The Right to Bear Arms

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

What if the Second Amendment had merely said, “The right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”? If that’s only what it said, it would be illegal for police to disarm anyone any time! Guns would be in prisons and schools, in courtrooms and the halls of Congress, on commercial airplanes and freely carried everywhere.

The founding fathers didn’t grant unlimited powers to the people. They knew better. So they limited this right with a clause that says, among other things, “well-regulated militia,” which might be translated today as “state troopers” or “national guard troops.” The phrase “well-regulated” isn’t ambiguous at any rate.

I believe that I have been granted gun regulation by the Bill of Rights. I believe it protects me against unreasonable escalation of violence in my neighborhood. I believe it protects my grandchildren from being terrorized at school. I believe it tends to protect everyone and helps preserve the integrity of our judicial and legislative systems from even more direct intimidation and bullying.

Furthermore, I believe that it obligates the government to regulate guns effectively on my behalf, rather than providing loopholes in regulations designed by the rich and powerful arms industry. The majority of Americans favor effective and fair gun control, although it seems like that majority is shrinking as the vast majority of our entertainment is effective gun violence which seems to be able to cancel out the gruesome realities of real life. It is the weapons manufacturers and their loyal fans that have thwarted effective gun control with intimidation, misinformation and a massive amount of money.

We don’t have an unlimited right to bear arms; we never have. What we have today is massive smear campaigns against gun control proponents, an organized and well-funded disinformation campaign against gun control, massive lobbying and campaign contributions for politicians who toe the line and huge loopholes that make the laws we do have ineffective.

The National Rifle Association contributed $30,000,000 toward Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and will probably double down next time. This is their rather juicy carrot. They also take the few examples of guns actually doing some good for someone and present them to the public as if there were not far more examples of guns doing harm. And they pour millions into smear campaigns against gun control proponents.

The NRA has two distinct parts: individual members and corporate members. They are almost always in sync because the organization is dominated by its corporate members, meaning that what is good for the powerful corporations that manufacture guns in our country is presumed to be good for the rest of us. This just isn’t true. And, through statistics, it’s demonstrably false.

More guns, in general, means less safety, not more safety.

I looked up a study. During the 20th Century, 585 police officers in New York and 160 police officers in London died while on duty. Intentional gunshot wounds were the cause of 290 police deaths in New York but only 14 police deaths in London. For the New York Police Department, gun shot wounds (both intentional and unintentional) accounted for over 51% of all occupational deaths, whereas in London, they caused less than 9% of the deaths. There are two things that are glaringly different between these two comparable large cities: the number of guns and the number of deaths from guns … even if you’re looking just at the “good guys.”

The facts support a clear conclusion: cops carrying guns are more apt to die than cops not carrying guns. To Americans, this makes no sense because we’ve been told over and over that guns protect us — and they may — once in a while. More often, they escalate threat and fear in life-or-death situations.

Population, police personnel, and total occupational police deaths
in New York and London during the 20th century

Decade City Population officers officer deaths
1900s NYC 3,500,000 16,000 20

London 6,700,000 17,000 13
1910s NYC 5,200,000 9,000 29

London 7,200,000 19,000 22
1920s NYC 6,000,000 15,000 96

London 7,700,000 19,000 10
1930s NYC 7,000,000 18,500 113

London 8,300,000 19,000 15
1940s NYC 7,500,000 17,000 59

London 8,400,000 15,000 13
1950s NYC 7,900,000 22,000 34

London 8,100,000 16,000 10
1960s NYC 7,800,000 27,000 69

London 7,700,000 20,000 21
1970s NYC 7,700,000 31,000 79

London 7,100,000 22,000 17
1980s NYC 7,100,000 35,000 54

London 6,700,000 25,000 21
1990s NYC 7,300,000 39,000 32

London 6,900,000 27,000 18
Average NYC 6,700,000 23,000 58.5
per decade London 7,480,000 19,900 16

Of course, some British policemen carry guns under certain conditions. But not shooting makes it much less likely that criminals will shoot. No immediate threat means that they’re less likely to shoot anyone else, as well.

If guns added to safety, we would not see these statistics. New York police officers, armed with guns, were less safe than their London counterparts who were not generally armed!

To Americans, this makes no sense, but many, if not most, policemen in other countries wouldn’t carry guns if they could! They know, even if we don’t, that carrying a gun increases their chance of dying a violent death as well as harming innocent bystanders. Alternatively, they carry mace, pepper spray, and a baton, using non-lethal force to defend and apprehend.

