Saturday, December 15, 2012

Following another tragedy, some thoughts on the Second Amendment

The spirit of the Second Amendment shouldn't allow for abuse of the right at the expense of others' livelihoods

Following the horrendous tragedy that occurred in Connecticut, many people might say the following conversation is coming much too soon. But it’s a conversation that needs to be had, especially after the devastating, soul-shattering act that we witnessed on Friday.

Bringing him to tears, President Barack Obama made one thing clear: “these children are our children,” and the families of those affected by gun violence are our families. We feel for them, pray for them -- and can only imagine what they’re going through, dread the thought of having to go through it ourselves.

Yet throughout the day, the defense of Second Amendment rights was still prevalent, in conservative media as well as in social media. While pleas for stronger laws to protect future generations of children were being made, to possibly prevent future occurrences like these from happening again, some of our fellow countrymen and women made it clear that any action that took away gun rights wouldn’t be acceptable.

But at what point do we acknowledge that something is amiss here? At what point can we look at our nation, after witnessing atrocity after painstaking atrocity, and say that something is wrong?

To which I ask another important question: is the Second Amendment AS WE KNOW IT, which secures the right for one to bear arms, an archaic and outdated right?

The notion would be blasphemous to some minds. The right to protect oneself is as basic as can be. But I’m not talking about the right to protect yourself -- self-defense, in any situation that warrants it, is a no-brainer.

I’m talking about the extreme attitude that oftentimes coincides with the Second Amendment, the idea perpetuated by some that reasonable gun restrictions cannot co-exist with the right to defend yourself. I’m here to say right now that idea is a myth -- the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Reasonable restrictions exist on all rights. You can’t erroneously yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater (or “BOMB!” on a plane, to modernize the idea). Speech rights aren’t absolute in that regard. Nor are religious liberties absolute, as religions that promote human sacrifices would be found to be in violation of other people’s liberties.

The fact is, when it comes to a certain liberty (any liberty), it can only be rightfully exercised so long as it doesn’t interfere with another person’s rights. That means that even rights we typically defend to the last breath aren’t absolute, if they’re abused in a way that hurts others.

With gun rights, the idea gets admittedly complicated. Individuals are the ones pulling the triggers -- it’s not as if guns are the sole reason behind our nation’s many shootings, but rather those that are using the weapons in a wrong way.

But there’s significant evidence that suggests tighter gun laws have positive effects on the safety of a population. States with tighter laws have less homicides per capita, for example. We also know that more guns equals more violence, between comparisons among separate countries as well as separate states within the U.S.

Still, this research suggests that safety comes with a small price: restrictions upon the rights of gun owners, who cry foul when suggestions are even made about the idea.

Are they complaining too loudly? Or is there significant reason to contemplate curtailing this supposed freedom?

To answer that, I want to ask (and then answer) two separate questions, one of historical importance, the other a hypothetical similarity to the situation at hand.

President Obama responds to the atrocious violence in CT
First, the question of history: The Second Amendment was written well over 200 years ago. Around that time, the possibility of foreign invasion was significantly strong, our nation having just won its independence barely a decade earlier. A surprise attack being a sincere possibility, the citizenry was encouraged to keep their arms in order to respond faster than a government-run military might be able to.

Today, foreign threats aren’t quite as capable of surprising our nation, at least in the sense that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, or Madison were concerned with. A full-scale invasion by a foreign adversary would be met with swift response from our military might, and likely not from a citizenry that kept a vigilant eye on things like at the turn of the 19th century.

With that in mind, I ask: does the Second Amendment need some readjustments? Does the right exist, yet do regulations become necessary not only on the “well-regulated” militias but rather on the right to bear CERTAIN arms (and accessories) as well?

Second, the hypothetical: suppose a company developed a type of technology that allowed a user to cause a miniature explosion within their immediate vicinity. Such a product would naturally have dire consequences, for the user itself and for those around him. Yet, certainly SOMEONE might purchase this device. Should the government consider restricting who can buy it, or whether it should be made at all? Or should responsibility rest solely on the individuals who purchase it, and not the company manufacturing it?

I will answer both with my own opinion. On the historical question of the importance of the Second Amendment, I believe there exists a need to reassess the protection of this right. Individuals deserve to feel protected -- they deserve to have the means to defend themselves -- and that was the original intent of the Second Amendment.

That right is being exploited by a small size of the population. It’d be wrong of us to say that the right must come to an end because of the actions of a few. But it’s in no way improper to say that certain limitations on what citizens can do to protect themselves should exist.

When the motive of a weapon becomes assault rather than defense, the spirit of the Second Amendment is not at work. Indeed, if we look at one extreme, at a certain point the “right to bear arms” might include allowing individuals to own nuclear arms -- and certainly no rationally-minded person wants anything like that to occur.

Which brings up my thoughts on the second question, the hypothetical involving the exploding device. Individual responsibility must be considered most of all when dealing with people whose destruction puts others in harm’s way. But a device such as this is just asking for trouble. To limit which individuals can purchase it goes beyond the point -- the device was made for a singular purpose, to destroy.

When a mechanism’s intent is destructive rather than enhancing a person’s livelihood, when it works to the detriment of society, it can justly be restrained. And that is how I feel about certain weapons and accessories in our culture. We KNOW that most people who own these items are law-abiding, safe citizens. That’s not our concern. Rather, what we worry over are those who would use these weapons for evil purposes. For when that becomes the intent, it’s events like what we saw on Friday that come about.

I’m not naive -- I’m well aware that weapons restrictions won’t totally eliminate violence. The adage that many conservatives cite, that criminals will still use outlawed weapons, may be true. But there’s ample evidence to suggest that such crimes will be reduced significantly if we’re willing to limit what they can legally have or obtain.

The right to defend oneself must remain intact. I don’t find fault with the true intent of the Second Amendment. However, the abuse of that right, of utilizing some blind indifference between weapons built for defense and those built for destruction, needs to be addressed.

Common sense dictates that, where a problem exists, reasonable action is required of us. To expect a different result -- to suggest that the answer is MORE guns, as some on the right have said already -- is pure fantasy, and logically unsound.

Pray for the victims' families, of this and of other tragedies that have occurred in the past. In their honor, may we do something to prevent or limit such heinous attacks on innocents in the future.

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