Friday, January 18, 2013

Scott St. Clair: For the Same Reason I Read Books I Own Guns

Let’s get it on the record: I own a rifle, a shotgun and a handgun, not because I hunt or regularly shoot, but because it’s my constitutional right to own them. I own guns for the same reason that I speak and write publicly, hold and express religious and other beliefs and opinions and associate with whom I choose where I choose. To keep constitutional rights, you must exercise them .

If I could get one, I would own a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, not necessarily to fire it, but with the firm assurance that I’m constitutionally entitled to own one and because I’m increasingly told I should be denied that right. Similarly, I own books the government historically has sought to ban, and I say things the government has historically sought to jail people for saying.  

The Sandy Hook atrocity was sickening, as are all such atrocities irrespective of the instrumentality used to commit them. When I think of what happened – 20 innocent children and six adults murdered -- I see the faces of two of my grandsons who are the same age as many of the victims, and my heart breaks. But the fault is not with what killed them, but with who killed them.

I believe in the U.S. Constitution – all of it. It has served America well, we’ve fought wars against foreign enemies and amongst ourselves to defend it and every oath-taking public official in the country swears to uphold it. If upsets me to hear some in the public arena propose scrapping it or dismiss it as “your little book.”

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution -- The Bill of Rights -- were designed to prevent the new government of the United States from becoming as intrusive and invasive as the old British government that the Founding Fathers had just succeeded in overthrowing.  The Bill of Rights holds the government at bay, despite the best efforts of the government to the contrary.

But we’re told that the Framers of the Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment couldn’t have envisioned today’s weaponry. They couldn’t have imagined the First Amendment’s free-speech protections encompassing the Internet, topless dancing and pornography either, so what’s the point?

 Those who love big and controlling government are on a rampage to regulate, literally at the point of a gun, constitutionally-protected gun rights, but they find proposals to regulate other constitutional rights abhorrent. We didn’t see a passionate call to restrict the right to travel to Vegas in the winter after nine people were killed in a recent bus accident in Oregon under just such circumstances.

But when it comes to a proposed federal law regulating owning guns, I may have to be fingerprinted like a common criminal and have my name and address put on a database the same way sex offenders are catalogued and tracked. On the state level in New Jersey, before I can buy a gun, I may be required to submit to a psychological evaluation and home inspection.  Yet I have committed no crime or other misdeed warranting such treatment – I simply want to exercise my constitutional rights.

Routinely, we hear that there’s no justification to own a rifle that looks like a military weapon or a clip that holds more than seven or 10 or whatever number of bullets. Do we ever hear the same kind of controlling zeal for other Bill of Rights’ freedoms? Do we demand a justification for having opinions, holding religious beliefs, associating with others, travelling or wanting a lawyer when being questioned by the police?

Heaven help anyone who demands that a woman justify having an abortion or otherwise exercising her reproductive rights.

 Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted maxim that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety ” applies. If I trade my freedom to anyone – you for example -- to be under your protection I am less free because I’m also now under your authority. You have greater power over me because I have to do things your way.  

In a larger sense, if I trade away one constitutionally-protected liberty to the government in order to allegedly be more secure, the rest of them are in jeopardy from piecemeal government encroachment and eventual extinguishment.  The government never does anything without strings attached. What difference does it make which right we give up or allow to be curtailed?

If I give up my right of self-defense with a firearm, then I have no way to ultimately defend my other rights when they come under attack.

When it takes a Russian writing in the English-language edition of Pravda begging Americans not to give up their gun rights because of the experience his countrymen had when the communists confiscated guns just after the 1917 Revolution – mass slaughter and over 70 years of tyranny -- then you know it has gone over the edge.    

In the United States today, law-abiding women, gays, blacks, Latinos, Muslims or anyone in a group or subculture with a history of persecution or discrimination against it deserve the right to own a gun. Some of the most ardent supporters of the Second Amendment I’ve met are lesbians because they’ve had first-hand experience with the consequences of being defenseless. And one of the lead plaintiffs in litigation to allow handguns in Chicago was a 76-year-old black grandfather who wanted to be able to protect his home because the police couldn’t.

Guns are different, we’re also told, and we’re bombarded with statistics, anecdotal evidence and prophecies of gloom and doom to justify curtailing the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.  But the statistics on gun-related violence and death show that the more guns we have, the safer we are. Those Framers were on to something.

Applying much of the rationale for proposed gun-control legislation to other aspects of the current post-Sandy Hook conversation – mental health and violent video games, movies and TV – would justify incarcerating those suffering from bipolar disorder and outlawing as a matter of prior restraint all forms of entertainment in which guns are used. There goes my collection of Have Gun – Will Travel DVDs.

