With Liberty and Firearms for All

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?

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