I’ve heard a lot of arguments regarding the gun reform debate for the past few months, and before I get to any conclusions, I’m going to go through what I’ve experienced.
1st, in-case you haven’t heard, America has something called the 2nd Amendment. It goes like this:
“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’s a lot of impact in that short sentence. One thing that boils to the surface is the “regulated” Militia, often cited as a reason to control the militia and the use of guns. However there’s information to suggest that that’s not what the word regulated meant back in the day. The word’s intention at that time was in regard to the need to maintain a well-trained militia, not one constrained by a central authority.
There are a few other highlights like how the word “State” is being used here to refer to the country or society itself, and not individual states within the US. This is important to the unity of all the states to uphold the constitution, in cooperation.
Lastly that the right to “… bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Shall not be infringed is some pretty powerful language. We’ve even clearly already overstepped that by banning Gatling guns and fully automatic assault weapons by popular demand.
Let’s take a step back from the 1700’s though, and ask if this is even relevant today, can’t we just throw away the second amendment? Well, if you’re like me, and you think we live in an oppressive oligarchic state, then maybe it’s not in our collective best interests to give up the right to a well-trained militia. Afterall, we might need to start a revolution if push comes to shove. Let’s remain optimistic that things won’t get that bad, and we can avoid that situation.
What about the styles of weapons they had back then, do they even compare? In absolute terms, no, they don’t. Depending on how you look at it though, you can make the argument that they are relatively comparable or even relatively less powerful than guns from the 1700’s. At that time, guns were a top-tier military technology, today, they’re actually pretty low on the totem pole when compared with tanks, missiles, and military drones. Civillian grade guns are about as effective today against an organized military as bows and arrows were against the British.
Now, we’ve also clearly drawn lines around a few things that civilians can’t own, like military grade vehicles, nuclear weapons, and missiles, all for good reason; they qualify as “weapons of mass destruction.” At what point is a gun a weapon of mass destruction? When it can kill many people nearly instantaneously and in an uncontrolled manner. That’s why we’ve banned automatic weapons and Gatling guns, they’re primary empirical use was in destroying many lives very very quickly, or in engaging in the threat to do so.
There have also been numerous supreme court cases that have discussed and explored the topic of what qualifies as Arms. Long story short, the conclusion was that Arms are whatever the popular and common use firearms are of the time. In the 1700’s they were rifles, today, it’s anything from hand-guns to shotguns to long-barrel rifles, each with their own particular purpose.
International law has also banned certain types of munitions, some examples being bullets that splinter and leave shrapnel bits, and serrated ballistic knives, favoring legal bullets that only result in combat disability remaining intact when it penetrates, and smooth ballistic knives that do not maliciously destroy flesh. Ethical combat is the goal.
It does remain perplexing that non-lethal weapons, such as rubber bullet rifles, tasers, and stun-guns remain illegal for civillian use in most states. The argument could be made that these are indeed common use firearms and weapons as police have routine access to them. Though, the public impetus does not appear to be available at this time to push for legalization.
After quite a bit of public deliberation, we’ve got a pretty robust set of laws governing firearms, plus or minus a few debates ongoing in some states about what aspects of semi-automatic weapons could be banned, rifle modifications, etc.
What are we missing now?
Data. At this point, we have no idea whether we’ve reached an optimum position, whether we have too many guns out there, and whether they’re dangerous or helpful in reducing crime. There’s some legitimate data suggesting that guns may prevent 3-10 times as many crimes as they cause. Take note, this isn’t a prevention of deaths, we don’t have that data, and what we do have is not very thorough. We need better data on what types of guns are causing deaths and crimes, and in what context those crimes and deaths are occurring.
One thing we do know is that the largest source of gun related deaths is suicide, about two thirds of all gun deaths. Unfortunately, even legislation like the Brady-bill which limited immediate access to guns by delaying the purchase for several days (no longer in effect). Upon some reviews of the data, we discovered that people that are determined to commit self-harm remain able to substitute with many other measures and suggests that removing only one possible instrument does not significantly reduce overall suicide rates. Further, taking away access to guns doesn’t address the underlying factors causing mass depression and suicidal ideation in our society. To prevent these deaths, we ultimately need to fix the social and economic problems with society at large.
What’s the optimal solution?
We must collect public data on what kinds of guns are harmful to society, being used for crimes, where they’re being used, where they’re obtained (legally/illegally), and how they’re being used to commit crimes. Armed with knowledge, we can begin to develop solutions that accomplish the goals of reducing or eliminating gun violence and death, while remaining within constitutional constraints by not infringing further on the right to bear Arms.