By Chris P.
“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.” – Ratified by the 2nd United States Congress
You would be hard-pressed to find another set of 27 words that evoke as much passion as these. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is currently the most hotly debated segment of the Bill of Rights. With high-profile cases like the Aurora Cinemark Theater Massacre and the Sandy Hook shooting making national headlines . . .
…gun control is very much a dinner-table topic. But how much does your average American know about gun laws, or even guns themselves? What is the difference between how modern society thinks of firearms and how the drafters of the Bill of Rights felt? Exactly how much freedom did the Founding Fathers intend to give the citizenry? While all of these questions will be answered, I’ll start with the last one.
The world, especially the Americas, was a very different place in 1791. The New World was still living up to its name, with the majority of the continent still inadequately explored. The British Colonies had just declared independence from their mother country and survived the ensuing war with the help of the French. Now, this shiny new republic was just starting to take its first steps. But the men who led the revolution, who were now at the head of the fledgling nation, did not forget why they had broken off from Britain initially. They wanted to make sure that these United States would not become the very monster they had hoped to escape from.
Part of this plan was the Bill of Rights: a series of ten amendments to the already-crafted Constitution of the United States that would guarantee individual God-given rights to its citizens. These guarantees (so-called because they did not grant rights but rather disallowed the government from restricting them) were all inspired by the transgressions of the British crown committed against the colonists. One of the most famous examples is the Fourth Amendment, which safeguards against illegal search and seizure as well as the housing of military personnel in private residences. The British would often march into the homes of colonists and demand housing for their troops. Every segment of the Bill of Rights has inspiration similar to this one.
In the case of the Second Amendment, the British rule disallowed the colonists from possessing arms, in an attempt to keep them from effectively fighting the occupation forces. General Thomas Gage began confiscating weapons and powder from the citizenry in order to deter resistance. Conversely, his actions merely excited the colonials into fighting back.
After the Powder Alarm in Somerville, Massachusetts, where a large seizure of gunpowder by the British provoked an enormous armed response by the colonists, General Gage ceased most of his activities in the region until a large number of reinforcements could be sent from Britain. General Gage learned the immense power an armed citizenry wields: “If you think ten thousand men sufficient, send twenty; if one million is thought enough, give two; you save both blood and treasure in the end.”
Like Thomas Gage, Thomas Jefferson had respect for an armed population and its influence on a government: “What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” (Jefferson)
As the primary force pushing James Madison toward drafting the Bill of Rights and the authenticator of the Second Amendment, Thomas Jefferson’s opinion on the people and their right to bear arms is a suitable precedent for modern interpretations of the law. Considering both the language of the amendment and Jefferson’s personal view on the use of arms, it is made obvious that one primary intention is for the citizenry to be armed in order to overthrow a corrupt and unjust government.
Some tried to argue that the militia clause (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”) meant that only those enrolled in an official militia, such as the National Guard (created in 1903, 112 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, incidentally), had a guaranteed access to arms. This argument was struck down by the Supreme Court in the case District of Columbia v. Heller when it ruled that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to keep and bear arms, as with the rest of the Bill of Rights: “Held: 1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Pp. 2–53.”
Much to the chagrin of concealed carry advocates nationwide, the Supreme Court stopped at “the home” when declaring where citizens could possess firearms. This was not because the Court disagreed with concealed carry, but because the Court provides answers to the extent of the question. In this case, the question only regarded weapons in the home (specifically, Washington D.C.).
There is now a precedent from the highest court in the land that protects the right of an American citizen to possess firearms in his home. But what about the citizen that wants to take responsibility for his or her own protection and carry a concealed weapon on his person wherever he or she goes? It will likely be a while until the Supreme Court decides whether the Second Amendment protects the right of a citizen to carry a weapon on their person, but until then we can follow the same procedure the Court used to make its Heller decision and analyze once again the words of Thomas Jefferson: “The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves … that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed;”.
Taken at its face value, “at all times” would include whenever an individual is out and about in public. Concealed carry allows just that: the right of an individual to keep on his person a weapon that, in dire circumstances, would allow him or her to effectively defend his or her personal safety or the safety of his or her kin.
Violence can spring up anywhere and the police are not always there to help. In fact, in a study conducted in several cities by law enforcement organizations, it was concluded that fewer than 5 percent of all dispatched officers arrive in time to stop a crime or make an arrest. And that’s if the operator even dispatches any officers at all. In 1975, the case of Warren v. DC was fought after police failed to respond to a 911 call and three women were raped, robbed, and beaten for 14 hours by two intruders. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals eventually ruled, saying: “The respective trial judges held that the police were under no specific legal duty to provide protection to the individual appellants.” More recently, in Washington state, a woman was sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend after the dispatcher told her “she didn’t have any officers to send out.”