Let us try to understand what happens when, for instance, a robbery is taking place and the robber has a gun. To put a gun in the hands of either the shopkeeper or the responding police officer increases the immediate threat to the felon, which means he’s in fear for his life also. The fear escalates; the threats escalate and, quite often, the violence escalates.

The British merely follow at a distance and surround the felon until he or she gives up. Only when the felon escalates do the police escalate to more violence. The process takes more time (not counting the investigation of a shooting) but is far less perilous — for everyone!

When will we wake up to the glaring but apparently not-so-obvious truth: guns are not the cure to violence and peril?

I sometimes revert to old thinking. I grew up with Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Rifleman. The hero carried a gun. That gun solved problems and kept innocent people safe. It’s difficult even for me to completely understand the breadth of the lie we’ve been and are still being told. It’s impossible for me to feel the truth in my bones. My eyes have seen the lie too many times to completely believe the truth.

The country with the strictest gun control is Japan. There is one gun for every 167,000 people and the number of guns is decreasing as people who had guns before 1971 die and the guns are confiscated from their estates. The death rate from shootings is at less than 1 for every million people, a record they’re working to better2.

In contrast, the modern country with the least gun control is the United States. The US has the most guns per person and the highest rate of deaths by guns in the modern world. Even the rate of accidental deaths by guns exceeds that of all deaths by guns in Japan by a wide margin. And the most perilous places in the United States are inner cities where guns and gunshots are commonplace.

While the gun deaths per person in the US are 169 times greater than the same statistic in Japan, the gun deaths per gun are almost identical. Isn’t there SOME valid information in this!?

Maybe Japanese are less violent. In any case, the society as a whole has rejected guns and even criminals don’t generally use them. As a result, it is indisputable that Japan is safer!

So now, we’re down to losing our freedoms, to giving up our rights, to protecting something sacred. Maybe we should allow rocket propelled grenades in every home. A homeowner should be allowed to create a minefield in his front and back yard if he puts up signs. Children who lose life or limb have been warned — if they can read. Claymore mines, IEDs and, for the extremely wealthy, nuclear weapons might even be OK. Maybe everyone should be allowed their own sarin gas. Maybe there should be no bans on our “freedom” to kill those we deem to be a threat to our life and liberty. Mad Max may have been fighting for his own life and liberty, but he and his opponents were most certainly destroying the pursuit of happiness for themselves and everyone else. Escalating threats don’t make us safer and haven’t for a long time.

I don’t think there is anything particularly sinister or stupid about people in the United States. We know intellectually that guns kill a lot of people, both innocent and guilty, every year. We know that guns escalate fear on both sides of the law. We just can’t seem to get past our childhood brainwashing. We are fearful. That gun in our pocket or our glove compartment tells us we’re powerful and will not be victimized. When accidents happen, we rationalize them. When a policeman shoots an unarmed suspect or a child defeats the trigger lock meant to protect him, we are scandalized, but we continue to believe in the power of the gun to keep us safe, to deter the criminal, to threaten the suspect into surrendering. We never get to the bigger picture. We never get past our attachment to death and destruction, to win-lose paradigms, to violent acts as somehow heroic and laudable without ever looking behind the curtain of nationalism, bigotry, self-aggrandizing bullshit, and the daily, sometimes almost constant reinforcement of our irrational belief in guns coming from our entertainment.

Not carrying a gun makes you and the people around you safer? The British know this — although violent terrorist attacks have changed the landscape somewhat. Norwegians know this. Police and people in New Zealand know this. The Japanese have proven it is true. But us Americans? Many of us can’t even imagine it!

1According to Pew Research Center and President Obama, close to 90% of Americans favor mandatory background checks for all purchases. Not requiring background checks for gun shows is a gigantic loophole.

2For history buffs, it might be interesting to note that guns were forcibly introduced into Japan in 1854 by Matthew C. Perry and the US Navy at the behest of their President, Millard Fillmore. Using “gunboat diplomacy” (meaning long range guns with explosive shells against swords, bows and arrows), he threatened violence to the imperial palace and forced Japan to accept guns and trade. Of course, this led to considerable change in Japanese society and made them dependent on raw materials for a modernized infrastructure. When our patronage was interrupted by a worldwide depression, Japan had to seek raw materials elsewhere and so invaded Manchuria and, later, China using the technology we had forced upon them. This led, inevitably, to our fight with them during World War II.

©David N. Dodson, June 2017

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