A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Second Amendment Philosophies

The debate about gun ownership in this country will once again rise to the surface during the next few weeks. Two recent events highlight the highly passionate opposing philosophies behind the Second Amendment, which gives all Americans the right to bear arms. These events show the downside of both arguments.

The first event was the recent declaration that Washington, DC handgun ban was unconstitutional. Not only that, and it pains my moderate liberal heart to admit this, but the law didn’t work. There were no fewer murders in the District than other areas that didn’t have a ban. I remember watching the early morning news when I lived in Virginia, and almost every day the lead story dealt with another gunshot victim in the District. My guess is the law didn’t work because other jurisdictions in the area had very lax gun control laws (but more about Virginia later), and it required no effort at all to carry handguns from these areas into Washington.

This realization deals a severe blow to the liberal argument that fewer guns on the streets will result in fewer homicides. As much as I would like to believe this argument, as a historian I can’t go along with this unfortunately naïve point of view. If we ban any potentially harmful product or service such as guns, then the entire industry will be driven underground. The NRA argument that “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” is no longer a cliché, but it becomes a fact of life.

We only need to look at Prohibition to confirm this. When liquor was outlawed, no one stopped drinking and a small minority of the population took over the industry, making millions from illegal spirits. Not only that, but they kept control of the liquor black market through extremely violent force. Rules of economics play into this as well. If there is something that people want badly enough and will pay the asking price, then someone else will take the lead to fulfill that need.

Speaking of Virginia, the Commonwealth has a reputation for very lax gun control laws. One newspaper article a few years ago even noted that many people were openly carrying their weapons into recreation centers and restaurants. This brings us to the second recent event: the horrible massacre at Virginia Tech earlier this week. One gun advocacy group is already pointing to this mass murder as an argument for unrestricted gun ownership. They want to put more guns on the streets of America! They argue that if all people could own guns then some of the victims at Virginia Tech could have fired back

I find this argument equally naïve and disturbing. I have written about this before*, but here we go again with these reasons:

1. Everyone is not an ace marksman. People are bound to get killed in the crossfire between a criminal and a law-abiding citizen.

2. If everyone carries a gun, then American society will devolve into a wild west mentality where the gun is absolute law. Many people may feel that since they can pack a piece they would be entitled to commit acts that they would not normally do.

3. Besides, many of us like living with the idea that we don’t need to carry guns to feel secure on our streets. This is perhaps a naïve notion, but it’s not a new idea. It’s called faith, and it shouldn’t be such a strange idea for a culture that devotes one day of the year to “peace on Earth, good will toward men”

So, the contrasting philosophies and their accompanying debates should give everyone a very uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. Yes, we have all been here before – remember the Nickel Mine schoolhouse massacre last October — and we will return to this again and again. I feel like a broken record, but I will say it again: the death and mayhem brought by these events is the price we choose to pay to live in our free society.

*Guns and Children, October 4, 2006.


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