As I’ve been posting and sharing a variety of gun-related status updates, images, etc. on Facebook lately, I thought it might be helpful to elucidate what exactly is my personal position on guns, gun ownership, gun rights, and so forth.
First, I want to point out that not everything I’ve shared perfectly reflects my own personal perspective. I usually agree at least in part with what I share, but I tend to share things that I feel make a good point more often than things I agree with in every particular. (And sometimes in the comments I will even use hyperbole, play a little devil’s advocate, or defend a position I don’t necessarily endorse if I feel a commenter is being too obstinate or narrow-minded about the issue, or simply misses the point entirely.) There are very few issues for which I believe I have the perfect answer or solution. Most of life is a journey, and I am certainly not arrogant enough to believe that I have finished mine. The things I post on my Facebook wall are, in general, intended to stimulate conversation rather than perfectly mirror my own personal sentiments (unless, of course, I explicitly state that a particular post DOES perfectly mirror my own personal sentiments … but these are the rare exception). Most of the things I post DO generally line up with my own perspective, but each little info bite is incapable of expressing the broad, nuance-laden picture of personal opinion, and as such is inadequate to properly condense my own views into a single pithy statement, meme, or infographic.
With that introduction out of the way, allow me to discuss my current personal opinions on guns, gun ownership, gun rights, and related issues.
1. I believe that gun ownership is a privilege guaranteed by the Constitution to all upstanding citizens.
The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as ratified by the states, reads:
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.
There is of course much debate over the exact meaning of this amendment (the wording at the very least strongly implies that the right to keep and bear arms is causationally related to the formation or existence of a well-regulated militia for the purpose of defending the state or country), and when in doubt, we refer to the judicial branch of government, whose job it is to interpret the Constitution (i.e. determine how it bears on current legislation — “interpret” has a slightly different meaning in legal context). As most everyone knows, the Supreme Court found in 2008 that the amendment does not require individual ownership of a firearm to be connected to military service.
Thus, the Constitution guarantees the “right” for citizens to own firearms. However, I believe this is more of a Constitutionally-guaranteed privilege than a right (in part because, unlike nearly every other right secured by the Constitution, it is denied to convicted felons and the mentally unstable). The way I see it, the Constitution guarantees that one of the benefits of citizenship is the OPTION to possess and use firearms, within legal parameters. I do not believe that owning a gun is an inherent, defining, “God-given” right. (Self-defense, up to and including the necessary use of lethal force certainly is. Specifically owning a gun is not.)
2. I am not anti-gun.
My dad owns a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and a semiautomatic .22 hunting rifle. I’ve used both of them on multiple occassions, both for shooting inanimate objects (soda cans, paper targets, etc.) and when necessary for killing animals (like the rogue pit bull that strayed into our yard and threatened my younger siblings). My wife has a .270 hunting rifle and a .22 revolver. I do not hate guns. I will even concede that guns can be fun to use in appropriate venues with the proper safety precautions.
However, guns are, first and foremost, powerful machines specifically designed for one purpose and one purpose only: for killing. (If you disagree with this, please leave a comment informing me of a type of firearm that is specifically manufactured solely for the purpose of target practice or non-lethal self-defense.) In the words of Cody Johnston of Cracked.com,
Guns don’t only kill. There’s hunting (read: killing), target practice (read: practicing killing) and defense! Forgot about defense! Yeah! That’s the one! Defense!
People talk about “defensive gun uses” and their right to defend themselves and their property. But there’s actually nothing defensive about a gun. They are all ATTACK. They are made and used for offense. “Defense,” on the other hand, is resistance against an attack. Defense is protection, something that STOPS an attack…. Protection is a bullet-proof vest, or mace, or a security system. A gun is not defense. The widespread use of an actual defensive weapon would potentially save more lives than a gun because, again, guns are for killing, not protecting. The sooner we are all provided a weapon LIKE a gun that merely incapacitates a person, the sooner we can safely defend ourselves, instead of defending ourselves by killing each other.
(The whole article is actually really worth the read; I encourage you to check it out at the link above.)
I am not opposed to gun ownership. Guns are useful for hunting. Guns are useful for shooting skeet, or decimating targets at the local firing range. Guns are useful when lethal force is necessary to resist a violent offender. However, I am opposed to the idea that guns are the only way to defend people or property against violent criminals. I am opposed to the idea that every type of gun should be made universally available to all people without restriction. And I find the idea that “more guns means less gun violence” absolutely laughable.
3. I believe “possession” bans are useless.
Whether it’s illegal drugs, illegal arms, or any other prohibited item, laws against possession are (in my opinion) useless and pointless. They open up loopholes for unlawful searches and seizures under “reasonable suspicion” exceptions, and otherwise only serve to compound existing crimes.
