License to Kill

I was wrong. Or at least partially wrong. gun-constitution-2

Last July, in the wake of the Aurora theater massacre, I contended that the uproar over gun rights it had provoked was misplaced and that the important national conversation should be about mental health care. While that truly is an important national conversation, the events in Newtown, Connecticut have served to sharpen the focus on a discussion over gun rights which is overdue and sorely needed.

The President immediately engaged this issue, culminating in his signing a myriad of executive orders proposed by his blue-ribbon gun control panel. Now, action on those orders and “legislative suggestions” will be hotly debated in Congress over opposition from the gunmakers lobby (in the guise of the NRA) and a debate over the second amendment.

The Second Amendment

The second amendment to the constitution states:

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.

Any reading of this text must be enjoined with a sense of historical perspective. This amendment was written for a fledgling nation with no standing army whose peoples had just succeeded in armed insurrection against their government. In that situation, to disarm the people would have been akin to disarming the state, leaving it totally defenseless.

Today, in the face of history’s largest professional standing army and state controlled national guard troops, this point is moot. For those who are so distrustful of our government that they would like to reserve the right of armed insurrection, I would remind them that it is no longer the romantic ideal it was in post-colonial America. Today, we simply refer to it as treason.

But there is a clearer and more important point here that overshadows the others. The first three words of the second amendment read “A well regulated…” Even our founding fathers realized that if we are to codify a right to bear arms into our constitution we must allow and even mandate the regulation of these firearms. Even for those who oppose gun control legislation on the basis of literal interpretation of the bill of rights, and persist in the near diefication of our founding fathers and consecration of our constitution, the need for firearm regulation could not be more plainly spelled out.

Slippery Slopes

Another argument against gun control legislation stems from the fear that such regulation would start us down a slippery slope towards the prohibition of privately owned firearms. However, I believe this argument is short sighted.

If the goal is safe and legal gun ownership (as it should be) there is no better tool to achieve this than regulation of gun ownership. Licensure and background checking, biometric devices and trigger locks do not infringe on an individual’s right to keep or bear arms—they enhance those rights. By weeding out criminals as well as those without requisite training in gun safety, such regulation would remove any remaining social stigmata towards legal gun ownership and allow law enforcement to better track and confiscate those weapons likely to be used to harm others.

In my state of California, we require drivers safety courses, licensure, and insurance before someone can operate a motor vehicle—a tool designed to transport but with the ability to kill. Yet, none of these things are required for ownership of a gun—a tool designed with the express intent to kill.

Slippery slopes can also slant both ways.  Many opposed to gun control legislation advocate for arming teachers as a tactic to combat school shootings.  Such fortification of our schools would simply shunt our societal vulnerabilities to other venues such as malls, movie theaters, and even churches.  Eventually, we will end up in a heavily armed society, where each citizen will be virtually expected to carry a firearm simply to avoid victimization. Such a society would make us no safer, and would simply serve to verify the adage that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.  That is a slope I am deathly afraid of sliding down.

Rights and Regulation

The existence of a right does not preclude its regulation. Freedom of speech is regulated to exclude libel, slander, and speech inciting public harm or violence. Freedom of expression does not allow for violence towards others, and freedom of religion does not tolerate human sacrifice.

Guns are designed expressly to kill.  Though they are (and should forever remain) legal, this plain truth demands that they be regulated with a commensurate degree of severity.  Certain fundamental protections must be put in place as the violence in our society escalates. Licensure for gun ownership must exist and be requisite on gun safety training and background checks. When a gun license is administered to an address where a child resides, there must be a stipulation for a locked ammunition cabinet and a separate trigger lock. Consideration should be given to requiring gun owners to show proof of insurance in order to provide a financial disincentive to irresponsible use. And finally, those firearm accessories designed specifically to promote the indiscriminate killing of human beings, such as armor piercing bullets and high capacity magazines, should be banned except by an exceptional licensure mechanism.

Since the horrendous attacks of 9/11, our nation has struggled with a fundamental balance of civil liberties and societal security.  The current discussion is merely an extension of the same question.  None of these measures as I described would infringe on a law abiding citizen’s ability to keep or bear arms. Critics will also argue that none of these would have prevented Columbine, Aurora, or Newtown. But I’m not interested in how we could have prevented the last massacre. I’m interested in preventing the next one.

