second Amendment and what the common man wants; it can be said that the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of American etc that they live in a fantasy world. Proposals such as arming teachers and putting police in every school are bound to be dead upon arrival in the minds of parents those attending public school. There are many Americas who believe the NRA and Gun Owners of America are nothing more than shills for the gun industry and should be considered terrorists organizations. On the first count they are guilty as charged; on the second count it is a fanciful charge.
I grew up in rural Virginia, and when in high school people routinely brought their deer rifles to school and left them in their pickup or car until school was out so they could go deer hunting. My friend Steve Newton, over at the Delaware Libertarian, grew up not far from me in Fishersville Virginia. He provides a great description of what it was like to grow up in the late 60’s in rural Virginia. He also provides a interesting historical analysis of the Second Amendment.
Growing up in Rockbridge County, I received my first gun; a .22 caliber lever action single shot Ithaca Rifle for my eleventh birthday which I still have. The first time I went shooting, with my father, I went to the hardware store and bought the ammunition. Guns and hunting were part of the culture of Rockbridge County Virginia. Most people I knew had a deer rifle, usually a Winchester Model 70 or Remington Model 700. Some had lever action Model 94 Winchesters or the Marlin equivalent. A few had surplus military rifles usually a 03 Springfield, an Enfield, or a Mauser. All of these rifles were bolt-action holding three to five rounds in their magazine. A couple friends’ fathers had bought surplus semi-automatic M1, although not used for hunting, they like to go out and shoot targets.
This was the gun culture we grew up in during the 60’s and 70’s. I am not sure when this all began to change—I think it must have been sometime in the 1970’s when those who had anything to do with guns were no longer satisfied with the bolt action rifles of our youth. It may have been with the advent of Soldier of Fortune, or perhaps it was the advent of the Rambo movies, I don’t know. What I do know is the culture of guns changed.
There were other changes that have continued to this day. Guns and violence became a standard fare in movies. Many of us enjoyed seeing the various Lethal Weapons movies, were the carnage was non-stop and the bad guys were always sinister, but the good guys were not necessarily Boy Scouts. Those of us in the military, or the police, or whatever knew it was not real, but not everyone knew that. With the advent of home computers, violent computer games became a reality. I grew up playing Risk and other Strategy games, now one can play at the tactical level as a shooter in any number of action computer games.
But as a society we also began to change. Maybe it began with Dirty Harry or maybe it was Reagan, but we increasingly saw our nation become a nation under siege. It was the criminals, it was the Soviets, and now the Islamists; someone is out to destroy our culture our way of life; we have to guard and arm our Southern Borders, we can no longer easily go between Vermont and Canada, we have surrendered our liberties in name of security. Airports today look like armed camps. The Pentagon where I work, the guards carry MP5. Our police departments have increasingly adopted the look and swagger of the military. Not satisfied with mere handguns they now need M16, High Capacity Shotguns, SWAT Teams, Counter sniper teams. In part they do so because they want to intimidate the bad guys, but also because the bad guys are heavily armed. But in many cases Police Departments have adopted the look of the military to include arming themselves because they are military “want a be”.
Guns have become a part of society, which is fine; after all it is enshrined in our Constitution. But so is freedom of speech. So is the right of privacy. But there are those who are saying we need to censor our violent video games. There are others who want to know who own guns. So which right is most important?
One is not more important than the other. Guns allow us to resist tyranny; speech allows us to speak out against the arbitrary and capricious nature of government and privacy protects us from the nosey eye of government and our neighbors. One never should willingly give up our constitutional rights in the name of order.
But wait a minute, hasn’t the Supreme Court said you can limit speech, that you can’t holler fire in a crowded theater. Haven’t we said that the government may listen to our phone calls, or execute a search without a warrant if there is a good faith belief that a crime is about to be committed? Aren’t we routinely searched in the airports without probable cause? The answer to all of these is yes.
