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Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Should We Do About Guns?

The gun issue is one of those issues that stirs the soul. Some people are opposed to guns being owned by citizens, other are opposed to any restriction on gun ownership, including registration or limitations on the carrying of guns concealed or not concealed into any place. Other folks fall somewhat in between these positions. The second amendment to the US Constitution simply 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.

What exactly do those words mean and who does it apply to. Does it apply just to the federal government? Since it is the US Constituion does it mean the federal government shall not pass laws that infringe the right keep and bear arms? Can a state pass a law that infringes upon the right to keep and bear arms?  Is state control of guns prohibited under the 14th Amendment? Is the requirement for registration or a permit in order to own a gun an infringement under the second amendment? What are arms for purposes of the second amendment? When the constitution was adopted, arms were basically musket rifles, not assault weapons or personal rocket launchers. Is a stun gun an “arm”? Is a hand grenade an arm? What is a militia? Is Militia a state military force, a federal army, five rednecks from the movie “Deliverance”? Am I, as an individual citizen, a Militia?

Some believe that the Second Amendment provides an absolute, personal right to bear arms that may not be burdened with permits or registration requirements. Others contend that any right to bear arms is subordinate to ensuring public safety. Another argument is that the Second Amendment simply restricts the powers of the national government and grants the states the right to maintain a militia separate from a federally-controlled army.

In the court case District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the United States Supreme Court considered whether the District of Columbia’s (Washington D.C.) could adopt laws (city ordinances) which generally bars the registration of handguns (which essentially means hand guns are banned); which bars carrying a pistol without a license; which requires that all lawfully owned firearms be kept unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock, violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes? The Court concluded that the Second Amendment does establish an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense and hunting. The Court concluded that the D.C. gun ban was unconstituional. At the same time, the Court recognized that the government can regulate gun rights. The Court said its decision should not be interpreted to question the right of government to: prohibit felons and the mentally ill from owning weapons, prohibit guns in schools or public buildings, ban certain categories of guns not commonly used for self-defense, and to establish certain other conditions on gun ownership.

Remember that Washington D.C is not subject to any state law, it is subject to federal law. In an upcoming case, McDonald v. Chicago, the US Supreme Court will consider whether Chicago’s ban on handguns is Constitutional. The question in the McDonald case is similar to that in Heller referenced above, which challenged a handgun ban in the District of Columbia. However, unlike Washington, D.C., which is governed directly by federal law, the challenge to Chicago's gun ban comes to the Supreme Court under the Constitution's 14th Amendment, which protects fundamental rights against infringement by the states.

Many states righters argue that the federal government ought not control us but that the states ought to have the right to make laws that concern its citizens. However, the anti-gun control folks don’t want the states to impose gun laws of any sort. That is what the McDonald case is about. The plaintiff’s claim the state (in this case the City of Chicago) ought not to be able to ban gun ownership. It will be interesting to see what the outcome in the McDonald case will be.

Early this month Arizona adopted a law allowing people to carry a concealed weapon without requiring a permit. Any person - a crazy, a felon etc, can carry a concealed weapon without having a permit.

I for one want some reasonable gun registration requirements. I don’t want the insane or felons to be legally walking around with concealed weapons on unconcealed weapons for that matter. I don’t want it to be ok to bring an assault weapon to church. I don’t want my neighbor to have 40 assault weapons in his house. If I want to check out the book Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from the local library, I need a permit (a library card). Should it be easier for me to obtain a high power assault rifle than it is to check out a library book?

Should Al-Qaeda sympathizers (not actual terrorists but sympathizers) who are US citizens be able to purchase an unlimited number of assault weapons without registration so that we don’t infringe on their rights to keep and bear arms?

Should a 13 year old be able to purchase a high powered rifle without parental approval?

Are there no lawful restrictions under the second amendment?

I believe a person ought to be able to buy a gun for protection or for sport. But for the life of me, I cannot understand why there should not be common sense limitations against certain types of weapons or common sense registration requirements.

I normally try not to discuss political issues in this blog but there are a number of subjects that I think are worth addressing and the gun issue is one. I understand there are different views than mine. If you feel strong one way or the other on this issue, please leave a comment on this blog.


  1. Excellent post Bud. Your points are very valid. Regulation is used by the Federal government and States for many many things far less lethal. It is interesting to me that all of the other rights in the Bill of Rights have been found by courts to be subject to regulation and restrictions (such as time, place, and manner restrictions on the freedom of speech). Yet somehow there remains a huge number of people that think that the "right to bear arms" should be completely unregulated or restricted. What's particularly weird is that this is supposed to be "strict construction" of the Bill of Rights, when- interestingly- the Second Amendment actually includes the words "well regulated" and other amendments say no such thing! Fascinating. Cannot wait to see how the McDonald case comes down.

  2. I agree with all of your comments about guns.
    The claim that the states should have no right to infringe on an individual's right to possess any kind of weapon strikes me as overly broad and potentially dangerous. Witness what is happening in Mexico and to a large extent in Chicago. The police are being outgunned by criminals.
    The argument that we would all be safer if everyone had guns is as ludicrous as the argument that the treasury would accrue more money if we had less taxation. As if zero taxes would create giant revenues.
    But I digress into another inflammatory discussion.
    You started it Bud!