Essentially, it is perfectly legal for the police to completely refuse to help you, even if you are in the process of being violently attacked. This means that you are, both effectively and legally, responsible for your own safety. You are your own First Responder. Consequently, you need a way to defend yourself. In most of the United States, this would mean carrying a concealed weapon. Yet, some 9 states effectively disallow their citizens from carrying concealed weapons. Affected by these tight regulations are the three largest (by population) cities in the United States: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago (though Chicago will soon be subject to Illinois’ new federally-mandated carry law). Despite evidence that non-discretionary concealed carry laws decrease violent crime rates by 5 to 8 percent, these states continue to infringe upon the right of their citizens to keep and effectively bear arms.
These areas may actually be seeing increased criminal activity within their borders because of neighboring counties that allow concealed carry. Statistics show that the adoption of non-discretional concealed carry law in a certain district often prompts a sudden and large increase in violent crime in neighboring districts. This implies that criminals from one area will move their activities to another area in order to avoid places that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons. Further analysis of statistical evidence and the testimony of law enforcement officials allows us to conclude that the greatest declines in crime rates are related to the greatest increases in concealed-handgun permits.
With the clear evidence that concealed carry reduces violent crime, why do so many places still outlaw the practice? In most cases, it is because the citizenry is misinformed. The main perpetuators of misinformation about firearms are the legislators in the affected areas.
(As an aside: While it is possible that the legislators themselves are also simply misinformed, that would mean that they are fully in favor of regulating and banning items that they have not even a tentative grasp of what they are or how they work. As an American citizen, I choose not to use this theory as I still wish to have a fleeting sense of faith in our political system.)
Legislators such as Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D – NY) and the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D – NJ) were strong proponents of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and enacted similar bans in their own respective states. Even so, Representative McCarthy became internet-famous after she was questioned in an interview and failed to demonstrate that she knew what her own legislation actually banned.
Tucker Carlson of MSNBC’s Tucker asked the Rep. what a “barrel shroud” was, since it was one of the items to be prohibited in the law she was championing. After trying several times to dodge the question, Rep. McCarthy finally admitted that she did not know what a barrel shroud was, and that she thinks “… it’s the shoulder thing that goes up.” (In reality, a barrel shroud is a heat shield designed to keep an operator from burning themselves on a hot barrel; not exactly a menacing device. What the Representative was probably thinking of was a stock.)
In truth, the reason restrictive gun laws are passed is because of fear mongering by politicians and gun control advocates. When a legislator steps in front of a camera holding a WASR rifle, calls it an AK-47, and says that it is legal and needs to be banned, your Average Joe is going to go wide-eyed and immediately support the passage of new gun control laws. (In reality, the WASR looks identical to an AK-47 but performs differently, as it is only semi-automatic. It is like comparing a $10 pair of Chinese knock-off Oakley’s to the real deal.) These same legislators and voters are the ones who disallow concealed carry.
Politicians like Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City (co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an anti-gun lobbying coalition) insist that concealed carry would lead to blood in the streets, with firefights breaking out over the smallest grievances, despite no evidence of this being found in other states. In fact, concealed-carry permit holders are statistically about 7 times less likely to commit a crime.
The next big debate about concealed carry law will be about national reciprocity. Under laws like the Senate’s National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act of 2012, states would have been forced to recognize the concealed-carry permits issued by other states. Therefore, concealed handgun licenses would be treated the same way marriage and driver’s licenses are (in keeping with the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution). The House of Representative portion of the bill was passed but the law stagnated in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Many states such as Florida, Utah, and Maine allow residents of other states to mail in an application for a concealed weapons permit (often requiring fingerprints, a background check, photos, and proof of having taken a safety course). If national concealed-carry reciprocity were made the law of the land, millions of people whose rights were previously denied by their local government would be able to obtain a non-resident concealed weapons permit and use it in their home state. These citizens would finally be able to protect themselves and their families against those who may wish to do them harm.
The United States is a country that was born in fire and forged by flame. We fought to become our own country. We fought to keep our independence in 1812. We fought to preserve the Union in 1861. We fought to protect not only ourselves, but also the rest of the free world in 1941. Each time we fought, we didn’t ask nicely. We were armed.
Unfortunately, with the threat of violent crime, some average people need to fight for their own lives. The government can’t be everywhere at all times. Citizens therefore have not only a right, but also a duty to defend their life and liberty. When facing an imminent threat, the only option to keep you alive may be a concealed handgun. But until comprehensive right-to-carry laws are passed, you may just have to reach for your wallet and hope for the best.