The Right to Bear Arms

Another post outside my usual range of subjects, yet relevant – I believe – in terms of what we are doing with our lives while not being at all sure what we should be doing with them.

This one is about Americans and their guns. They love their guns – but with on average as many as 32,000 people being killed by a firearm in the US annually, you wonder why? Well, I do, so let’s look at this situation a bit more closely …

Now the USA is a large country, and with more than 323 million inhabitants the 32k losing their life as a result of some pulling the trigger on a firearm of sorts is perhaps less meaningful than presenting these facts on a per capita basis and comparing them with other developed countries.

Last year a study by the American Journal of Medicine published on February 1st of 2016 showed that Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries. I think that is a mind-numbing statistic, don’t you think? But you don’t need to look far to come up with some reasons as why this might be the case: the fact that Americans have roughly 10 times the number of guns per 100 inhabitants than any other country in the world.

The simple fact remains that, if you don’t have a gun, you can’t kill anyone with it, including accidentally, or yourself (!) This latter fact should deserve more appreciation as there are statistics out there that show that most gun deaths are suicides, and that the states with the most guns report the most suicides! (2005 data) There is a lot of research that shows greater access to guns dramatically increases the risk of suicide. For that reason alone, it would seem logical if not outright commonsense to seek some restrictions on who can have one, e.g., only law enforcement in protecting the greater interest of society, as a means and deterrent to keep bad people at bay.

But logic or common sense has nothing to do with firearm control in the USA – this in light of the nearly sacred Second Amendment that guarantees US citizens “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I say “sacred” because to some Americans it is as if Moses himself brought this Amendment down from the mountain, and is something akin to a God-given right – if not a little difficult to reconcile with the “Thou shalt not Kill” commandment. And speaking of your typical hard-nosed ultra-right God-fearing US Christian, in addition to the 2nd Amendment, many take Jesus’ command to his disciples in Luke 22, “And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one,” as the first personal carry permit.

However, any discussion around questioning the wisdom of keeping such a right in place hundreds of years after the US Constitution was signed on September 17 of 1787 is attacked with a ferocity akin to challenging the right of America to defend itself as a sovereign nation.

There are a number of reasons for that, and not the least by the inherent ambiguity in the way the amendment is written: was the amendment created to ensure the continuation and flourishing of the state militias as a means of defense, or was it created to ensure an individual’s right to own a firearm?

The fact is that the world today is much different from what it was in the 1789:

Standing armies were mistrusted, as they had been used as tools of oppression by the monarchs of Europe for centuries. In the war for independence, there had been a regular army, but much of the fighting had been done by the state militias, under the command of local officers. Aside from the war, militias were needed because attacks were relatively common, whether by bandits, Indians, and even by troops from other states.” (quoted from usconstitution.net)

Today it seems utterly unreasonable for a modern democratic country to have such a constitutional provision as the 2nd Amendment around on the assumption that the people may one day need to take up arms and fight their governments – the very people they have elected to represent them in all matters of nationhood.

Nevertheless, gun enthusiasts, manufacturers and their representatives – such as the NRA – have seized on the ambiguity to take the concept of gun-ownership one step further, namely that the right to own a firearm equates to the necessity of having to own one, and this in the interest of your own safety, to have the right means to defend your family, should that ever be necessary.

As a result, an average of 5,790 children in the United States receive medical treatment in an emergency room each year for a gun-related injury. About 21% of those injuries are unintentional, while on average, 1,297 children died annually from a gun-related injury, according to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics in June of 2017. So much for gun ownership in the interest of protecting your family. What an absolute tragedy!

And while it is true that – as gun lobbyists are fond of pointing out – there has been a 49 percent decrease in gun homicides over the last 20 years, the claim that this is the result of personal carry laws must disputed as violent crime in general has decreased during this period, and gun homicides have followed suit for all of the same sociological reasons. At the same time, a direct link still exists between localized gun statistics and homicide rates.

And that just about sums it up for the 2nd amendment – and the folks supporting it – including, of course, the roughly 32,000 Americans that get shot and killed annually in support of it.