“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.”
These 26 words have sparked a great deal of debate throughout our nation’s history as to their meaning and how they relate to our society. Perhaps the Second Amendment means, within reason, any citizen may possess a fire arm. Perhaps it means anyone who is a member of a militia may own a fire arm. Perhaps it means that so long as the use of military force is necessary to protect a “free State” the people have the right to arm themselves.
One thing that the Second Amendment certainly does not mean that anyone anywhere has the right to possess any weapon they chose.
Today we are engaged in a great debate by which we are deciding how to balance our civil liberties and our safety. Following the horrific massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., which left 27 people, mostly young children, dead, there have been calls from all sides to change our gun policy. The president has proposed a ban on assault rifles and magazines carrying over ten bullets as well as other common sense measures. I favor these measures because they will likely prevent great tragedies from becoming even greater and will make us all a little more safe. The National Rifle Association has called for an armed security official at every school. I am open to trying this measure out because it too may help prevent tragedy.
While these policy initiatives are a good start we, as a nation, have a much larger problem with guns. Every year gun related homicides account for more deaths in America than in any other industrialized nation in the world. Guns killed more than 30,000 people in 2009, and more than 11,000 of those were homicides. We have many cities that are notoriously ravaged with violent crime, including Milwaukee. The violent crime rate has been on the decline for nearly two decades, but, compared to other developed nations, America continues to be in a league of its own when it comes to gun violence. Unfortunately, we will likely continue to have a gun problem even if we ban assault rifles and high-volume magazines. We should continue to come up with creative solutions to protect our nation against gun violence.
Some people I have spoken with about the issue favor the complete ban of all firearms. This option should not be on the table. For one this would be a blatant violation of the bill of rights, and could set precedent for other rights being taken away. If, God forbid, there were ever a government that needed to be overthrown, banning guns would leave us no means to protect ourselves from tyranny. Allowing citizens to develop marksmanship skills may also be beneficial for military purposes. Some see guns as a good tool for self-defense in one’s own home. We also have a rich history of hunting and shooting for sport. Banning guns is an idealistic proposition that would not work in reality and would infringe on rights that have been a part of this nation since its conception.
On the other side there are some who see any regulation of weapons as an infringement on their second amendment rights. This is simply not the case. The words “well-regulated” are in the amendment. Private citizens cannot possess tanks, nuclear weapons or U-2 bombers. Why is an AK-47 any different? In 1939 the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Miller the state could restrict possession of weapons such as sawed-off shotguns because they were not used by “well-regulated” militia. In 2010’s McDonald v. Chicago decision, the Supreme Court held while state and local governments had to abide by the Second Amendment, “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” were constitutional. Furthermore there is a matter of public safety that needs to be addressed. Real crimes are being committed and real people are dying because these weapons can legally be on our streets. Bans on assault rifles are constitutional and are in the interest of public safety.
The State of Wisconsin recently decided to allow concealed carry. This is a phenomenally stupid idea that should be seriously reconsidered. As I argued in a column shortly after the law took effect, there is absolutely no evidence concealed carry prevents crime, and, on the contrary, the legalization of concealed carry generally correlates with an increase in the violent crime rate in major cities, and perhaps statewide. We should seriously consider dropping concealed carry laws.
The state should also consider implementing measures similar to those enacted by New York, which include provisions that ban assault rifles, limit the amount of ammunition that can be in one magazine, allow a psychiatrist to prevent troubled patients from possessing firearms and other common sense measures to prevent tragic events from taking place.
We must find the proper balance between our Second Amendment rights and our safety. We must find a way to detect serious mental health issues among gun owners before tragedy ensues. I support the assault weapons ban because there is no reason a weapon designed to rip human beings apart should be on our streets. We should ban high-capacity magazines so if tragedy does strike at least the culprit will have to reload. We should increase school security. Having an armed police officer on campus could be the difference between life and death.
All of these are good ideas, but they are only a start. We must get serious about reducing the absurd amount of gun violence that happens in this nation. Too many are dying. We must strive to make our nation safer while protecting the Bill of Rights. While balancing our differences will be difficult, action is needed to keep people out of harm’s way.
Spencer Lindsay ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.