One of the most controversial issues of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are gun control infringements on the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Gun control advocates point to the common good or what weapon and individual needs or does not need as justification for their cause. Gun Control advocates neglect that it is a Bill of Rights and not a Bill of Needs. The Second Amendment specifically states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. It is this verbiage and the intent of the authors of the Constitution that make gun control an infringement on our Constitutional rights.
To understand how gun control measures infringe on the Second Amendment one must first understand the original intent the framers had when drafting the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights. The nation had just gained its independence from the British in armed conflict with a military force consisting of mainly colonists, and the weapons they had on hand. After Shay’s Rebellion it was determined that the previous Articles of Confederation and lack of a central government were an inadequate form of governance for the time. In response to this incident the founders drew up a constitution that separated powers and put constraints on the newly formed federal government. The Bill of Rights was a set of amendments that served as a compromise between the federalists and anti-federalists. One of the significant features of the U.S. constitution is that it has checks on power to prevent a tyrannical government from forming. One of those checks is the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights. One of the lingering fears that many of the authors had during the Constitutional convention was that of standing armies, however, most of the authors of the Constitution understood the necessity of having one. A method of deterring subjugation from a standing army was the formation of all able bodied men into a militia. And according to their own writings all able bodied men had to have proficiency in arms. But does inclusion of the term militia into the first portion of the Second Amendment infer only a collective right, like states National Guards? It would appear that the founders intended both an individual and a collective right.
Prior to the passage of the Militia Act of 1792 George Washington stated that “a free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined…” (Washington, 1790). That statement confers both and individual right to have the current military infantryman armaments but to also be proficient in their use. His use of the word “disciplined” seems to imply unit type training for membership in a larger force. Of equal importance is the final portion of Washington’s statement that says “…and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies” (Washington, 1790) Being independent of others for essential military supplies would mean that the individual would have to have his own military weaponry on hand. The only way this is possible is if the citizen has an individual right to bear arms. George Washington’s Secretary of War and the sponsor of the Militia Act of 1792 also stated that all men of legal age should be armed and that these self-armed citizens were “capital security of a free Republic” (Knox, 1790). Currently, there are a multitude of additional statements from the authors of the Constitution and the founders of this nation that explicitly indicate or outright state that the intent behind the 2nd Amendment is for the individual to be armed as a check against tyranny, be it from a standing army or a tyrannical government (as cited in Palumbo, 2018).
Gun control measures have an interesting history in the United States. The National Firearms Act passed on June of 1934, a part of FDR’s “New Deal for Crime” was done primarily in response to gang/mafia activity that occurred as a result of Prohibition. It should be noted that the Federal government, not the mafia or gangs, passed the 17th Amendment and set favorable conditions for violent competition for black market alcohol. However, there were prior gun control laws during the 19th century. After the surrender of the Confederacy, many regions in the South prohibited slaves from owning firearms making them vulnerable to assault and not truly free. Congressional legislation stopped the state overt practice of disarming recently freed slaves but Southern lawmakers found ways around the legislation. A common practice was to ban cheap firearms, which freed slaves could afford, while allowing more expensive firearms that were already in the possession of former Confederates (KOPEL & GREENLEE, 2017). Many gun control laws in the twentieth century were designed to be selectively (racially) enforced. Florida Supreme Court, Justice Rivers H. Buford, wrote in his concurrence of the Watson v. Stone ruling that Section 5100 R. G. S., 7202, C. G. L was passed, “…for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers…” and “The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied.” (Watson v. Stone, 1941). Despite claims that constitutionally infringing gun control measures are for the “greater good” US history would seem to say otherwise.