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  1. Salima

     /  January 21, 2013

    Dear Doctor.
    I liked the new blog. Besides all the safety issues you are talking about ( before such license is issued), a person’s psychological and mental profile should be checked. The mother of the last killer of the innocent kids absolutely new some thing was wrong with that man. And yet she dared to take him to target practices and surrounded him with guns and ammunitions. What a shame! she would have been the most hated person on the planet if she was alive.
    Our culture demands a lot from parents. Sometimes I wish we would live with less and spend more time with our young ones and look deeply into their lives. Nothing can be more important than giving the young ones all the time they need at home. How do we accomplish in this fast moving society.


  2. Aamer: I think you have hit the nail on the head squarely but unfortunately no one in the Government will pay attention to it, not even the Lobby for Gun Control..
    You mentioned about the regulated Militia was needed in the Colonial times and every household was a part of this regulated militia for the defense of this new country..
    So, the first part of the 2nd amendment is a qualifying clause for the 2nd part of the 2nd amendment, and people conveniently forget that to show their macho-ness by owning guns , not one but several, even though now we have a well-regulated militia which is second to none in the whole world. and that moots the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.
    What is needed is the 2nd amendment right to be muted or withdrawn form our constitution
    and slowly but surely require all civilians to return the guns (for money) and only military and Law-enforcement people to have guns. The art and skill of shooting various types of guns or learning to shoot can be accomplished in licensed gun clubs, and for those who want to hunt, can be issued small caliber rifles (with limited ammunition /season) after their psychological/emotional/mental evaluations. But small hand guns or concealed weapons should be totally banned. When all the Civilians are on the same footing (without guns) no one feels threatened.

    • I disagree with your basic assessment. I do think that the legalization of firearms serves an important purpose and should be continued. However, I think certain commonsense basic safety rules and screening should come into play. Many people advocate for a psychiatric examination. Personally, I think a history of known psychiatric disorder should disqualify someone from firearm ownership, but requiring psychiatric screening for everyone is overkill.

  3. Emory

     /  January 23, 2013

    Aamer…I concur with everything you’ve writtem, but I think I know enough about the political landscape of this country to bet that none of the legislation the president and his senate supporters have suggested will pass either house of congress. When I hear people say over and over again that the best way to fix gun crime is with more guns, I see the writing on the wall. When I hear these same people suggest that we put armed gunmen in every school and pay for it with the money we’d otherwise spend on foreign aide, then I know the crazies are indeed in charge of the madhouse. On top of that, anything Mr. Obama suggests is by defin- ition treason to these people.

    Arif is right. We must revisit the 2nd amendment, but no one of any political weight or influence would dare to suggest it. Finally, remember that what these far right people really want is another civil war, a treasonous act in 1861 and a treasonous act now. I would love to ban fire arms for most people, but that will only happen if we are prepared to send troops and federal, armed police into the strongholds of resistance which will most assuredly spring up. Of course the government troops will win the day, but that’s what it will take to stop the madness of gun violence.

  4. Dear Doctor.
    Nice blog.
    The politicians can legislate all they want, leave the second amendment alone, do what has to be done. Ban the assault weapons and limit the amount of ammunition. If you start to tamper with the Ammendments you destroy “Heart” of this country.

  5. I liked the analogy you drew between the licensing and insurance needed when owning a motor vehicle and the call for a similar type of licensing needed when owning a gun. I agree more licensing and not simply background checks are needed when a gun is sold. Insurance would deter most people from the need of owning a gun.

    However, what is more upsetting for me is the sudden call for arming of teachers and administrators. Experts have shown that even if properly trained, when the moment comes to use a weapon, a person tends to freeze. And I, for one do not want any guns in my kid’s school. You never know in whose hands it could end up. A child has a natural curiosity, and if a teacher leaves a gun not properly secured I am afraid accidents are likely.

    Schools are not the place for carrying a gun. Nor are malls and theatres or any place that is frequented by the public. If a person wants to bear his right to a weapon, let him/her keep it in the privacy of his or her home, as long as it is properly licensed and insured and the public does not have access to it.


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