Defending Liberty and the
by John Hendrickson
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. -Amendment II, United States Constitution
The aftermath of the tragic shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater is reigniting the debate over gun control in the United States. Many liberals and progressives are arguing that stricter gun control laws are needed in order to prevent violent acts such as the shooting in Colorado. Defenders of the Second Amendment are arguing that current gun laws are sufficient and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a sacred tradition and liberty in our nation which must be honored and protected. Conservatives are also correctly challenging the liberal notion that every societal problem needs to be solved with some legislation, in this case gun control laws, that will prohibit future gun violence.
Conservatives view human nature as flawed because of original sin and argue that the most well-crafted law or government program will not lead to a more perfect or secure America. As columnist George F. Will stated on ABC News program This Week: “I defy you to write a gun-control law that would prevent someone like this with a long time horizon and great planning capability from getting the arms he wants.” Will also correctly argued that no matter how “meticulously you draft whatever statute you wind up passing, the world is going to remain a broken place.”
David Keene, President of the National Rifle Association, recently wrote in describing the progressive view of gun ownership:
…they tend to blame firearm ownership, rather than criminals, for armed violence and believe that if we would all just give up our firearms it would be possible to usher in a new and far more peaceful world. What they really object to goes far beyond our ownership of firearms. They believe that traditional American individualist values that drove the nation’s founders to limit the power of government and protect our right to defend ourselves must give way to a new set of values that cedes governance to the state. In a very real sense their hostility to firearms and the Second Amendment isn’t about guns or violence or crime; it’s about values. They see those who adhere to the values of the Founders as a continuing threat to the new world they dream of creating, and quite correctly see those of us who support the Second Amendment as the most hostile to their entire world view.
The United States Supreme Court in two landmark decisions, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, ruled that the Second Amendment does provide a constitutional right for an individual to keep and bear arms. Our constitutional right to keep and bear arms has a rich historical tradition in our nation. “A historical examination of the right to bear arms, from English antecedents to the drafting of the Second Amendment, bears proof that the right to bear arms has consistently been, and should still be construed as an individual right.”
The individual right to bear arms is not only essential for the preservation of liberty, but many Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, are proud, responsible gun owners who use firearms for hunting, collecting, and participating in a variety of shooting-related sporting activities. Perhaps fundamentally the right to keep and bear arms is an issue of the right of self-defense.
Wayne Grudem, a theologian and author of Politics According to the Bible, wrote about the importance of the Second Amendment:
In the United States, the gun-control issue is important for several reasons: First, because it upholds the meaning of the Second Amendment to the Constitution as it was originally intended. Second, and more fundamentally, because it effectively protects a basic human right, the right of self-defense. Third, because the right of citizens to bear arms is a significant protection against tyranny. It is a protection against an oppressive, dictatorial regime taking control of the nation against the will of the vast majority of its citizens. Fourth, because study after study has shown that where private citizens have the right to possess guns for self-defense, that is a significant deterrent to violent crime.
Part of the gun control debate in the aftermath of the Colorado shooting will be over the so called “assault-weapons ban,” which expired several years ago. Some policymakers are making renewed calls to reinstate the assault-weapons ban because of the “military-style” weapons used in the Colorado shooting. John R. Lott, Jr., a noted economist and author of More Guns, Less Crime and The Bias Against Guns among other works, recently wrote:
Indeed, banning guns on the basis of how they look, and not how they operate, shoudn’t be expected to make any difference. And there are no published academic studies by economists or criminologists that find the original federal assault-weapons ban to have reduced murder or violent crime generally. There is no evidence that the state assault-weapons bans reduce murder or violent crime rates either. Since the federal ban expired in September 1994, murder and overall violent-crime rates have actually fallen. In 2003, the last full year before the law expired, the U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people. Preliminary numbers for 2011 show that the murder rate has fallen to 4.7 per 100,000 people. In fact, murder rates fell immediately after September 2004, and they fell more in states without assault-weapons bans than in states with them.
