Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gun control a non-issue issue?

I'm not sure it's even worth my time to articulate a position on gun control itself, but I'm gonna. More importantly, however, the debate raises other questions that merit closer inspection.

The Pew Research Center had several interesting findings concerning the public's general attitudes toward gun policies, rights, and control. As you can see from the above chart, background checks, better tracking of sales, bans on semi-automatics and high capacity magazines, and restrictions on the mentally ill (whatever that means) are popular measures of control.

Not surprisingly, Obama's gun control policy largely adheres to prevailing public opinion.

I suppose I'm in favor of these measures, but I'm a realist and there are few points about these proposed laws I'd like to make:

  1. Gun owners won't be affected in a meaningful way.
  2. Mass shootings won't stop.
  3. Shut up about the 2nd Amendment.

To the first point, I say "meaningful" because we'll get to keep our guns and enjoy the rights they afford us. So maybe you can't deer hunt with an AR-15 and a 20-round magazine, but you can still deer hunt with other powerful weapons not originally manufacture to efficiently kill human beings. As far as home defense, the same applies. Truthfully, a 12-gauge shotgun is probably your best bet there anyway.

To the second point, mass shootings will still happen. People will still die. The only benefit is that assailants would be less efficient at killing under the proposed controls, so theoretically the death tolls would go down. We wouldn't have done anything to change the underlying causes of such violent behaviors, only the tools available by which such behaviors could be carried out. That's the exchange we'd be making and it's important to understand that.

And finally, because these atrocities will likely continue, most of what I here about the argument involves whether these proposed laws would infringe on Constitutional rights. 

But what exactly are those rights?

So let's talk about the Constitution. I do not believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a right to individual gun ownership, and understanding the history behind the Constitution's ratification is important to my conclusion. 

The major point of contention during the Constitution Convention was the role of the federal government. The federalists favored a dominant federal government while anti-federalist wished to see more power rested with the states. Because the Constitution originally outlined what the federal government could do, not what it was forbidden to do, the anti-federalist successfully pushed for a Bill of Rights intended to protect the states and their citizens from a powerful federal government.

The second of these first 10 amendments 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.
In the late 18th century, the United States did not field a strong standing army. It was either weak or nonexistent, making the role of state militias important not only for state but federal defense.

It seems clear to me that this provision applied to our protection against foreign invaders and from federal tyranny by state organized military forces, not to the protection of individuals' recreational gun ownership.

But I don't think the framers' intent means a damn thing. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The earth belongs to the living, not the dead."

The Constitution is a beautiful founding document with amazing guiding principles, but's it's a living document and we aren't bound to it. If we were we wouldn't have changed it 27 times. Simply because a handful of revered, rich, middle-aged, white, and -- most noticeably -- dead said so over two centuries ago doesn't make it true. That is our grand national naturalistic fallacy and it's time we get over it.

If we truly believe that disobeying the document in this current age is more prudent than following it, then disobey we should. Constitutional disobedience, after all, is our true founding principle.

But obey or not, it is critically important to realize that our Constitutional rights are not, nor have they ever been, absolute. In 1798, Congress passed and President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which essentially outlawed critiques of the government -- this just seven years after a Constitutional guarantee or free speech.

To this day many of our Constitutional rights are highly regulated and often ignored. The Patriot Act, signed into law by G. W. Bush and reauthorized under Obama includes blatant violations of 4th and 6th Amendment rights protecting against warrantless searches and guaranteeing public trials -- damn good amendments.

But nobody seems to give a shit about those violations, which are infinitely more important to our daily securities than any gun. It's ironic that, while we've largely been able to protect the right to bear the very arms meant to defend ourselves from government oppression, we've managed quietly to sign away our most important freedoms with one hand, all without moving our trigger finger.