The right to kill and wound

The tragedy in Newtown, CT, where a crazy slaughtered 20 innocent children and 8 adults, shows once again that a relatively free flow of weapons in a society is a ticking time bomb. Many people will say that it’s too early to talk about gun related regulations, that we need to let the victims grieve but let me remind you that there was still a smoking pile of ruble burning in downtown Manhattan after 9/11 when the country decided to enact some very strong laws regarding terrorism.

Too many massacres‎

2007: Virginia Tech (VA)
2008: Covina (CA)
2009: Fort Hood (TX), & Binghamton (NY)
2012: Oikos (CA), Aurora (CO), Oak Creek (WI) & Newtown (CT)

We are reaching the point where a lone gunman comes out and shoots about 10-20 people every 3 months or so before committing suicide. And every time, the cycle is the same: the person was mentally unbalanced; videogames/movies/media coverage are to blame for this; this is a one-off incident.

Call me crazy if you want but I tend to look at patterns and what I see here is a pattern of increasing violence. The other thing I discern is that it is located primarily in the United States. Gun violence (or worse) does happen overseas but tends to be more of a rare phenomenon. I think people with a larger worldview will remember the gunman in Germany in 2005 or the one in Sweden in 2009. But those things are rare overseas.

So the question is what is different there. Do they have more restrictions on movies? What about on videogames? Is their media covering those events less? The answers to all those questions is no. The main difference is that they are substantially more stringent on gun control. They have rules that put most guns out of the hands of civilians (people are still allowed, under certain provisions, to carry rifles for hunting) and that’s the main difference. So looking at the world as a control set, it seems to me that gun restrictions work. All things being relatively equal, the places with stronger gun control rules seem to end up with less gun violence.

Kill or wound

Let’s look at guns in a dispassionate way for a second. What is their purpose? Some may say hunting; Others may say protection; But at a more fundamental level, all those things come down to a couple of items: kill or wound. When you hunt, you kill an animal (either to eat it or recreationally); when you’re using a gun for protection, you either kill or wound a person who is trying to do the same.

As a society, we have decided that killing or wounding is a necessary evil. Every developed country develops a class of people whose job involve going to that extreme in certain cases: people in the military or police forced are armed with guns, but also taught many ways in which they can try to engage before discharging their weapon. They are taught about the impact killing someone has on you and how to deal with it. When in the field, they are often witness to the horrors such weapons visit on their fellow human beings, whether it is on a crime scene or in a theater of war.

As civilians, few people are taught those things and even fewer get to witness them. This leads people to think that guns are mostly OK and that they’ll be ready when they have to use them. Talk to anyone who’s shot someone (either in the military or in the police) and you will notice that they are not terribly interested in talking about it. There is a pain that remains with them, long after they’ve had to pull the trigger.

Gun reform

And those people are the ones that have ready access to weapons and even have been presented with chances to use them. Surprisingly, a number of them believe in some form of gun control. The people who are opposed to gun control tend to be the ones who haven’t been placed in a position where they actually had to use a gun to hurt another human being.

Reform is needed but in the US, the gun lobby believes that any attempt to curb the right of individual to bear arms is a violation of the constitutional right enumerated in the 2nd amendment:

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.

Gun lobbyist tend to focus on the second part of the amendment but it is important to look at the construction of the sentence. In it, a sense of responsibility is embedded: “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” seems to be a pre-requisite to people having the right to bear arms.

So let’s start with the agreement that we’re not going to toss out the 2nd amendment but are, instead, going to focus on making it work for everyone.

A well regulated militia

Since the right to keep and bear arms is based on the need for a well regulated militia, let’s create a national volunteer force for policing the country. Members of that force will not receive any salary but will have to volunteer 2 hours per week for every gun they want to own. Their service will be to enhance the work done by our military and police forces, the two groups of people currently allowed to bear arms for their job. In times of conflict, those people will be among the first put on the line when going into any kind of military conflict, where they may be forced to shoot at other people and may end up being killed.

This well regulated militia will have to stay fit and be ready to act at a moment’s notice. Some may say it’s the national guard but the national guard is a paid force. In this case, this militia would be under the control of our national guard and of our military and police departments but would not get salary.

Failure to report for duty would be dealt with sharply: a person failing to report for duty would, put simply, loose the right to bear arms. An unwillingness to be part of the well-regulated militia would mean that they would not have the right to owning or using a weapon.

This model would not call for any bans on weapons beyond the existing ones so this is the last line of negotiation. The agreement with the gun lobby here is that they get no further ban of weapons but, in exchange, they agree that arm bearers must be willing to be responsibly citizens.

Timing

Some people say that it’s too early to have a discussion about guns and how to deal with them. I’d venture it’s too late. It’s too late for the victims in Newtown; it’s too late for the people in Oak Creek; it’s too late for the movie-goers in Aurora. Do we have to wait any longer or will it also be too early the next time a lone shooter kills another dozen or more people?

Guns are meant to maim or kill. Carrying guns comes with a very heavy responsibility as it comes with the right to maim or kill. They are powerful and, as is said in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Now is the time to set the responsibility in place: the media didn’t kill children in Newtown; videogames and movies didn’t kill children in Newtown; bullets, coming out of guns, killed children in Newtown.

The right to those bullets is embedded in the constitution and it comes with a clear responsibility to our society. So now is the time to put in place a clear policy that says that for every gun you own, you have to serve a couple of hours of community service weekly. It’s a legitimate trade-off and it’s strikes a delicate balance between the right to bear arms and the responsibility that comes with owning a tool that can kill or maim.

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About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched six companies, of which two went public and three were sold. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.