Many gun control advocates try to make the “hunting” argument. They will state that certain weapons are not suitable for hunting and should therefore be regulated or outright banned. They will also state that the 2nd amendment does not apply to the firearms of the modern age and only to muskets. Following that logic the 1st Amendment would not apply to radio, television, or the internet. As previously stated, the intent of the 2nd Amendment was never about hunting, it was about preserving liberty and deterring the formation of a tyrannical government. The intended deterring effect of the 2nd Amendment is captured best by Thomas Jefferson when he said, “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms” (Jefferson, 1787). Thomas Jefferson knew that only an armed population can deter tyranny and preserve liberty.
One has to ask if gun control measures actually accomplish anything besides grossly infringing on the Bill of Rights. Many of the cities in the United States that have the strictest gun control laws have some of the worst violent crime rates. In 2014 Chicago had 411 murders whereas Boise Idaho had only 4 (Citydata, 2014). The state of Illinois and the city of Chicago have much stricter gun laws in place than Idaho. One of the many gun control measures that the anti-gun side has currently proposed is a ban on so called “military assault weapons”. There are a few problems with this concept. First of all, the term “assault weapon” does not appear in any military doctrine. Army TM 9-1005-319-10 makes no mention of the term “Assault Rifle” and instead uses the term “rifle” or “carbine”. The term is wholly invented by the media and the anti-gun side of the argument, possibly to make the weapon seem more powerful/fearsome than it actually is. During the 1994 “assault weapons” ban, murder rates were almost twenty percent higher than after the ban expired (Glus, 2013, pp. 265-267). Supposedly, so called “assault rifle” legislation is used to stop mass shootings. According to a study conducted by the University of Texas of shootings that occurred between 2000 and 2010, 60% of all mass shootings were are conducted with a handgun and only 27% were executed with a rifle (Blair & Martindael, n.d.). The type of rifles used were not delineated by type in the study, so it is very possible that the use of “assault rifles” in mass shootings is even lower than 27%. According to the government’s own findings, contrary to the claims of anti-gun organizations, the 1994 assault weapons ban had a minuscule effect in deterring gun crime (Koper, 2004, pp. 1-2). There is substantial evidence that shows that gun control measures have the opposite of their intended effect. In an article for Surgery Neurology, International Miguel A. Faria, found that violent crime and crime in general actually increased when gun control measures were implemented both in the US and other countries. Faria found that in western countries with liberalized civilian ownership of firearms, crime rates were much lower (Faria, 2012, p. 135). Banning these weapons accomplishes little besides infringing on the enumerated right to keep and bear arms, and runs contrary to the ideas of George Washington and the rest of the authors of the Constitution (Washington, 1790).
History shows that disarmament is a fool’s errand. In the early twentieth century an estimated 800,000-1.5 million Armenians were rounded up, deported from their homes to the interior of Turkey, and slaughtered. One of the key elements that enabled this slaughter was the prior disarmament of the Armenians by the Turks via a decree that forced the Armenians to surrender their arms to the government. To be fair, Ottoman law seemed to make it a crime to possess arms without government permission. However, it seems that this law was more frequently enforced against Armenians (Halbrook, 2015). Many of the actions that the Armenians took against the Jews set a precedent that would later be used by the Nazis. Oddly enough, Hitler even mentioned the Armenian Genocide in his Obersalzberg Speech, when he said, “Who after all is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?” (Hitler, 1939). Hitler and the Nazis were also beneficiaries of gun control/registration laws that were passed during the early days of the Weimer Republic to comply with provisions of the Versailles Treaty. The Nazis also created strict firearm laws in 1938 and later that year Hitler enacted laws making it outright illegal for Jewish citizens to possess firearms (Harcourt, 2004, p. 670). With the lack of an effective weapon to resist the Nazis, favorable conditions for the genocide that would follow were set. Would the European Jews have been so easily rounded up and exterminated if they had an adequate means to resist?
