The Slippery Slope

93967746-us-gun-controlGun control may be the most talked about subject in a America today. On one extreme, you have left-wing idealists who want to follow the lead of Japan and other countries and ban guns altogether. On the other, their mirror image: right-wing nut jobs who think there should be no restrictions on gun ownership. In the middle are the realists who are looking for some common ground in hopes we can prevent tragedies like the ones we’ve experienced over the last few years. You may wonder why a blog that’s supposed to be about faith is talking about something as politically charged as gun control. But, like federal budgets, health care and equal rights for all, it bleeds over into faith matters. Besides, on But Not Yet’s Facebook page, I say it stands “on the corner between religion and politics in hope of effecting change”. So there.

Any discussion about guns and gun law in the United States has to start with that elephant in the room (or 800 lb. gorilla depending on your view), the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:

“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.”

I really wonder if Madison had any idea what a can of worms he was leaving us with this one short sentence. Taken alone, it’s a bit ambiguous. Do the people have a right to arms apart and alone from the militia or is the only purpose for this amendment to provide for that “well-regulated militia”? Personally, I think that answer is found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution which addresses the enumeration of powers, and says that Congress is responsible for arming and equipping the militia. So why did Madison feel the need to include the Second Amendment? That is rooted in the English Bill of Rights, enacted 1689, which protected the people from being disarmed by the King. This was an issue because James II (a Catholic) attempted to disarm Protestants and it also acted as a hedge against the standing army James wanted to establish. In addition, the possession of arms was considered a natural right by the English and, therefore, and not contingent upon government approval. This was not a new idea among the English, it was merely codified in 1689. So, actually, the Second Amendment has more to do with protecting the people from a tyrannical government than it does with providing arms for the militia.

Understanding the Constitution is much like understanding the Bible. Both were written in times vastly different from our own, although the language of the Constitution bears at least a nodding acquaintance with our own, unlike the Bible. But, it still requires us to understand the historical and political context of its time. Written by men who had just fought to be free from an unjust government, this document provides hedges and defenses against the tyranny they had experienced under English rule. The question we must ask ourselves is how does it apply to us today? In the case of the Second Amendment, conceived as yet another check against unbridled federal power, can it protect us from a government run amok? On the surface, one would say no. There is no way citizens armed with commercially available weapons could stand against the might of the United States armed forces. Yet, time again, we see small, irregular forces not only hold their own against that might, but sometimes even prevail. In our 236 years, there has never been a violent coup in this country and the government’s fear of an armed populace may be one of the reasons for that. Because of this, it is my opinion that the Second Amendment remains a viable hedge against unchecked government power.

That does not mean, however, that I fall in with the nuts on the right who think any gun control is an infringement on their Second Amendment rights. I most certainly believe there are people in this world who should never have access to weapons of any kind. I also believe that, while you can kill someone without one, a gun makes easier. In the case of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, it certainly makes it easier to kill many people in a short amount of time. With 5 mass shootings in the last 6 months, it is obvious that something must be done.

It is imperative that we, as a nation and as individuals, find some middle ground and enact common sense gun laws to curb what can only be classified as a massacre of innocents. In some states, it’s no more difficult to buy a rifle or shotgun than it is pseudoephedrine.  Better background checks, licensing and education requirements for the owning of any weapon, restrictions on the ownership of assault rifles and weapons with high-capacity magazines would all be good places to start. To my liberal friends who want to ban all firearms, I ask that you set your sights on an obtainable goal. A total ban will never happen in this country as it would require a repeal of the Second Amendment and we all know that 3/4’s of the states will never ratify any such thing. To my conservative friends who shy away from what they consider an infringement on their rights, I ask that they see reason and realize that not just anyone should own a Bushmaster .223 with multiple 30 round clips and enough ammunition to start a small war.