There has been much discussion since the horrifying events in Newtown, CT about guns and the second amendment. I’ve participated in this discussion on Newsvine posts and seeds by others, but I’d like to lay out my thoughts on the matter more coherently in a post of my own. Here goes:
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were products of the 1780s and 1790s. To pretend that they settle once and for all issues that would arise later is lunacy and, indeed, the Framers themselves recognized this fact and explicitly included in their work a method to make changes in it.
Whether we like it or not, they put the “right to keep and bear arms” explicitly in the context of a “well regulated militia’; the Framers did not envision our nation having a standing peacetime army (and thought such a thing would be bad for the nation) and that we would thus need a rapidly deployable reserve force of people who could be called into duty with little notice and would provide their own firearms when they came to serve. Hence, they protected the right of the people to keep and bear arms in this context and for this reason. Those who quote Thomas Jefferson on guns arguing that private ownership of guns provides the people with a means to protect themselves from and overthrow the government miss the fact that Jefferson was in Paris during the writing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and his opinion on them is interesting as a historical matter, but not determinative of their meaning and intent.
Since we now do have a standing peacetime army (whose budget is the largest expenditure our government makes, showing yet again in an unexpected way the Framers’ wisdom in fearing such a thing), the issue of the “militias” is moot. I understand and recognize that federal law as recently as the 1950s refers to unorganized militias and that some believe this meets the second amendment requirement, but I disagree; these unorganized militias cannot in any sense be called “well regulated.”
I do not propose repealing the second amendment. Though I personally do not own a gun (I’ve never even held a real gun in my hand), I do get almost all of the meat and poultry I eat from friends who hunt. Though I do not personally engage in skeet shooting or target practice as hobbies, I have friends who do. Though I do not personally see possession of a gun as in any way protecting my life or my property, I have friends who do. I recognize the legitimate claims of these people—again, many of them my friends—and I do not wish the nation to undertake changes in either the Constitution or the laws that would strip them of their weapons.
I do, however, believe something must be done to prevent our nation from further deteriorating into a free-fire zone.
What I would propose that that we enact legislation requiring several things: ALL gun purchases must include background checks and licensing; people who legally own guns and do not keep them secure must be held partially responsible for any crimes or injuries resulting from the use of their weapons by others without their knowledge or consent; penalties for crimes committed while in possession of a gun must be dramatically higher than the penalties for the same crimes committed by an unarmed person; and—most importantly—all gun owners must carry liability insurance for their weapons.
This last idea is where I believe we can address issues of safety and security—by denying guns to dangerous or negligent people—while protecting second amendment rights. If we require liability insurance for all gun owners, insurance companies using the same kind of actuarial algorithms that predict whether one is a risk as a driver or one has a higher than statistically average chance of dying within the next year would determine who was “insurable” as a gun owner. People with medical and mental issues might have to pay higher premiums and might well be unable to acquire insurance at all and thus not be able to possess weapons, but the government would not be preventing them from doing so (in the same way that “freedom of speech” protects one from the government censoring one’s speech but does nothing to prevent one’s boss censoring one’s speech). People with criminal records or a history of careless storage or use of guns might well be denied insurance and thus not be able to possess weapons. People who own a large number of guns would have to pay more in insurance premiums and might well be denied coverage for extra guns at some point where the actuarial figures lead the insurance company to believe the numbers are excessive. The process of applying for and getting insurance would give us both an added check on the identities of the persons buying the weapons and a built-in “cooling off” period between the time one decides to purchase a gun and the time one can have the gun in his/her possession.
I believe enacting federal legislation to accomplish these four goals—background checks and licensing for all gun purchases; legal liability for gun owners who do not keep their guns secure when those guns are used for crime or to injure others; greatly increased penalties for crimes committed while in possession of a gun; and requiring liability insurance for all guns—would help to reduce the gun violence our nation faces today.
Will this eliminate all gun problems? Of course it will not, but there is no perfect solution. The fact that a perfect solution does not exist cannot be an excuse for failure to take action. I believe my proposal will help reduce the problem while protecting the second amendment rights of Americans.