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Some Thoughts on Gun Control and Regulations
 
The framers of the constitution and the Bill of Rights looked at the right to bear arms in terms of freedom to oppose tyranny from without and within, though the concept had somewhat wider implications in English common law.  That is, an armed citizenry could be called upon to oppose invaders or local criminals, and an armed citizenry would be a strong deterrent to a tyrannical government that sought to impose itself on its citizens. This right to bear arms could refer to any and all arms used by a military, and was deliberately not restricted to small arms or hunting implements. Use of arms for self-protection against predatory citizens threatening bodily harm is not specifically addressed in the Bill of Rights, though it is safe to assume that such use was considered perfectly legitimate and taken for granted, so long as it was not carried out above and beyond what local laws allowed (i.e. not in the mode of the vigilante).

So far as I know, what the constitution did not address was how these arms are to be regulated, whether in war or in peace. Until fairly recently (the mid 20th century), the bulk of such regulations existed at the state and local level and differed, perhaps considerably, between jurisdictions. This coupled with the fact that over time a large military bureaucracy arose that had its own laws and regulations that governed the military use of arms, which did not apply to arms held by citizens outside the military. So now we have a world in which the original notion of arms for a militia is practically a historical footnote, and would only conceivably apply in the event the federal government completely collapsed along with its ability to raise and manage a military. On the other hand, the right to bear arms as a deterrence to the tyranny of our own government still applies, at least in theory. But even this notion is eroding as US citizens becomes less and less motivated by a spirit of self reliance and more and more by a spirit of entitlement at the teat of a protective, maternalistic state. It's the struggle between these opposing spirits that forms the context of the current gun control debates.

In the US there are many regulations that govern the control of guns, All guns must be registered. Certain people are prohibited from owning them, mostly based on criminal history, mental health, and age. Depending on local jurisdictions, there may be further rules regarding how, or if, they may be carried. Many of these regulations are nothing new. Even in the old wild west, it was ok to carry your gun on the open range, but when you went to Dodge City you might have to leave it with the sheriff when you entered.  Though we have many regulations governing guns they are often poorly enforced, and you hear very little in the popular press about efforts or even desires to improve enforcement. What you hear is an unqualified cry of "gun control" as if no controls existed at all, and this is indeed the popular perception. And so when we hear cries of gun control in the aftermath of heinous murders like the recent ones in Roseburg, Oregon, "gun control" really means the more radical (though, let's face it,  quite unlikely) next step, which is the removal of all guns from private hands. Not immediately of course, but that is the end game. And the theory is that this will improve public safety by removing lethal instruments from the hands of a citizenry that is becoming strangely prone to random acts of serious mayhem.  But why this strange propensity? What's going on here? And have we really become so complacent about the federal government that we would a readily relinquish the principle of a citizenry bearing arms that was so central to the ethos of the US founders, who were preeminently suspicious of anything that might place power into the hands of a government at the expense of its citizens?

A note on the so-called maternalistic state. I coin this term as a reflection of the post-WWII ("Baby Boomer") generation's dream to live and act freely, unhindered by traditional moral authority and sanctions, and at the same time be protected from any harm that may result from such acts. In practice, "live and act freely" meant dress and behave unconventionally if desired, have sex with whomever you wanted whenever you wanted without moral restraint or social disapproval, follow a livelihood that might carry little expectation of financial reward but get social approval for it and not the more usual contempt, and not be required to participate in civic endeavors with which you did not approve (especially foreign wars). This is the dream of a coddled child still sucking the mother's teat, who wants what it wants in full expectation that it will continue to be fed and nurtured unconditionally regardless of the outcome. This sort of "citizen" wants a state that will treat her like her mother did. Hence the maternalistic state.

   
Related Links
What the Framers Said About Our Second Amendment Rights to Keep and Bear Arms
The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms: the Common Law Tradition
Wikipedia: Gun Law in the United States
Wikipedia: Gun Law in the United States By State
The Gun Control that Works: No Guns
The Atlantic: Gun Violence in America: the 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers)
The Atlantic: the Certainty of More Shootings
 
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All site contents copyright 2017 Edward W. Farrell This page last updated on 2017-06-03