Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Right to Bear Arms

Every few weeks I go through an intellectual kabuki dance with one of my friends on the subject of gun control and the constitutionally-guaranteed right to bear arms. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that while I don't support "gun control" per se, I do oppose the fanatically, nearly religious ardor with which the NRA and its adherents revere firearms ownership and oppose the least effort to bring some sanity to the gun control debate. See my post from February 25th for the cautionary tale of Jim Zumbo and what happens when you cross the NRA.

My friend's latest salvo in our argument consisted of sending me extracts from the constitutions of five states which gave their take on the right to bear arms. Two of them were, I thought, interesting, and are quoted here (italics are mine):

"That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power" (Virginia Constitution, Article I, Section 13).

"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; and, as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they shall not be maintained, and the military shall be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power. Nothing herein shall justify the carrying of concealed weapons, or prevent the General Assembly from enacting penal statutes against that practice" (North Carolina Constitution, Article I, Section 30).

What I found interesting is the highlighted sections, which allow citizens to keep weapons without restriction, but state that standing armed forces are dangerous and must be tightly controlled by the civil authorities. These would be the same civil authorities that are not permitted to restrict ownership of weapons by citizens not likely to be as well trained and tightly controlled as the standing armed forces.

This goes back, of course, to the founding of the nation and the fear of a king with a monopoly of power who could run roughshod over his subjects. If the citizens are armed, the theory goes, the king will think twice about trying to abuse them.

In my opinion, as I've written before, I'm in a lot more danger from a coked-up, well-armed street thug than I am from the United States Army. I realize that many other people don't share my view, and that reasonable people will agree to disagree on the subject of firearms ownership. My personal opinion is that people ought to be allowed to own firearms suitable for hunting and target shooting (not automatic weapons, military assault weapons, bazookas, ICBMs, etc)...but that the criminal penalties for using a firearm in the commission of a felony should be extremely severe. I'm not sure how the gun lobby would argue against that, but I'm sure someone would.

As we approach the warmer days of spring and summer, I'd rather think about beautiful ladies in sleeveless blouses baring their arms, rather than camouflage-clad activists bearing arms. Sadly, the important issues of gun ownership, gun-assisted crime, and civic responsibility can't be so glibly dismissed. One can only hope that at some point, the hysterical rhetoric on both sides can be toned down and a realistic discussion of the issue can be held.

But, as with so many other issues, I'm not holding my breath. The Second Amendment gives us a clear right to own deadly weapons. It doesn't give us the brains to exercise that right responsibly.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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