A well regulated militia...
"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".
Few words written in the constitution have caused such controversy and bitter disagreement as the text of the second amendment. The controversy has grown more contentious in light of the growth in firearms related violence which has gripped the country over the past half century, especially when we consider such violence punctuated by barbarous acts of madmen looking to gain infamy and release themselves from their pain through the destruction of the innocent.
Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, these places can no longer be mentioned without the images of lost hope and lost lives burning indelibly within our minds. They speak to us of a humanity cast asunder in the gratification of pure evil within the souls of paranoid, forgotten men. Yet it is not so much the internal constitution of those villainous animals that concerns us, it is the tools that they employed in their carnage.
We focus on the tool because the mind of the man escapes us, because we prefer the solace and comfort of thinking that if not for the tools, the man could not have acted, and that life could once again be safe in the face of madness. While it is true that the elimination of firearms would make it quite difficult for sick individuals to carry out their twisted fantasies, it would not make it impossible; indeed it would not hinder them if their only goal in life becomes to share the pain they have within them by means of unannounced violence upon those who would least expect it.
The problem with the situation is not the right to bear arms, but rather with the inability for some to understand that all rights carry with them a corresponding duty and responsibility. Interestingly, no other amendment save the second, explicitly ties a fundamental right with a duty tied so closely to the fate of our republic.
For the founders, the idea of individuals bearing arms could not be divorced from a duty to defend themselves, their community, their state, and their nation. The modern interpretation is thus deficient for both sides of the debate, because both sides look at only one component of the amendment.
A free society demands that individuals be able to bear arms, but it also demands that they use them within the context of a well-trained fighting force in the defense of liberty.
The solution to the current problem of mass shootings and gun-related violence in general is to significantly increase our mental health services across the nation and reform the process so that those who are a threat to themselves and others are once again able to be committed and cared for until they overcome the mental illness that plagues them.
Those who wish to ban this or that type of firearm or restrict the capacity of magazines, would argue however that even dealing with mentally ill individuals would still not catch every potential mass murderer and thus we must try to limit the damage they can do if they slip through the cracks.
The problem with such arguments and the proposals that come with them is that they come from a clear ignorance of what can be done with a gun. A well trained and determined individual can kill countless just as easily with a 7 round magazine in a 9mm pistol as he can with a 30 round magazine in an AR-15. The only thing that changes is the rate at which he can kill, something which matters little when the nearest police officer is 10-15 minutes away and there is an entire school of innocents to be targeted.
So the only real solution in terms of “gun-control” would be to follow the prescriptions of Piers Morgan or the example of Australia and seek to significantly reduce the number of arms in circulation and make it very difficult for citizens to possess all but the most basic of sporting shotguns. Yet such a move would run counter not only to the spirit of the constitution but also to explicit rulings by the Supreme Court.
So what is to be done then, must we rely on a few ultimately meaningless pieces of gun-control legislation to sooth our anger and desire to prevent another needless tragedy?
My argument is that we can indeed do something, and do something that is quite radical yet at the same time perfectly in line with the desire to protect the constitution as well the lives of the innocent.
What we can do is embrace the concept of a citizen’s militia to the fullest extent possible. This means that in order to bear arms one would have to form part of the militia, essentially the National Guard or Individual Ready Reserve. After going through basic combat training, the citizen would have to serve for a reasonable period of time by attending regular training sessions interspersed throughout the year, as well as be eligible for call up to full time active duty in the event of an emergency or external threat.
Unlike the current scheme of the National Guard though, the citizen would be required to keep and maintain his or her service weapon at home, as occurs in Switzerland. The right to purchase and possess any individually carried weapon would also be extended to the citizen for life upon completion of initial training as well as periodic assessments of mental health and in the absence of any criminal convictions.
The important thing to consider is that if we tie the right to bear arms to service in the militia, we can also make sure that the “well-regulated” part prevents those who should not handle dangerous weapons from doing so, and that all citizens who wish to own firearms beyond their initial term of service have the comprehensive training to do so responsibly. Those, who for whatever personal belief object to service, would not be able to exercise the right to bear arms because such a right is tied to membership in the militia and not simply to fundamental human rights.
I believe fundamentally, that the vast majority of gun owners would jump at the chance to serve their country and community in this way and we would gain not only a control on very dangerous tools, but also a vast force of well-trained individuals ready to respond to threats from would be mass murderers, terrorists, and natural disasters. This would allow the police to focus on solving the most challenging of crimes and an elite but far smaller active duty military to focus on combating truly immediate threats facing the nation.
It must be mentioned though, that this scheme implies the use of the National Guard and not the active Army. This is because the intent of the 2nd amendment as many on the right claim was indeed to be a bulwark against tyranny with the idea being that each state would maintain its own militia and thus be able to check any potential usurpation of constitutional powers by the federal government. To tie this scheme to service in the regular army would defeat the purpose of the 2nd amendment as intended by the founders.
In summary, the main idea behind this proposal is that we should not seek to take away the ability for citizens to exercise rights, even those which may pose a potential danger to others greater than that of the other enumerated rights. What we can do however is make use of the reasoning and ideas handed down to us by the founders to craft a creative means to both preserve our right to bear arms and protect the wider safety and security of a society treading the tumultuous and uncertain social waters of the 21st century.