The gun control debate is perpetually smoldering. It only takes an event like the Sandy Hook shooting to fan the ashes into a raging inferno. It gets a little tiresome since the same arguments on both sides continue to be rehashed. These arguments mostly seem to be about pragmatic aspects of gun rights vs. gun control, e.g. “If we had more people carrying guns, less crime would happen,” or vice versa. Very little is discussed in the way of why we allow citizens to bear arms in the first place, but that is perhaps the most critical aspect to establish.
“The Constitution says so” is not a sufficient answer. Certainly the Constitution states that the federal government will not infringe on our right to keep and bear arms, but that necessarily means the right exists independently of the government and the Constitution.
“Hold on,” some might argue. “Don’t act like that is an individual right. The Constitution is speaking about a collective right to keep and bear arms.”
That may even be partially true, but it is immaterial since all collective rights are derived from individual rights. For instance, it is logically impossible for us to arm and confer police powers upon certain individuals on behalf of “society” if we as individuals have no inherent right to protect ourselves with force or physically stop someone from committing a crime. This is so elementary, but somehow the vast majority of people in the world fail to understand it.
The way they see it, the government professionals get all the weapons in order to protect us from outside threats and ourselves. This is the fundamental ideology behind most gun control attempts. It is why “assault weapon” bans don’t actually have to be good policy that correlates with reducing crime or gun deaths, so long as it effectively facilitates a gradual disarmament of the populace. The gist of the philosophy is that citizens are not quite responsible enough to care for their own security. They would be better off letting the professionals do it for them. Almost the entire individual right to protect one’s self is legally eliminated and then outsourced to a select few.
Putting aside the arguments of whether this will help or make things worse in practice, think about the deleterious effects this has on healthy notions of citizenship. A citizen, rightly understood, participates in governance and has responsibilities commensurate their inherent rights. By contrast, a consumer has some rights, but almost no responsibility. This is because they pay a fee and then cede their responsibility to a third party e.g. government.
Alexis De Tocqueville warned about this type of political consumerism almost 175 years ago in Democracy in America. He spoke about the ever-growing administrative state:
“…an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate… It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?”
Following tragedies like Sandy Hook, that seems to be the appeal to the government, does it not? “Take away my freedom and responsibility from myself and neighbor if you have to, and take away the pain of living.” It is sounds nice, but it is destructive to individuals and civil society.
Governments that arbitrarily restrict the right to bear arms or prohibit it entirely cannot hope for healthy citizens. If they already have a society of consumers, further restrictions will only accelerate the process of turning adults back into children. It is a slippery slope into absurdity. Those unable to appropriately use a gun probably can't handle a long knife either.
Even if it were true that by reducing access to guns it could reduce crime, the outcome would be injurious to other areas such as freedom and citizenship. Immense administrative states will, like Tocqueville warned, promise to remove the discomfort of living, but deliver only a soft form of despotism that increasingly manages daily affairs. In doing so, they will slowly degrade men below the point of humanity.
The Second Amendment’s true beauty is not that it promises to allow Americans the freedom to play with dangerous “toys” or to shoot wild animals a few weeks out of the year, but rather because it codifies the role of the citizen in society. It does not establish him or her as a consumer of government protection, but as a necessary producer of that service. Even the most demanding and dangerous aspect of societal order – security – is entrusted not only to the state, but to the citizen.
Perhaps we need to have a national discussion about the prudence of arming an “unregulated militia.” But that level of nuanced discussion is impossible if the end game of one side is to take guns away from everyone except their own security detail. If we could all simply agree that the right path is to encourage and facilitate healthy citizenship - in the fullest sense of the word – common ground might not be so hard to find.