“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.”
So reads the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Undoubtedly at the time of the drafting of the Bill of Rights, the framers of the Constitution knew exactly what they intended by this Amendment, and how it applied to life in the late 18th Century. But how does it pertain to America in the year 2012?
When the Constitution was first written, there really was no standing army. In the early days of the republic, a volunteer militia was in place to safeguard against threats both domestic and foreign. And in order for that militia to function, it was requisite for private citizens to possess firearms. This was nothing at all like the present day National Guard, much less the current world-encompassing United States military which possesses the strength & ability to decisively intervene in foreign affairs.
So where does this leave the Second Amendment in modern times? For many, the argument is that it does not affect the right to bear arms in the least, that the existence of a standing military should not preclude in any way the private ownership of guns. These people apparently see the Second Amendment as a sovereign right that is completely immune to any regulation by the government, be it federal, state, or local.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when the proliferation of guns in America has grown to monstrous levels. It is incredibly easy for criminals to get their hands on firearms. Even innocent, well-intentioned owners of guns often find themselves involved in accidental shootings.
The National Rifle Association has been at the forefront of the effort to prevent any sort of regulation or oversight of firearms in this country. The NRA likes to present itself as the protector of gun owners’ rights and the guardian of the Second Amendment. But, really, to my eyes, they appear to be nothing more than a massive lobbying arm of the gun manufacturing industry. The NRA is so influential that politicians on both sides of the aisle are petrified with fear. Most of those in public office would rather ignore the issue of gun control than bring it up and risk facing a well-financed, NRA-backed opponent in their next election. (After all, the sad fact is most politicians would rather stay in power than stand up for a principal and risk getting voted out of office.)
In the last few weeks, there has been a spate of violent incidents involving guns. The most widely known took place in Sanford, Florida on February 26, when neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law as justification. This is a law, incidentally, that the NRA was intensely involved in lobbying to passage. It is uncertain if we will ever know the full facts of what took place that tragic night. But, without a doubt, it is quite clear that if Zimmerman had not been in possession of a gun, Martin would still be alive today.
More recently, on April 2, a gunman went on a shooting rampage at a college campus in Oakland, California that left seven dead. This past weekend, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, two men embarked on an apparently racially-motivated shooting spree, killing three black men and wounding two others. Right here in New York City, four police officers were wounded in a gun battle on Saturday night. Afterwards, it was discovered that the suspect was in possession of several illegal weapons.
Incident such as this occur on a regular basis throughout the nation, and yet little is being done to stop the key cause of these tragedies: the unregulated deluge of firearms. New York has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, but they are often useless due to the loopholes and lax oversight elsewhere. It is incredibly easy for an individual to purchase multiple guns in a state such as Virginia or North Carolina, without any sort of background check or waiting period. Those weapons can then be smuggled across state lines, where they are illegally re-sold to criminals here in New York. Such was apparently the case with Nakwon Foxworth, the suspected gunman in the Sheepshead Bay shootout.
Please understand: I am not opposed to private gun ownership for responsible, mentally stable, law-abiding individuals who do not have a criminal background. If someone wishes to own a handgun to safeguard their home, that should be their choice. If people want to hunt, they should be allowed to possess a rifle or a shotgun, even though I personally do not approve of killing animals for sport. These are legitimate reasons for possessing a firearm, and hopefully those people who do own guns for those purposes will be responsible in their usage.
Having said that, I see no reason why there should not be certain limitations on gun ownership. In addition to background checks and waiting periods, it is also reasonable to limit the number of guns a person can purchase at one time or within a certain period. After all, the First Amendment, the right to free speech, is not absolute. You cannot shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Likewise, I do not believe the Second Amendment should be absolute, either. There need to be responsible limitations on it to protect the public’s safety.
The NRA and its supporters like to say “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” I do not think that is accurate. Rather, it should be “People with guns kill people.” It is much, much easier to kill a person with a gun than it is with a knife or a blunt object or your hands. The majority of killings that are caused by guns would probably not have taken place if there was not a gun in the criminal’s hands in the first place.
I find it inconceivable to believe that when the authors of the Constitution wrote the Second Amendment that they had this in mind, a nation plagued by an epidemic of gun violence. The Second Amendment was drafted to help protect our rights, not to give criminals and profiteers a loophole with which to violate the law. I think it is entirely possible to honor the true spirit of the Second Amendment by taking practical precautions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill individuals, precautions that would still ensure the rights of ordinary citizens. But that means standing up to the NRA and gun manufacturers, who exploit the Second Amendment for personal gain.