After the deadly shootings in Oregon and Connecticut this week, the Second Amendment is again being discussed by major media outlets, as We the People begin to question the need for a such a safeguard on our rights.
Since guns are so-often used for harm by the mentally ill, a CNN/ORC poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support background checks and required gun registration. These two strongly supported ideas might be an easy fix to prevent mass murders like the ones we have seen this week, but are they the right fix?
Many of us believe that the Second Amendment ("…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.") is still a right that we wish to preserve. This amendment was thought by our founders to be vital to any country that wishes to live freely for two reasons: First, it gives us the resources to create a militia composed of the body of the people to defend our nation. But today, one cannot simply pick up a musket and fight – we need a well-trained military comprised of aircraft carriers and fighter jets to compete militarily. Thus, we have a Defense Department funded with hundreds of billions of dollars. Our modern military makes the Founder’s first reason for the Second Amendment completely irrelevant.
The second reason that caused our Founders to adopt the Second Amendment is that it allows the people to overthrow their government (especially in the case of tyranny). The Founding Fathers knew of the danger that came with having their arms taken from them by the British – it made them vulnerable to the tyranny of the British Crown. Thus, they thought it was important to create an amendment that would ensure that future generations did not have to live in tyranny. This reason for a Second Amendment is still relevant – especially with growth of governmental power via actions like the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act.
And this is why gun registration and background checks worry me. If a tyrant government arises with the aforementioned proposed gun laws in place, the government will know who has the power to oppose it (via-weapon registration) and the government will able to lessen the number of people who can obtain weapons (through background check requirements). If we require gun registration and background checks, some of the safeguards against tyranny that the founding fathers created in the Second Amendment could be removed.
And maybe we want that. Maybe we live in an age when governmental tyranny is not a realistic threat and we’ve lost the need for Second Amendment rights. But, I am still skeptical of this point. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "…experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." We the people can implement gun control laws if we so choose, but we should realize the tradeoff that we would be making: decreased murder rates for an increased risk of tyranny.