The debate over gun control is hysterical. We do have right to own and keep guns. Part of the problem is we are dealing with the decision of some in the 18th Century to change Mr. Madison original wording of we now know as the Second Amendments; his original language is below with my comment:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed (infringe verb 1 the statute infringed constitutionally guaranteed rights: contravene, violate, transgress, break, breach; disobey, defy, flout, fly in the face of; disregard, ignore, neglect; go beyond, overstep, exceed; Law infract. ANTONYMS obey, comply with. 2 the surveillance infringed on his rights: restrict, limit, curb, check, encroach on; undermine, erode, diminish, weaken, impair, damage, compromise. ANTONYMS preserve.) [comment: an independent declaratory clause]; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country [comment: also an independent clause but serves as a clarifying clause to the previous clause] but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person. [comment an independent clause that exist in the same sentence as the previous clauses, but can stand on its own as a separate and distinct right of the people.]
So what are we too believe. Let me offer some common sense thoughts about what happened at Newtown and generally about our rights and liberties as individuals and the nature of our government.
- First and foremost it would be impossible for the United States Government in concert with State and Local government to confiscate weapons. There would be a catfight with the Federal Government over one department stepping on the toes of another. No one in Government could keep a secret—in fact someone would leak the plan to the Washington Post, the Washington Times, or the Washington Examiner. Lets face it the federal government is inept when it comes to doing things like this; does anyone remember Gas Rationing!
- Buying back weapons, restricting ownership of so called “assault weapons,” arming teachers or putting armed guards in schools are all stupid ideas. What you will end up with in a buy back are antiques the weapons such as a Bushmaster will never be sold back to the government. We cannot agree on what an assault weapon is. I own an M1 Garand. It is a military weapon. It will hold eight rounds in its magazine and fires semi-automatic; I also own a Semi-Auto Model 11-87 Shotgun that will hold five in its magazine. Are the aforementioned assault weapons? Depends on who defines them. The same people who want to arm teachers and principles rail against educators as being incompetent to teach our children? Now they want them guard them with loaded weapons? Putting armed guards in the schools may be a feel good move but will it really do any good.
- There are probably smart things gun owners can do. Guns need to be locked up and stored when not in use. Responsible gun owners do this; we should consider making locking guns up a requirement.
- High capacity magazines for rifles and pistols should be restricted. I have several pistols that have high capacity magazines. When I go shooting I normally load 10 rounds per magazine. Police and the military need high capacity magazines. In Iraq I carried four 15 round magazines for my Berretta, and when I carried an M4 I had seven thirty round magazines. I needed those rounds in case I got into a gunfight. Restricting magazines is not an infringement upon our second amendment rights.
- Those owning guns must be trained. My father and the Boy Scouts trained me; today that is not necessarily the case, many who buy guns today have not been trained about safe gun handling and responsibility.
- Gun owners need to accept the fact that we are part of society and that we need to be responsible and part of the solution. The solutions proffered by the NRA, or Gun Owners of America, or even the Brady Organization are not solutions that are going to be acceptable to the majority of Americans be they gun owners or not.
- Lastly both sides to take a deep breath. Gun owners need to acknowledge that just as we can place legitimate restrictions on speech, or assembly; society can put legitimate restrictions on gun ownership. But as the Heller case reminds us, we must fear the good intentions of the governments closest to the people. Gun control proponents need to acknowledge, that despite their druthers, the Second Amendment like the other right enshrined in the Bill of Rights is about fundamental rights of liberty who should be abridged willy nilly.
- There is a need for care for those who have mental health issues. As a society we need to acknowledge it is an illness; and that yes they can get well; but in the periods where they are not well we as a society must take steps to limit their access to guns.
As I said at the beginning of this piece; I am torn. As my friend Steve Newton has rightly pointed out the founders enshrined gun ownership in our Constitution because of the lesson of our history. Our history as colonies of the Great Britain and the United Kingdom and the troubles of the 17th Century; and our colonial history of revolution and independence from the United Kingdom.
Short of changing the constitution—doubtful; or a revolution by those who oppose gun ownership—also doubtful as they would have a hard time maneuvering in the Birkenstock’s—any solution must be based on common sense and must be constitutional; at least one would hope.
PS: I was in a gun store the other day; they announced loudly as I walked in that they were out of AR15 High Capacity Magazines. I guess the hyperbole surrounding Newtown is benefiting the gun manufactures—as I also understand the price of the Bushmaster has risen by several hundred dollars (capitalism at work!). I plan to go the National Gun Show out at Dulles this weekend-- December 28, 29 & 30, 2012; it should be interesting.