Not to be outdone by the Third Reich, the murderous communists also implemented strict controls on civilian firearm ownership. The citizens of Tsarist Russia had plenty of freedom to own and carry firearms, with very minimal restrictions being placed on where they could fire them (not in crowds or inside apartment buildings) (SHEVCHENKO, 2017). Russian firearms ownership would change for the worse during the 1917 revolution. After seizing power the Bolsheviks began confiscating civilian owned firearms and only allowed hunters to possess primitive firearms (sound familiar?). After the communists confiscated the arms of the people it is estimated that they would go on to kill millions of their own citizens in the USSR (Courtois, Werth, Jean-Louis, Karel, & Jean-Louis, 1999, pp. 4-5). If the Russian people would have refused to give up their arms history may very well have proceeded down a different path. Disarmament may not be a portion of an overall genocide plan, but it does set favorable conditions for the perpetrators and unfavorable conditions for the victims.
The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees both an individual and collective right to bear arms. The Second Amendment was created by forward thinking individuals with the intent of checking the formation of a tyrannical government. Throughout history, both foreign and domestic, disarmament efforts empower the aggressor and oppressor. Gun control efforts infringe upon the original intent of the 2nd Amendment. In closing, the words of John Adams summarize the intent of both the 2nd Amendment and the end result of the efforts of gun control entities when he states “An armed man is a citizen, an unarmed man is a subject”.
- Blair, J. P., & Martindael, H. (n.d.). United States Active Shooter Events from 2000 to 2010: Training and Equipment Implications. Retrieved January 2019, from Texas State University: https://rems.ed.gov/docs/UnitedStatesActiveShooterEventsFrom2000to2010.pdf
- Citydata. (2014). Crime rate in Boise, Idaho (ID) Crime rate in Chicago, Illinois (IL). Retrieved January 2019, from City-Data: http://www.city-data.com/crime/index.html
- Courtois, S., Werth, N., Jean-Louis, P., Karel, B., & Jean-Louis, M. (1999). The Black Book of Communism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Faria, M. A. (2012). America, guns and freedom: Part II — An international perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 135.
- Glus, M. (2013). An examination of the effects of concealed weapons laws and assault weapons bans on state-level murder rates. Applied Economics Letters, 265-267.
- Halbrook, S. P. (2015, May 18). Armenian Genocide Didn’t Happen by Acciden. Retrieved January 15, 2019, from Independant Institute: http://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=7376
- Harcourt, B. E. (2004). On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler, and Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Gun Culture Wars (A Call to Historians). Fordham Law Review, 73(2), 670. Retrieved from https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4029&context=flr
- Hitler, A. (1939, August 22). Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Nazi Germany (1933-45). Retrieved January 16, 2019, from Armenian National Institute: https://www.armenian-genocide.org/hitler.html
- Jefferson, T. (1787, November 13). Extract from Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith. Retrieved from Jefferson Moticello: http://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/100
- Knox, H. (1790, January). To George Washington from Henry Knox, 18 January 1790. Retrieved January 2019, from National Archives Founders Online: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-05-02-0009
- KOPEL, D., & GREENLEE, J. (2017, August 27). The racist origin of gun control laws. Retrieved January 6, 2019, from The Hill: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/civil-rights/347324-the-racist-origin-of-gun-control-laws
- Koper, C. S. (2004). Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003. Philadelphia: U.S. Department of Justice.
- Palumbo, M. (2018, Febuary 18). 10 Essential Quotes On The 2nd Amendment From Our Founding Fathers. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from The Federalist Papers: https://thefederalistpapers.org/us/10-essential-quotes-2nd-amendment-founding-fathers
- Rummel, R. (1990). Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
- SHEVCHENKO, N. (2017, November 28). How Russians lost their own 2nd Amendment: The right to bear arms. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from Russia Beyond: https://www.rbth.com/history/326865-guns-rifles-russia-revolutio
- Vieira, E. (2009, December 22). The Second Amendment, the States, and the People. Retrieved January 10, 2019, from The New American: https://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/7686-the-second-amendment-the-states-and-the-people
- Watson v. Stone, 4 So. 2d 700 (Supreme Court of Florida November 21, 1941).