Frankly, one of the few honest gun-control voices belongs to former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper who advocates an outright repeal of the Second Amendment since that’s the only way to end gun violence in the United States -- or at least violence on the part of those who would have been justified in using it. But with criminals, not so much.

I’ve talked with too many liberals and progressives not to be convinced that their real goal is the complete elimination of privately-owned firearms of any type in the United States. As one told me recently, America won’t get rid of guns all at once. But if they can be regulated and restricted a little bit at a time, then over time, both guns and that pesky Second Amendment will be gone.

For as much as I believe in the Constitution and my right to keep and bear arms, I believe that even more. And that’s why I have no interest in yielding even an inch on this issue.


  1. "Those who love big and controlling government are on a rampage to regulate, literally at the point of a gun, constitutionally-protected gun rights, but they find proposals to regulate other constitutional rights abhorrent. We didn’t see a passionate call to restrict the right to travel to Vegas in the winter after nine people were killed in a recent bus accident in Oregon under just such circumstances."

    Time doesn't' allow me to critique your entire argument, but there are two problems in just this passage. First, allow me to quote something you might be familiar with: "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." Now what part of "well-regulated" don't you understand? Rules and laws regarding gun ownership are perfectly reasonable under our constitution. "Rampage to regulate" indeed. And remember the definition of "regulation": "To control or supervise by means of rules and regulations." Please explain how gun laws violate the 2nd amendment when the idea of regulation is included in its very language. This is not an unlimited right.

    Also, if you can't tell the difference between an bus accident and using a weapon that gives you the ability to quickly and efficiently slaughter twenty children in a classroom, I can't help you.

    Finally, do you believe that anyone ought to have the right to walk into a gun show and purchase a firearm with no question asked? How does banning guns sales with background checks interfere with your ability to own a gun?

  2. The concept of "well-regulated" in the language of the time meant well-trained and well-equipped, not "regulated" as the term is used today. When the Second Amendment became part of the Constitution, it was never envisioned that guns or their owners would be licensed, that types of firearms would be legally declared off limits or anything of the kind.

    Please explain how speech codes or regulating the content of newspapers or limiting the right of trial by jury are consistent with other parts of the Bill of Rights.

    Mass murders will happen without guns, or they'll happen with guns that will remain legal. Without much work, I can take a couple of .12 gauge shotguns and modify them by shortening the barrel to under the legal limit on length and change the bore to widen the scatter pattern to make effective mass-murder tools. Want to eliminate shotguns, then?

    I do believe that you shouldn't have to have your name and information about you entered into a government data base that can subsequently be used to track me down and arrest me should someone in the government choose to shut me up or eliminate my opposition. Also, how soon before a "background check" discloses my unsavory political affiliations and activities that under some future necessary gun-control legislation renders me ineligible to own a gun?

    What part of the fullness of the Constitution do you not get?

  3. Hi James,

    The Supreme Court has already ruled in the Washington D.C. gun ban case that the individual right to own a firearm is guaranteed by the Second Ammendment. I don't have a problem with "reasonable" regulations to protect the public interest. The problem is your definition of reasonableness. Because as we see in Oregon, you can "own" a piece of land and be unable to do anything with it due to "reasonable" land use laws.

    For some reason, you want to treat 2nd Ammendment rights differently than other constitutionally protected rights. I think it's reasonable to perform a background check on a person buying a firearm just as I believe it's reasonable to protect the public interest by requiring proof of citizenship to vote. How about you? I don't want criminals or the mentally ill to have firearms, so how about some "regulation" of their rights as well as mine?

    In 2011, there were just under 12,000 deaths by firearms in the US out of a population of 330 million people and about 300 million firearms and half of those were suicides. The numbers of such deaths have been trending downwards despite the increase in population and the number of firearms available. For perspective, the Center for Disease Control says cigarettes kill 450,000 Americans each year, including 44,000 from second hand smoke alone. Yet cigarettes are leqal. Cell phones are not designed to "kill quickly and efficiently" but are blamed for 2,600 traffic deaths a year in the USA and as far as I know are not mentioned in the Bill of Rights.

    I'm not trying to minimize the horror or shock of such atrocities as Newtown or other mass shootings, but your chances of that happening to you or your child is in the same statisitcal universe as a Muslim terriorist flying a plane into their school. Yet, plenty of people including the State of Oregon and other government entities refused to comply with the Patriot Act and other reasonable measures to "regulate" those most likely responsible after 9/11 out of a concern for their civil rights.

    You might try by making an honest argument to begin with. If you believe that we would be better off if firearms were banned, then say so instead of hiding behind smoke screens about regulation. Quite simply my rights don't depend on your perception of the NRA as a bad organization or Scott's inablility to make the distinction between a bus crash or Busmaster clear to you. That's why they are called "Unalienable".