One of the issues that’s come up repeatedly in contemporary US politics is the idea that the 2nd Amendment conveys an individual’s right to obtain, possess, and openly carry firearms.
The realm of law and order is not unlike the fashion world in that over time, new trends emerge and fresh items of interest arise, while established trends can be played down or may fall out of favour entirely. Interpretation matters most, and that interpretation is generally subject to the linguistic evolution and societal attitudes of the period. In the case of the 2nd Amendment, the legislation has been furiously debated in a modern setting as to the merits of its grammatical structure and meaning, other historical precedents, and differences between the original and ratified versions.
The recent push for widespread ‘freedom’ enshrined in law as permitting individual gun ownership wasn’t always so. Up to the turn of the 21st century, it was widely accepted by many (even conservative Chief Justice Warren Berger) that an individual right to bear arms wasn’t a thing. Many conservatives at the time carried the same torch and stood in opposition to what they believed was a silly, if not fairly hazardous, idea.
Later, emboldened by negative sentiment left over from social changes in the 1960s and 1970s, and spurred by the encouragement of organizations like the National Rifle Association and public figures like Senator Orrin Hatch and Attorney General John Ashcroft, American society enacted a dramatic shift in what it considered to be acceptable. The issue of individual gun rights suddenly found its champions, and there was no shortage of audience or venues in which it was aggressively lobbied.
This lobbying eventually bore fruit in 2008 with the US Supreme Court decision on District of Columbia v. Heller, which brought the new idea of individual firearm ownership into the mainstream and flattened a number of existing weapons restrictions and safety statutes. This was then further extended by additional statutes encouraging the practice of open carry, the lifting of gun bans, and limits to academic and medical research on gun violence.
… which brings us now to the present.
Another week of shootings, more press coverage, more national mourning in the US. Where does the dialogue go from here?
For one, I’m curious to see just how extensive personal firearms ownership might become, and what cultural safeguards or adaptations (if any) occur as a reaction to that.
The questions that never seem to be asked during a gun debate are those of cultural relevancy, proximate risk, and proportionality in everyday life.
The standard reasoning provided for carrying a firearm is that it’s there for self-defense, and the defense of others’ lives in an emergency situation. Fair enough, I’m not going to simply dismiss that if it comes on valid grounds.
But let’s put this in perspective a bit.
First, how many firearm owners are hunters, trappers, ranchers, deep woods hikers, guides, or other outdoorsy types who spend time in bear/wolf/cougar/coyote territory? Quite a few, but far from everyone, and certainly not enough to account for a considerable chunk of sales. I generally sympathize with those whose job or outdoor pursuits require an extra level of protection, so long as they’re smart and safe with it.
As for those who don’t spend time in the great outdoors: how many are in law enforcement, military, or participate in organized target sports? Quite a few, but again, this doesn’t cover all the products crossing the shop counters on a regular basis.
That leaves us mostly with the ones that buy firearms so they can keep them at home or in a vehicles for use in a defensive role, and those who carry on their person daily or otherwise on some sort of regular basis.
I’ll set aside those who are simply traveling from home to the back woods or most other places where there is demonstrable need/requirement for a firearm. These folks are usually just going from point A to point B in order to carry out their routines.
Besides, it’s not hard to show others the courtesy of trust by locking your weapon in the trunk before walking into Chick-Fil‑A. Not everyone in the public space feels safe being around firearms. Those who own them and are thoughtful in recognizing and respecting this boundary often receive a lot more sympathy from others, from owners and non-owners alike. Or to phrase it as my favourite YouTube gun channel announcer might, a firearm is a lot like a penis, you don’t want to be constantly pulling it out and waving it around. As further study by Harvard University likewise found, most firearm related confrontations are caused or escalated by a show of force.
That pretty much leaves just the people who carry a firearm anticipating it will some day ‘need to be used,’ not as a tool in the course of one’s employment, not because they’re in bear territory, but because they’re afraid for their own safety (or that of their family) in the daily circumstances of their lives, or because they genuinely fear a breakdown of government and law enforcement (‘preppers,’ disasters, and apocalypse scenarios).
