The Coastal Post - August, 1998

The Right To Bear Arms: Rights Create Responsibilities, Not Just Freedoms

By Stephen Simac

"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."

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified December 15, 1791. Bearing arms is a basic right of its citizens, but only 40% of American adults admit to owning a gun.

Few other nations have our rate of gun ownership or gun fatalities. Forty thousand Americans were killed with guns last year, a rate equal to annual traffic deaths in the 1990s. The numbers of gun deaths increased steadily during the war on drugs in the '70s, peaked in the '80s with the use of crack cocaine and has fallen along with the rate of all major crimes in the '90s. Auto deaths have declined in the last decade, from 5,000 a year since the 1960s. Now gun deaths are equal to traffic fatalities for the first time since the last years of Alcohol Prohibition in 1930-'31.

Opinions about guns tend to split wildly between owners and non-owners, yet most people would agree that we haven't formed well-regulated militias with our right to bear arms. The military, police, National Guard and park rangers are some of our armed, government officials, but citizen militias aren't respected or supported. The media portrays them as check-kiting, heavily-armed, U.N. conspiracy buffs, rather than citizens exercising a right and a responsibility.

Waiter, the Bill of Rights, please

The framers of the Constitution were forced to add the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, to the main body of this contract between the people of the free states and a federal government. The compact had been "ordained and established," as stated in it's Preamble, "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

The constitution is written in plain English; it should be read by all citizens. All literate Americans of the post-Revolutionary War decade read it, discussed it at saloons, in published and public debates, and through their elected representatives, the Republic voted on it. It couldn't be ratified by the 13 states without the Bill of Rights being added to it.

The Federalists, who favored the adoption of the Constitution over the Articles of Confederation, were forced to provide for the rights of the citizens which weren't spelled out in that document. The Ninth Amendment provides for those rights which weren't enumerated in the Constitution and its amendments. Most of these were retained from Anglo-Saxon common law.

Americans who still value our constitutional rights need to support all of them, even the ones we don't agree with. Gun owners need to remember this about the First Amendment, but the press needs to inform citizens about responsible gun ownership.

The media gains profits from the indiscriminate use of arms, both from murder headlines or by making movies and shows with endless gunplay. If one movie or television show has ever shown the responsible use of firearms, including storing it in a locked container, it would be an anomaly.

Lock it up when not in use

Most gun owners surveyed don't store their weapons this way, even if they have children, sometimes even when loaded. The parents of the kids killing kids, accidentally or on purpose, are almost never prosecuted if they left their guns unlocked. Kids are going to play with weapons if they can.

Leaving guns unlocked also makes them easier to steal; an enormous number of guns are. The criminal use of stolen weapons adds political pressure to create gun control laws for legitimate use.

The rationale for not locking it up is that when you need to get to your gun, you don't want to be fumbling around with keys or a combo. That's like never wearing your seatbelt, because you might be thrown clear in a car wreck.

The chances of a homeowner having to fend off a home invasion is slim, unless you have lots of cash or guns there. More likely the results of leaving your guns unlocked are tragic.

In first grade, the nuns led us outside and made us pray for the soul of Jacky Sheehan, a boy in our class. His cousin had killed him, showing off his dad's shotgun.

In middle school, one boy killed another by taking aim from his upstairs bedroom and squeezing the trigger on his dad's "unloaded" rifle.

A motorcycle gang, "The Sons of Dixie," moved into our neighborhood a year later. They had a son, Billy, about my age. They were poster boys for irresponsible weapon use. On New Year's Eve and when the Miami Dolphins won, they would fire off a machine gun into the air. It was like a war zone during the Perfect Season.

Billy used to show me his dad's guns slung on the bed, or stashed in the closet. When he pointed a pistol at me, it was tricky trying to keep calm while backing away, as I ordered him to point it down.

I'd already learned that every gun should be treated as if loaded. Don't point unless you intend to shoot and always store your bullets separately from your weapon. These simple rules should be promoted by the government, until citizens begin to practice the responsibilities of their right.

One of my high school friends, normally mellow, became enraged during an argument with a neighbor. He rushed into the house, running back outside with his rifle. His father stepped between them, and Danny killed his dad instead. He was sent to prison for a few years, but will live with that mistake for the rest of his life.

Most gun deaths involve rage, usually fueled by alcohol. Fumbling with a lock or a combo will keep your weapons foolproof if you're drunk enough to be missing time.

Kill your television, think for yourself

The media should be held to standards about their portrayal of this basic constitutional right. Television and radio are broadcast on public airwaves, the commonly held ether. They owe their profits and power to their use of this commons and should be required to educate as well as entertain. Their greed being cloaked by the First Amendment is as wrong as corporations being granted the rights of citizens without equal responsibilities.

Unlike driving, gun ownership is a right, not a privilege. It deserves more respect than the flag, which has only symbolic value. The congressional attempt to pass a constitutional amendment against burning the flag shows how little regard for the Constitution these legislators have. Better they should protect eagles.

Daniel Shay's Rebellion in 1786 was fought by veterans of the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts to demand paper money for debt relief, and that the United States "ought to be the common property of all" who had fought to protect their country from forfeiture by the British. American citizens have always seen their guns as a last barrier against tyranny.

Because of popular support for enormous numbers of armed government agents, armed insurrections could be easily squashed by the U.S. military or even state police forces. No militia or network of nationwide militias could hope to hold out against the firepower and surveillance technology of the government, much less the court system. The loyalty of government agents leans to their paychecks more than the Constitution.

Some gun advocates believe the Second Amendment covers their right to bear arms equal to the military, as a true deterrent to tyrants and despots. If you think Pakistan and India are too irrational to possess nuclear weapons, pray these crews don't latch onto one. Armed revolution is bound to fail, while educating citizens to vote for representatives who will uphold their constitutional rights may succeed in regaining our rights.

War on drugs is war on guns

Current gun control is ineffective at reducing gun violence. Most gun legislation is fiercely opposed by manufacturers and the NRA, reminiscent of tobacco companies until they folded. Criminals rarely use registered weapons; they've all been stolen from owners who didn't lock them up or left them in a vehicle. There is also a huge black market in weapons, as with all controlled substances.

Most gun deaths in America are related to the war on other controlled substances. Suicides, homicides, and accidental shootings, which aren't drug-related, are less than half of all gun deaths, and most of these are alcohol fueled.

We're a long way from well-regulated militias, but these were intended to provide for the common defense of the Republic. We overthrew the British, for quartering standing armies on our soil. Now most Americans favor a bloated military budget for what we call defense.

These militias were mainly meant to serve as peace-keeping forces against the "merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare [was] an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions" as the Declaration of Independence put it.

In truth, armed Americans were mainly Indian killers in those days, rarely in retaliation, frequently in expeditionary militias. The Black Hawk War against the Sac and Fox of Illinois, in which Abraham Lincoln was a militia captain, ended with a brutal slaughter of men, women and children, cut to pieces as they tried to escape across the Mississippi River.

We have an historical connection with guns, from long rifles to machine guns. It goes deeper than that. Weapons are part of manhood for many men. They feel more confident with a gun in their holster. They associate guns with phallic power, just as we do with cars and rockets.

These are delusions, but popular ones which the media both exploits and promotes. Our constitutional rights have been shredded by the courts and legislators, while the media has undermined them in the pursuit of profit. It is up to the people to understand and protect their rights and practice them responsibly, because our government and the media damn sure aren't going to.

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