I am struggling. Yet again, senseless violence has disrupted the lives of Americans. Again, reports have come in, painfully slow, of what happened, what is known, what is suspected. The numbers climb, as they always do. First 20 dead, then 50. With an even higher number injured, will that number change again?
Then there are the questions that can’t be answered. Why? Our minds cannot wrap around an act this senseless, this hateful. How is it possible in a civilized society that one person can walk into a building and shoot over 100 without being stopped? Why do weapons exist that can accomplish this sort of destruction? Why is it so easy to obtain such a weapon?
This weekend’s events in Orlando, Florida will bring up the gun control issue again. Fingers will be pointed. Societal differences will be pointed out. Groups will be blamed. We will be divided even more. When will the madness stop?
No matter one’s opinion on exactly what the Second Amendment protects, gun violence is a very real issue in the United States and something needs to be done to address it.
We have a long-held belief in the U.S. that it is our right to have a gun. The words of the Second Amendment are not entirely clear on exactly what this means and have resulted in controversy and argument for generations. We need to stop and think and listen to each other. We need to put aside the issue of whether owning a gun is an unrestricted right granted to all Americans and look at measures that make sense to protect all our citizens. It is unreasonable to say that one’s right to own a gun outweighs that of many to “peaceably assemble” or “freely exercise” their religion. In fact, the Ninth Amendment clearly states that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The rights of one are not more important than the rights of many.
The term “Gun Control” is a trigger. People have their own idea of what it means and react without even knowing exactly what someone is referring to. There are some points that many can agree on. Requiring a background check is one of these. It provides a basic screening of individuals, but only rules out those who have been convicted of crimes. The Founding Fathers would likely support this measure. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having said that “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Of course the term “free man” had a more specific meaning in the late 1700s than it does now, but I think it is safe to say that a criminal would have lost his right to carry his weapon.
Some say gun laws won’t work. I know that someone who is determined enough will find a way around any laws, but why make it so easy? We don’t leave stores unlocked after hours for criminals to waltz in and take what they like; we don’t leave young children unattended so that those who would want to kidnap or harm them can do so easily. Deterrents are not foolproof, but in most cases they are effective and reduce the frequency of bad things happening.
Samuel Adams is quoted as saying, “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” I agree. “Peaceable citizens” should be allowed to own guns. No one will argue that someone who walks into a building to shoot innocent people is a “peaceable citizen.”
Though I support a person’s right to own a gun, I believe there should be guidelines in place. There is evidence that most responsible gun owners agree. The National Rifle Association (NRA) encourages gun owners to “Make sure all firearms cannot be reached by anyone who should not have access to them without your consent. Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons, especially children. Keep ammunition securely stored where a child or any other unauthorized person cannot reach it.” The NRA also offers a number of gun safety classes and considers itself “the leader in firearms education” for civilians.
Common sense gun control does not equal taking guns away or even necessarily registering them (though the idea of a gun registry is also not a new one. According to the National Constitution Center website, late 1700 laws provided for registration of militia weapons on government rolls.) In some states, classes and proof of competency with a weapon are required to obtain a hunting license. This is an example of a responsible and common-sense law.
We no longer live in a society where every household has a gun and every child grows up knowing how to use it. In the 1700s, a gun was in every home and was a part of everyday life. In many cases, if you didn’t have a gun, you wouldn’t eat. This is no longer the case. Today, I believe that before someone can purchase a gun, one needs to learn how to use one, in a safe and responsible manner. I believe that this idea also was present when these documents were written.
In Federal Farmer No. 18, January 25, 1788, Richard Henry Lee said, “A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include, according to the past and general usage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms… To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
Likewise, James Madison, in I Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789, said, “The right of the people to keep and bear…arms shall not be infringed. A well-regulated militia, composed of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country…”
[note: Italics were added. Quotes obtained from http://www.jgsales.com/the-founding-fathers-thoughts-on-guns-a-62.html]
Though he may not have been addressing guns, Jefferson’s words can be seen as being directed to us in a letter to William Johnson dated 12 June 1823. In it, he is quoted as saying, “On every occasion [of Constitutional interpretation] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying [to force] what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, [instead let us] conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” (http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/gun-quotations-founding-fathers)
I think this is important in that we need to consider these documents in the context in which they were written. Though it has been argued that the Founders did anticipate automatic weapons, they could not have foreseen the power of those available today. The world today is different in many other ways which impact every aspect of our lives. Jefferson and his colleagues would not recognize the America of today.
Though methods of communication have improved, so that we can relay information much faster, this has been accompanied by a decrease in the quality. We are so fast to get the story first that we do not worry about getting the story right. The 18th century statesmen spent years working on these important documents, changing the wording multiple times. They knew how important it was to find the best words to express ideas.
The documents establishing the rule of law for our country were carefully considered and revised. Our Constitution is not our first “rule book.” The Articles of Confederation established the new government and was the rule of the land from March 3, 1781 to March 4, 1789. This document was found to be flawed and leaders met again, as part of the Constitutional Convention to make the new government better. This process of creating the government took years. Its creators labored over the wording and made many changes. (The Declaration of Independence also differs from its original version, by as much as 25%.) Many argued that there was no need for a Bill of Rights at all. Of course, it was finally determined that it was important and The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was added to the document after being ratified by 10 of the 13 states in December of 1791. (There actually were 12 proposed out of 90 introduced, further illustrating the lack of a unanimous agreement on the issue.)
Our Founding Fathers worked together, despite the fact that many had to travel great distances to do so. They did not know and in some cases did not like each other. But still, they worked together and compromised to make the new country great. They wanted to ensure that all they had fought for would continue and thrive. What they created was groundbreaking. The U.S. Constitution was the first of its kind and has been a model for many nations since.
We need to follow their lead. We need to work together and compromise. We should serve as an example to others of how to run a nation, how to be united, instead of continually dividing our citizens into us and them. We know how to be an example for the world, we just seem to have lost our way.