As the news of a horrific school shooting shocks the nation once again, many are worried about their children’s safety, and they’re looking to gun laws as a possible solution. It’s worth asking whether we should consider scrapping the right to buy and own guns outlined in the Second Amendment.
The founders included this protection of gun ownership for good reason, right? Many agree with NBA coach Steve Kerr, who told reporters in 2016 the Second Amendment is outdated. “What bugs me is this adherence to the right to bear arms, you know,” he said. “That was back in 1776. You had to have a musket in case the Redcoats were coming. The British were coming.”
This argument is popular, but it exhibits a misunderstanding of what rights are. The Bill of Rights is not a wish list or an enshrinement of what society thinks is most important. Rights are not requests to the government for things that we want or even need. On the contrary, rights handcuff the government. They protect us from government intrusion on our freedom.
The founders recognized that it was immoral for those who work in government to wield certain powers over their equals, so they included these protections in the Constitution. Rights are based on the objective moral truth that all humans are equal, which is why the founders referred to our rights as “inalienable” and “God-given.”
So, why did the founders feel the need to specify the right to bear arms in the constitution? After all, wouldn’t it be just as wrong for the government to take away any other possession? Why add a specific amendment about guns? The answer is that the founders understood the important role guns play in establishing and preserving a free society. They found this out firsthand.
As Chinese dictator Mao Zedong said, “All political power comes from the barrel of a gun.”
Society is much safer from the abuse of power when the power is distributed somewhat evenly. Limiting government ensures that power stays spread out and doesn’t get clumped up in government. In order to limit government, we must set boundaries for what government can do. Holding a monopoly on guns, which are ultimately the essence of political power, must be something that government cannot do. Government is already the only organization in society that is allowed to use guns on people. It would be risking an abuse of power to also make it the only organization in society that gets to own guns.
What the government can and should do with its political power is provide justice when someone takes what is ours, whether guns or life. Fortunately, with the shootings in Parkland and Santa Fe, Texas, justice will be provided in a court of law. But, in the same way that it would be unjust to convict the wrong man and to take away his rights for something he didn’t do, it would be unjust to take away the rights of millions of gun owners for something that they didn’t do.
The Second Amendment is the right that preserves all our other rights. History is littered with examples of tyrants that disarmed their own people just before slaughtering them. A few examples include Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and Idi Amin in Uganda. Humanity hasn’t outgrown the threat of tyranny. Government oppression made a strong showing in the last century and it continues to exist today. The protection of liberty that we have in the Second Amendment is still timely, and it will be as long as human nature retains its propensity for evil.
Of course, there is no denying that we have a problem with mass shootings here in America, and it often seems like we may need to forfeit some freedoms to become safer. Many view our situation as a dilemma: that we can only have either freedom or safety. But in reality, with freedom, we can have both.
In a free society, each of us individually has the power to influence gun violence, albeit in a small way. Because there are many factors that go into mass shootings, there are many solutions we can take to decrease them. For instance, one trait that many of the recent mass shooters share is that they grew up without a father. When we protect our freedoms, we have the power to fight the gun violence problem at its root cause, in the culture. We can band together in communities and organizations to look out for broken families and the mentally ill.
If we use our freedoms correctly, we don’t need to risk letting the government trample on rights in the name of safety, and in this way we make our country more stable for the future. But we do have a choice, and we can choose incorrectly. As Benjamin Franklin warned, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”