Furthermore, given other existing laws, possession bans seem redundant. Using possession of illegal drugs for example, it’s illegal to sell, purchase, or otherwise transfer illegal drugs from one person to another. It’s also illegal to use, grow, or manufacture them. Given that, if someone is found with drugs on their person, they have already broken one of those laws, and penalizing them for “possession” is redundant. By the same token, if I speak of “bans” on any type of weapon, I am only discussing prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and/or transfer of that weapon — I do not advocate turning existing owners into instant felons.
4. I believe some weapons should be prohibited from the general public (i.e. non-military/law-enforcement citizens).
Ordinary citizens have no reason to own ballistic missiles. I’m sure very few people would disagree with me on that. But where do you draw the line between reasonably powerful and absurdly powerful weapons?
I’ve seen it argued that handguns, semi-automatic rifles, and even fully-automatic rifles OUGHT to be owned by households for self-defense. The idea is that any weapon that is illegal will be possessed by the attacker, and therefore ought not to be illegal so that the defender can return fire with an equally powerful weapon. Basically, this puts us in an imaginary arms race with an imaginary attacker in a worst-case scenario. (And, yes, I realize that worst-case scenarios DO happen. That’s why they’re called worst-case scenarios, not worse-than-worst-case scenarios.) If he has a knife, you’ll have a revolver. If he has a revolver, you’ll have a Beretta. If he has a semi-automatic handgun, you’ll have a semi-auto rifle. If he has a semi-auto, you’ll have a full-auto. And it goes on. So where do you draw the line?
This is one question I don’t know the answer to. I don’t believe fully-automatic weapons are necessary for self-defense — when defending yourself, you want high accuracy and good stopping power, not a ridiculously high-speed spray of bullets into your living-room wall. I think medium-caliber semi-automatic weapons are really the highest reasonable limit for legal weapons. (And you don’t need fifteen of them.)
So I would say that high-caliber (.50 cal and higher) weapons, fully-automatic weapons, and explosives (RPGs, grenades, etc.) serve no practical purpose for ordinary citizens. l also see no reason to stockpile an arsenal of weapons if your purpose in owning them is self-defense. (If you’re a collector, that’s another story entirely, requiring its own set of provisions and restrictions.)
5. I believe firearms should be regulated similarly to the way other dangerous-but-legal items are regulated.
Purchasing a car (in this state at least) requires paying an excise tax, initial and annual registration of the vehicle with the state, and maintaining insurance coverage for potential damage caused to or by the vehicle. Alcohol and tobacco sales are taxed at the state and federal levels, and sales are prohibited from underage customers. So what’s wrong with requiring gun sales or transfers to be:
- registered with the government, perhaps with a recurring annual registration (like vehicle tags)
- contingent on the purchaser’s procuring and maintaining some form of insurance which would cover any damage and injury resulting from accidents or misuse of the firearm in question (without mitigating law enforcement’s ability to prosecute any crimes committed with the weapon)
- limited to a certain number per person
And yes, I know some of these restrictions are already in place (and loudly protested by some of the more conservative gun rights advocates). Also note that, again, I don’t think new restrictions should (or can enforceably) retroactively apply to weapons already in people’s possession — only on new purchases/transfers. However, if gun ranges, hunting grounds, etc. require proof of registration and insurance for each weapon, this would help both to enforce the law and to encourage registration/insurance of currently owned weapons. (Just as you can OWN a vehicle without renewing the tags or buying insurance, but you can’t drive it on public roads.)
6. Miscellaneous ideas
“But I want to know what it feels like to shoot an AK-47 on full auto!”
I think it would be awesome if there were a provision for certain businesses to (perhaps with federal grants or loans) offer civilians the opportunity to experience shooting high-powered weapons such as fully-automatic firearms, Gatling guns, RPGs, anti-tank guns, etc. It would be a thrilling, exciting, and educational opportunity. Participants would be required to pass a quick background check, sign damage waivers, and purchase their own ammunition. These businesses could offer to purchase banned firearms (e.g. automatic weapons) from people currently possessing them when the prohibition goes into place — kind of like a voluntary buyback program, but with the added perk that you can go and use your weapon whenever you want to in a controlled environment. (Idea inspired by this tourist magnet.)
“Hold on, you said something about a limited number of guns per person? But all my guns are DIFFERENT, I need them all!”
Yeah, and I need a car, pickup, SUV, 15-passenger van, and motorcycle. But it’s not practical to own so many, and most of them I would only use sometimes. What do most people do in this situation? You can trade-in … you can rent … you can borrow from a friend (keeping in mind that your friend is partially liable for any damage you cause or crimes you commit)…. This really isn’t that hard, people. How many guns do you use, at one time, with two hands?