Lott also correctly explains that although some
semi-automatic firearms look like military weapons, they operate differently:
Yes, the M&P 15 and the AK-47 are “military-style weapons.” But the key word is “style” — they are similar to military guns in their aesthetics, not in the way they actually operate. The guns covered by the federal assault-weapons ban (which was enacted in 1994 and expired ten year later) were not the fully automatic machine guns used by the military but semi-automatic versions of those guns. The civilian version of the AK-47 uses essentially the same sorts of bullets as deer-hunting rifles, fires at the same rapidity (one bullet per pull of the trigger), and does the same damage. The M&P 15 is similar, though it fires a much smaller bullet — .223 inches in diameter, as opposed to the .30-inch rounds used by the AK-47.
In addition, Lott argues that the “large-capacity ammunition magazines are also misunderstood.” As Lott explains:
The common perception that so-called “assault weapons” can hold larger magazines than hunting rifles is simply wrong. Any gun that can hold a magazine can hold one of any size. That is true for handguns as well as rifles. A magazine, which is basically a metal box with a spring, is also trivially easy to make and virtually impossible to stop criminals from obtaining. Further, the guns in a couple of recent mass shootings (including the one in Aurora) have jammed because of the large magazines that were used. The reason is simple physics. Large magazines require very strong springs, but the springs cannot be too strong, or it becomes impossible to load the magazines. Over time, the springs wear out, and when a spring loses its ability to push bullets into the chamber properly, the gun jams. With large springs, even a small amount of fatigue can cause jams.
In response to national tragedies such as in Colorado or even in response to a national crisis, the right to keep and bear arms should not be undermined. Jeffery Kuhner, President of the Edmund Burke Institute, wrote that strict gun control laws do not necessarily prevent violent crime and he illustrated his point with the nation of Norway. In response to the terror of Anders Behring Breivik, Kuhner wrote that “Norway has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. That did not stop a madman from acquiring the guns and bombs necessary to unleash a reign of terror.”
The Second Amendment is a fundamental right and liberty that is unique in the world. Citizens have the right to keep and bear arms to hunt, participate in shooting sports, and to protect themselves, their family, and property. In preventing violent crime, more gun control is not the answer; rather, the answer is to allow people to exercise their right to keep and bear arms through the Second Amendment. If the Second Amendment is allowed to be undermined or destroyed it will be the death knell for all liberty in the United States. This is not a partisan issue, because the Second Amendment is a liberty and right enjoyed by all law-abiding citizens regardless of political party or philosophy. “We hold in our Constitution the most precious, unique and hopeful human freedoms mankind has ever known,” wrote Wayne LaPierre, who serves as Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association.
 George F. Will, “This Week Transcript: Tragedy in Colorado,” This Week, ABC News, July 22, 2012, <http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/week-transcript-tragedy-colorado/story?id=16824177&page=5> accessed on August 7, 2012.
 David A. Keene, “Election 2012: On Guns…and Values,” President’s Column, July 18, 2012, National Rifle Association, <http://www.nrapublications.org/index.php/13435/presidents-column-28/> accessed on August 7, 2012.
 Judge Sam R. Cummings, US v. Emerson, <http://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/pdf/NotAblecases/emerson_2_pdf> accessed on September 1, 2006.
 Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2010, p. 212.
 John R. Lott, Jr., “Military-Style Weapons,” National Review Online, July 27, 2012,
<http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/312452/military-style-weapons-john-r-lott-jr> accessed on August 7, 2012.
 Jeffrey T. Kuhner, “Aurora and the left’s hatred for America,” The Washington Times, July 26, 2012,
<http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jul/26/aurora-and-the-lefts-hatred-for-america/> accessed on July 27, 2012.
 Wayne LaPierre, “Reject the U.N.’s Gun-Ban Fantasy,” Standing Guard, June 1, 2012, National Rifle Association, <http://www.nrapublications.org/index.php/13024/standing-guard-26/> accessed on August 7, 2012.
John Hendrickson is a Research
Analyst with Public Interest Institute.
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