I’m a gun owner. I purchased my first firearm 25 years ago, when I was 18 years old. My friend Jason was very enamored with guns. At the time, he had a .22 caliber Marlin rifle and took me to a local shooting range. I enjoyed shooting and was pretty good at it. Well, I was good enough at it that it encouraged me to do it more often. I liked doing something that required skill and that didn’t come easy but that wasn’t so hard it was discouraging. So a few months later when he invited me along to a gun show, I took the chance. I can’t remember whether it was that gun show or another, but before long I became the owner of an SKS. At the time, the market was flush with them and you could purchase one for around $100, still greased up with Cosmoline. The SKS was fun to shoot and far more powerful than the .22 Marlin. Since that time, I’ve owned several other firearms, including a 9mm pistol. I currently own only two firearms: the 9mm and a rifle.
Gun control in the United States is a major wedge issue and like most wedge issues I don’t really agree with either side. The fact that the issue is so divisive and feelings run so strong makes it particularly frustrating and difficult to have a calm, rational discussion about. My friends in other countries seem to think that gun violence is an easy issue to solve. “Just stop letting people have guns” is really easy to say but far less easy to do when the right to have guns in the first place is central to the founding of your country. The Bill of Rights is extremely important, both from a legal perspective and a historical perspective. These first ten amendments to our Constitution were written, in large part, to appease anti-Federalists. These were people who weren’t very crazy about the idea of a central government and had really strong feelings about how we came to fight for our independence in the first place. Even with a casual read of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution it is obvious to see that these were people who were pissed at England and weren’t having any more of that monarchy crap. The Bill of Rights was created specifically to spell that out. Each of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights were written in reaction to the injustices the colonists suffered at the hands of monarchy. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that without the Bill of Rights, there would be no United States.
In the case of the Second Amendment, everyone tends to have their own interpretation of what it means and even about why we have it in the first place. I don’t think too many people disagree, however, that the core message of the Second Amendment is the right for people to defend themselves. The inability for colonists to defend themselves was a huge issue at the time and one that Ben Franklin writes about extensively in his autobiography. In it, he discusses the numerous times that he tried to get English troops to help defend colonists against Native Americans and/ or allow the colonists to have guns so they could defend themselves. So while the obvious arguments that the Second Amendment is tied to the English Bill of Rights of 1689 hold true, the simple ability to defend oneself from any aggressor, be it a tyrant or not, was seen as important enough to the founding fathers to include it in the Bill of Rights. To many, the type of aggressor doesn’t matter, up to and including the Federal Government itself. In fact some would say that defense against tyrants is also central to what the Second Amendment is all about. In other words, you can’t just say, “OK everyone turn in your guns. Gun shops and gun manufacturers, ya’ll gotta shut down now”, because the entire spirit of each citizen being able to defend ourselves no matter what type of aggressor we face is central to who we are as a people.
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.Thomas Jefferson
The problem is that it is 225 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights and we don’t need to defend ourselves from aggressive Native Americans, tyrants, external aggressors, or even terrorists. The people we need to be made safe from are each other – specifically those who have guns. Last night, a lone gunman with an AR-15 and a handgun shot up a nightclub in Orlando Florida and killed 50 people. We are only half-way through 2016 and there’ve been 113 mass shootings.
Every Day on Average (all ages)
Every day, 297 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention.
Every day, 89 people die from gun violence:
- 31 are murdered
- 55 kill themselves
- 2 are killed unintentionally
- 1 is killed by police intervention
- 1 intent unknown.
Every day, 208 people are shot and survive:
- 151 shot in an assault
- 10 survive a suicide attempt
- 45 are shot unintentionally
- 2 are shot in a police intervention
According to the CDC the per-capita rate of death by firearm is the same as death by motor vehicle accident. While many government agencies such as NIH, CDC, NIST, and NHTSA have funded extensive research into improving motor vehicle safety, conservative lawmakers actually fought to ban research into gun violence. This isn’t false equivalence. If we’re to assume that it is every American’s right to bear arms then we must ensure the safety of the public as well. If we can put into place sensible safety features and regulations around ownership, operation, and safety for motor vehicles, why is it that we can’t study the causes of gun-related injuries and put into place other sensible regulations?
As a gun owner, I am very serious about gun safety. It is my responsibility as a gun owner to ensure safe storage when not in use and safe handling during use. I think responsible gun owners will agree with this. But this is not enough. We are not doing enough to ensure public safety. We are not doing enough to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys and people who are emotionally unable to handle the responsibility of gun ownership. We are not doing enough to regulate ownership criteria and training of new owners. In fact, we are effectively doing nothing. In order to decrease gun violence in our country that needs to change.