Yesterday this website carried an op-ed by one of our Contributing Editors, Greg Gibson, whose son was murdered on the campus of the college he was attending, a terrible story that became a book written by Gibson, Gone Boy, which has become something of a small classic in the literature about violence caused by guns. Greg has gone on to do some important gun-advocacy work, he also has a rather unique perspective on the issues of gun violence and gun control, and his comments about the 2nd Amendment created quite a storm on several Facebook pages where I posted what he wrote.
Basically, Greg was defending the 2nd Amendment based on the assumption that the Framers didn’t intend to give gun rights to the kind of people who shouldn’t have guns: criminals, nut-cases, or what Gibson refers to as “teenagers with still-developing brains.” Most of the comments about his piece came from activists who, for various reasons, don’t believe that gun owners should get any kind of Constitutional protection at all. Here was a typical comment that I received: “militia means a standing army not right wing nut jobs carrying assault rifles and terrorizing communities.”
The 2008 Heller decision, which said that Americans could keep a handgun in their home for self-defense, was decided by looking at the historic and legal precedents of two words: ‘keep’ and ‘bear,’ as in ‘to keep and bear arms.’ And even though many of the examples advanced on both sides of the SCOTUS debate were only marginally connected to the 2nd Amendment. Scalia was able to cobble together enough instances of early statutes and events to make his case.
What is most interesting about the Heller decision, however, is not what the majority and minority opinions say about the historical and legal meaning of the relevant text, but what isn’t said. And what isn’t said is any discussion about the word ‘arms,’ because Scalia dispensed of this issue in less than 100 words out of his 20,000-word opinion, by noting that Constitutional protection of private gun ownership only covers weapons that are commonly found in the home, and not “unusual” weapons like the kinds of weapons designed for use in war.
There’s only one little problem with Scalia’s formulation however, an argument that was unstintingly accepted by the minority opinions as well. The reason we suffer 125,000 gun injuries each year is because we give ourselves free access to these self-same weapons of war. Americans aren’t killed or wounded in large numbers by the millions of shotguns lying around in basements here and there. The 12 people killed in Chicago last weekend didn’t die because the shooters used several of the millions of hunting rifles manufactured by Remington, Winchester, Ruger or Savage Arms.
We suffer gun violence because legally or illegally, lots of our fellow citizens are walking around with handguns made by Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig, Ruger, Colt, etc., all of which were designed and used as weapons of war. Gaston Glock designed his pistol for the Austrian army; his gun is now carried by armed forces worldwide, including the armed forces of the United States. Sig just landed the contract to supply their pistol to the U.S. Army, and celebrated this financial whirlwind by releasing 50,000 of the guns for civilian sale.
We are the only Western country which has decided that handguns, which are designed for only one purpose (to kill human beings) should be allowed to be purchased and owned with no greater degree of regulation than what we impose on someone who wants to buy and take a shotgun into the woods.
The issue isn’t whether or not we should keep the 2nd Amendment. The real issue is whether the 2nd Amendment should protect the ownership of guns whose design and lethality has nothing to do with anything other than committing an act of violence in the extreme. You can be an Originalist all you want, but the Framers couldn’t have meant to enshrine murder as a Constitutional ‘right.’