All right then, let me ask: how many actually live in an area where there’s chaos in the streets and no law enforcement because government has ceded control to gangs, or things have otherwise gone full Mad Max? Last I checked, the White House is standing, everyone is still paying taxes, and the correct answer seems to be ‘none’ because these people are living in the US, not Mexico or Iraq. If anyone who reads this feels differently and has some credible, peer-reviewed evidence to the contrary, feel free to submit it.
Let’s call a spade a spade: for the remainder, carrying a firearm is a selfish act, something the individual does for their own reasons, whatever those reasons happen to be. Maybe it’s seen as an equalizer in case of confrontation. Maybe it’s on hand because the owner is a survivor of violence. Maybe it’s a belief that the zombies are coming. We don’t always know the why, but we do know the end result and the consequences tend to be similar: serious injury, death, and often a prison sentence.
Is your home, your workplace, the grocery store, or the gym really that dangerous?
If someone lacks a good reason to carry, and cannot stomach the idea of going about the boring minutiae of their day without having a firearm on their person, maybe it’s time for some serious introspection. Perhaps we’d see better results if more people took a leadership role in building up their communities, rather than defending against them — paranoia doesn’t exactly bring people together.
Currently, more than 10,000 people die in the US each year from gun violence, with approximately eight times as many injured in non-fatal shootings. These are almost entirely preventable. Since it’s impossible to reliably and practically limit firearms to only responsible, respectful, law-abiding people, however, we continue to see these tragedies unfold.
The scourge of black market and stolen weapons, too, is all but impossible to squash through legislation alone. There must be a drastic shift in both societal attitudes and law enforcement in order to gain enough headway to make this work.
Now, while it’s possible for the government to change course partially or completely on a settled case, either through an overruling by the Supreme Court or the creation or amendment of a suitable statute, given the incredible lobbying power in play right now in Congress by arms dealers and gun rights activists, this remains difficult at best. Individual ownership has gained a lot of traction. It may take quite some time before the necessary level of public outrage builds so as to force corrections to legislation, or limits, that can satisfactorily target and address the issue of widespread gun violence.
The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no stuffing it back inside.
More recently, there’s coverage of executive orders being proposed as one potential workaround for an environment in which Congress is allegedly rendered ineffectual by excessive lobbying.
Personally, I think the entire debate has turned insane. The fact that anyone needs to think of using such a last line of defense as a Presidential Executive Order is prima facie evidence of just how unreasonable, how utterly and unimaginably fucked-up, all of this has become.
From my teen years, I grew up around firearms as I trained with them in the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. I was one of the lucky few of my peer group who went on to be formally trained with the C7 platform (similar to M‑16/AR-15) following several years of marksmanship certifications with our .22 caliber target sports team. As a regular at the range, and having taught others safety and maintenance in the past, one might say I’m comfortable around firearms and familiar with their proper handling.
That’s also why, whenever I see public firearms debates unfold, I want to pound my head on a desk. There are so many naive, untrained, over-entitled people screaming their views about so many things, and it’s saddening to realize most of the individuals making that noise either don’t represent the majority of gun owners, or don’t properly grasp the context under which they’re making these arguments.
Humankind invented firearms to have a tool for hunting, and to have a weapon of human conflict. Somewhere along the way, as we gained enough affluence, we invented a third application called ‘target sports.’
But at the end of the day, that’s all a firearm can ever be: a tool, a leisurely pursuit, or a weapon of human conflict.
Let’s fix this debate, and focus on reducing the third one.
Science has weighed in, universities have conducted many research surveys and studies, and the evidence today generally adds up such that it’s clear guns are not being used for ‘defense’ in the vast majority of situations.
As a responsible firearms enthusiast, I feel obliged to throw my hat into the ring; the longstanding denialism surrounding gun violence and its preventable nature within the gun community is disgusting, dehumanizing, and it needs to end.
There needs to be a genuine dialogue about the merits of practical gun control legislation, particularly as it relates to background checks, stolen firearms, mental health, careless/negligent discharge, and unnecessary ownership. That would be just for starters, however. Over the long term, the real answer isn’t creating more criminal offenses. It’s about refining culture, revamping societal attitudes and constructs to end this superficial love affair with firearms and start practicing some serious commitment. Guns aren’t a problem solver, and the problem is that’s how they’re generally being (ab)used.
So I’ll say it again: over 10,000 lives are now being lost and more than 80,000 are being injured, each year in the US, due to irresponsible firearm use.
Doesn’t that bother you?