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Last Updated: 09/01/2009
A sober look at the second amendment: Gun control in the US
Cynthia Fisk

Cynthia Fist addresses the issue of gun control in the United States, arguing that the right to bear arms should be weighed against the heavy cost in human lives that they represent.

Don’t we need to consider the context in which the Second Amendment was written?  At the time, groups called anti-Federalists were suspicious of standing armies called for in the ratification of the Constitution, remembering the oppression of British troops.  The Amendment was intended to prevent the federal government from passing laws that would disarm the state militias that were made up of ordinary citizens who served as part-time soldiers.  The right to keep and bear arms in those militias was the issue.

After all, there were no established police forces, National Guard nor a standing army when our county was founded.  The Amendment stated, “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 were organized forces regulated by the state governments.  Keeping people in line and bringing a sense of safety were essential but establishing workable boundaries went along with this.  The militias were intended to be “well-regulated”.  Without such behavioral boundaries, a frontier mentality might have ruled supreme for decades.  If a creature out there in the distance looked menacing, a gun would come out of its holster and the threat would be erased. 

To my disbelief, a recent ruling by the Massachusetts Judicial Court stated that the possession of an illegal weapon is a “passive and victimless crime”.  That contradicted the idea of a functional entity, at the ready for possible mayhem.  The Constitution posits the rule of law as the fundamental guide for our modern-day society.  Whatever could inhibit that requires examination and possible intervention.  This approach needs to be applied to all events that work against the common good.

If guns had really been thought to pose no threat, a victim could take the place of a live human being in no time if he or she didn’t pass muster.  Returning to the present with some facts in mind, how well has this supposedly maturing country done when the statistic is confronted that 120,000 Americans have been killed in non-terror related homicides since 9/11/01?  Bob Herbert reported this, saying the figure is nearly 25 times the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He points out in another article that 70,000 have been injured but haven’t died with 3,000 of those being children.

Closer at hand here in Massachusetts, on May 21st a mother of three children was shot as she sat on her front porch with them.  Two men on bikes rode off.  In the same month a 16 or 17-year-old boy fired a gun through the window of a liquor store in Dorchester impairing a toddler and a woman. 

These are just two of a number of heart wrenching examples of a culture increasingly without those boundaries that are essential.  In the spring, an amendment to a bill concerning credit cards, stated that people could carry loaded weapons in national parks, including AK- 47s .  It’s been reported that The Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Park Rangers feel this law puts them at risk in the face of armed, possibly angry visitors.  Poachers of rare resources could be there, too. It was said that instead of the possession of a gun being an offense as it always has been in national parks, they’d have to wait until likely damage is done and the damage could include them.

“Ah, but you’re leaving out the crowd that hunts and the need for self-defense in our homes and yards.”  The latter point is a possible miscalculation.  The Harvard School of Public Health reports that a gun in the home triples the likelihood of a homicide, and is 43 times more likely to kill a friend or relative than an intruder.  How many mishaps come about when hunters are on the loose?  It’s important to face up to this. 

There are 280 million guns in this country.  Hasn’t the time come to weigh their costs in human lives?  Scientists are discovering that we’re hard-wired for cooperation and caring, not for a frontiersman’s fight or flight response.  The old-style right to bear arms in a well-regulated militia doesn’t obtain when citizens can brandish guns on their own, too often with no discretion or oversight.  Guns without checks and balances, can and do maim and kill.  Our neighborhoods must not be like war zones. 

Consider that the U.S. has the largest collection of armaments in the world along with sophisticated police forces and National Guardsmen.  It’s later than late to grow beyond the outmoded mindset of having a right to keep and bear guns as citizen soldiers and be part of a culture increasingly dedicated to the fostering of our innate qualities of cooperation along with the ability to resolve conflict without violence.  This will require dedication and hard work but our world and its people can then endure, not meet their demise because of guns and bombs.

As a Quaker devoted to ways to bring about the end of warmaking and the possession of nuclear weapons and as a workshop facilitator of Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication techniques, I believe in talking with adversaries instead of brandishing guns.