  • Robin Miller

    I am a one-man, well-regulated militia. I was trained to kill many years ago by the U.S. Army — with rifles, handguns, air-cooled machine guns, grenades, Claymore mines, and other instruments of destruction.

    Still, when I bought a rifle in 2010 after not having owned a gun for many years, the first thing I did was take a firearms safety course given by a gruff former Army weapons instructor. This was hands-on teaching, at the range, not classroom work. We concentrated on sight adjustment, rapid target acquisition, and steady fire. And changing magazines. I have one 25-round mag and do not like it much. I’m fine with feeding 10 or 15 rd mags through my weapons; I can slap an old one out and a new one in within 2 seconds due to mucho practice.

    Yes. Practice. That’s essential to being well-regulated. Did you ever notice that only a few illegal massacre killers are trained shooters? In fact, the only ones I can recall are the Army guy at Ft. Hood and the D.C. sniper. James Earl Ray was in the Army. And yes, JFK was shot by an ex-Marine. But most of the indiscriminate shooters are strictly amateurs, and their sprees typically end when their guns jam.

    I’m not a great shot, and I only own small-bore weapons (two .22s and a 9mm), but I’m good — deadly — out to 100 yards or so.

    If you don’t attack me or my family, you are 100% safe from me. Attack us? Well….

    • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

      Robin,

      I assume that, in the army, you also got to understand how discharging a weapon is a mean of last recourse (eg. it gives your location) and the impact that killing a fellow human being can have. I think that should also be part of safety training. Those are dangerous tools and I tend to worry that too many people take to them very lightly.

      • http://www.facebook.com/DavidFiedler David Fiedler

        How many hours of community service should we put in to hold on to our freedom of speech? And would we have to put in an entire day for the privilege of having a blog? How much to make a video, considering the number of people recently killed over that Muslim video? And considering how much violence is done in the name of religion, what “charge” might you intend to make for the “privilege” of being religious?

        The Maniac of Newton was not a legal gun owner, nor did he qualify to buy guns — he was turned down for that a week before, so our laws and the safeguards put in place worked fine. He killed his own mother to get those guns. Nobody could have expected that, and it’s no different than if he had hit a cop in the head with a brick and stolen the cop’s guns. Some tragedies are simply not easily preventable.

        • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

          David,

          The constitution did not put any qualifier to freedom of speech so your example is different. There is clearly a qualifier in the 2nd amendment so this qualifier should be enacted.

          The primary use of guns is to kill and maim (some say that it’s to threaten to kill and maim but that’s a small distinction). When used properly, a gun will either kill or main.

          So looking at solutions, we could either say that we as a society no longer tolerate giving people the right to kill or maim and ban all guns. Or we could look at the constitution and see under which conditions we are willing to grant that right.

          I’m only following the words of the constitution here and taking them to their logical conclusion.

          • http://www.facebook.com/DavidFiedler David Fiedler

            Well, the Supreme Court did not agree with your parsing of the Second Amendment.

            Owning a gun does NOT give you the “right to kill and maim”. Police and even military have strict rules of engagement they must follow before they can use their weapons; ordinary citizens have even more. That’s why we have laws and regulations, and believe me there are many more laws and regulations about buying, using, and even storing guns than the average person knows of…until they try to buy one themself.

            “With great power comes great responsibility”: Yes, and that goes double for our legislators, who have the power to ruin or take lives with the stroke of a pen. No, the media didn’t take lives in Newtown, and neither did I nor any other law-abiding gun owner. That’s why we are not responsible for this tragedy, and why we do not intend to be unfairly blamed or scapegoated for it. We do not commit crimes and as a group we are far more responsible than you imagine. Punishing people for crimes they do not commit is not the way we do things in this country. Punishing people for crimes they MIGHT commit is the realm of science fiction…or should be.

            P.S. I assume that, since you equate owning a particular item that can kill with the RIGHT to kill, that you have removed all such things from your home. You know…knives, matches, baseball bats, martial arts belts that could be used to strangle someone…?

          • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

            DC vs. Heller (I’m assuming that’s the Supreme Court cases you’re thinking of) created an environment where it gave individuals the right to bear guns but it also made it very clear that the government CAN regulate the sale and ownership of guns.

            Why is prevention of future crimes a form of punishment, in your mind? Guns are to kill or maim (or threaten to kill or maim, in the best case scenario). Why is creating an extra burden on getting that right a form of punishment?

            I do not have, in my house, any object for which the sole purpose is to kill or threaten to kill. Knives can be used for cooking; as can matches (they can be used to light candles and fires too). Baseball bats are used for sport and martial art belts are about a balanced life, with meditation, as well as defense (no martial art I’ve practiced has been about offense. Karate and Judo are strictly defensive arts)

          • http://www.facebook.com/DavidFiedler David Fiedler

            Did you actually miss the part how there are literally thousands of gun laws in this country ALREADY? I have no objection to reasonable regulations, but they already exist. The firearms industry and sales are regulated up the gazoo, and every time a licensed dealer sells a firearm, a check is made to a Federal database to insure that purchaser is legally allowed to receive it. Now it’s time for America to focus on the real elephant in the room…the huge number of mentally ill people in this country, and how to treat them compasisonately, instead of as potential criminals. Sane people who happen to own guns are not now, and have never been the problem.

          • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

            Did you miss the part where those laws are failing to stop repeat massacres?

            There are crazy people in other countries, where guns are not legal, and the result is that there are substantially fewer shootings. Yes, mental illness is something to be addressed but addressing it does not mean that we should not ALSO address the availability of guns in our society.