The framers did not mention police departments or other local governmental units, which has led to some misconceptions about the right of people to arm themselves when protected by municipal government agencies. However, this is because municipal police forces, as they currently exist, did not exist at the time of the Revolutionary War. The closest approximation was a standing army or militia, and the concerns about the citizenry failing to arm themselves in that scenario were made clear in the debates and documents leading up to the ratification of the Constitution.
Modern Views on Gun Control
However, some time people ratification of the Constitution and modern times, the issue of gun control became one that divided people along ideological lines, rather than one about which people were united. States in America are frequently referred to as either red or blue, with red states representing Republican strongholds and blue states representing Democrat strongholds:
Conservative red America has been described as religious, moralistic, patriotic, white, masculine, and less educated. Liberal blue America has been depicted as secular, relativistic, internationalist, multicultural, feminine, and college educated. Reds are seen as supporting guns, the death penalty, and the Iraq War, blues as supporting abortion and the environment. (Chapter 4, p. 108).
While these are stereotypes that do not define all voters in either political block, the reality is that the issue of gun control has become a hot-button political issue.
Why is Gun Control a Major Issue
When one looks at the number of violent crimes where guns are involved, it seems reasonable to suggest that gun control would be a major issue in the United States. It is certainly true that gun crime is higher in the United States than in countries where the citizens do not have access to weapons. It is also certainly true that when a firearm is involved a crime can go from merely violent to deadly in a matter of moments. Incidents like the horrible Columbine High School massacre help demonstrate the fact that, once guns are involved in a violent situation, the violence can rapidly escalate. However, the reality is that far more Americans are killed in automobile accidents each year than by gun fire, and yet no one is suggesting that people outlaw automobiles. One reason that gun control might be such a highly-discussed issue is that the media has a slightly left-leaning bias, which is not surprising given that journalists are generally highly-educated, and more highly-educated people tend to lean towards the left. "Anecdotal reports of the coverage of…domestic issues such as gay rights, gun control, capital punishment, the environment, and homelessness…suggest some bias towards the left." (Chapter 5, p.144). Therefore, the media portrayal of the number of people who do not support gun control may be inadequate. There may also be a bias towards depicting those who support the right to bear arms as gun nuts or fans of violence. It is certainly the case that mainstream journalists fail to describe the patriotic history behind the Second Amendment when discussing gun control issues, leaving members of the public with the impression that the right is antiquated because people are no longer required to hunt for their food and have adequate protection from local law enforcement agencies.
In fact, even the textbook attempts to mislead people about the nature of the Second Amendment. In Chapter 14, the textbook addresses the right to bear arms, and argues that those in favor of the right to bear arms fail to address the fact that the Second Amendment links that right to a well-ordered militia. In fact, the textbook explicitly provides that:
The language [of the Second Amendment] links the right to bear arms with the security of the state. The language suggests that the right belongs to each state or, if to individuals, only to individuals when they are protecting their state- that is, when they are serving in the militia of their state. (Chapter 14, p.493).
Anyone who understands the Federalist discussions of the right to bear arms knows that position is an absolute misrepresentation of the founder's intent with the Second Amendment. The founding fathers feared a standing army and wanted to assure individual citizens that they would have the right to self-protection, which should not be abridged even if the country develops a standing army. Moreover, when one views the Bill of Rights as a whole, one sees a document that is concerned with individual rights, not state's rights, so it seems ludicrous to suggest that the Second Amendment would refer to a state's right to maintain a militia. Both of those facts are made perfectly clear when one reads the Federalist Papers. Moreover, while the textbook acknowledges that a more expansive interpretation may allow individuals the right to use arms to protect themselves, it suggests that people would not be guaranteed the right to bear arms for hunting or any purpose other than self-defense. However, when one looks at how Britain curtailed individual liberties
The Role of the National Rifle Association (NRA)
Because the majority of Americans have come to support gun control, possibly due to ignorance of the historical basis for the right to bear arms, it has become necessary for interest groups to lobby to protect that right. The NRA is a single-issue group with the goal of opposing gun control. "Although a majority of Americans have supported gun control for years, the NRA has successfully lobbied Congress for years to prevent most gun control measures." (Chapter 6, p.182). The NRA helped defeat Al Gore's bid for presidency by mobilizing people in swing-states. Their support for President Bush was repaid; the Bush Administration filed two briefs with the Supreme Court opposing gun control, which reversed approximately 60 years of Executive Department policy on the issue. (Chapter 6, p.182). The NRA has successfully lobbied to keep gun-crime victims from being able to sue the manufacturers or dealers of those weapons. (Chapter 6, p.183). In addition, the NRA successfully lobbied to end the ban on owning automatic or assault weapons. (Chapter 6, p.183).
Violent crime is horrible, and, when guns are involved, is likely to be more severe or deadlier than when other weapons are involved. However, the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are not there to promote a safer or tidier America, but to promote liberty. If one curtailed freedom of the press, it would reduce the amount of civil unrest. If one denied criminal defendants their rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, it would lead to a greater number of convictions and a reduction in criminal activity by those defendants. However, the concept of American liberty is that life is meaningless without freedom. Yes, gun control efforts might save lives, but the reality is that if American citizens gave up their right to bear arms, most especially those weapons that could match those used by the U.S. armed forces, then they would give up their ability to defend themselves if the government became tyrannical. In the short history of the United States, there have been several times when the government has ignored the Constitution, to the detriment of its citizens. While that has previously been a self-correcting phenomenon, the reality is that, without the threat of being controlled by the citizenry in faster and more meaningful way than the ballot-box, even the American form of government could quickly devolve into tyranny, making it necessary, once again, for patriots to take up arms and defend themselves and their country.
Hamilton, Alexander. "Federalist 28." The Federalist Papers. 1787-88. FoundingFathers. 10
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Hamilton, Alexander. "Federalist 29." The Federalist Papers. 1787-88. FoundingFathers. 10
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Hardy, David. "Historical Bases of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms." Journals. 1982.
Guncite.com. 10 Apr. 2009 .
PBS. "Timeline of the Revolution." Liberty! The American Revolution. 2004. Twin Cities