Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gun bans

Let me say from the outset that I'm ambivalent about the Supreme Court's recent remanding of Chicago's handgun ban back to local courts. On the one hand, the Second Amendment to the Constitution stipulates a citizen's right to bear arms. I believe that the Constitution is the glue that holds this country together and that any challenge to it must be done with great care and trepidation.

On the other hand, the Second Amendment states in fairly clear terms the purpose of its aims:

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.

The opening clause is usually omitted in the discussion of the Second Amendment by gun rights advocates. It must be remembered that in 1791 when the Bill of Rights was ratified, the standing army of the United States was virtually eliminated. The dire concern was that a tyrannical government could forcibly trample upon the newly won rights of the People. This left the defense of the country's infant democracy in the hands of these well regulated civilian militias. The civilian militias ultimately didn't work out so well and now we obviously have a substantial military and police force.

The question as to whether the Second Amendment insures the individual the right to bear arms for self protection along with the collective right of the People to protect itself from the government is not so clear. If the esteemed members of our Supreme Court can't agree on it (the ruling was after all only five votes to four), then how can we mere mortals decide? And there's the rub.

I find it troubling that some folks who would defend the First Amendment to the death, see the Second Amendment as something that should be disposed of with the trash. Likewise the people on the other side who continually use the argument "well you can't yell fire in a crowded theater" to dismiss First Amendment claims that might effect public safety, but oppose any restriction whatsoever to gun ownership, no matter how it effects public safety.

It is obvious that the ban on handgun ownership in Chicago that has been on the books for twenty eight years, has done little to stem the tide of gun violence in the city. Criminals they say, aren't going to be stopped by a law banning guns. It's the law abiding citizens who suffer because they can't own a gun. But I'm not so sure there is not a fine line that separates the law abiding citizen from the criminal. After all, how many of us drive above the speed limit? How many shoot off fire works in their back yards on the Fourth of July? I'm not so convinced that all the otherwise law abiding citizens of Chicago refrained from owning a gun simply because of the law. I'm also not so sure that as some critics say, we'll see a decline in crime because the bad guys won't know who's packing heat.

What I do expect is that more guns getting into private hands means, whether it be by accident, or by passion, or whatever, that more people will get shot. That's what handguns are for.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people they say.

So now we'll have more guns in order to protect ourselves from people with guns.

Which is insane.

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