Thursday, June 26, 2008

Guns and Glory

The term 'landmark ruling' is bantered about quite freely by both the left and right.

In reality, it should be reserved for Supreme Court decisions like the one today - in which a 5 to 4 majority defended the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution. They said it clearly grants Americans the right to own and keep guns in their home for self defence.

Unbelievably, it was the first time in America's 200 year history that the Supreme Court had to decide on this hot issue - which divides right and left as sharply as issues like abortion.

Despite my clear dislike of guns - as I wrote about here - I have to admit that I'm happy with this decision. Why? Because it's clearly the correct interpretation of the Constitution.

The issue arose when a security guard, Dick Anthony Heller, was refused permission to keep a handgun in his Washington D.C. home. The District of Colombia has had a blanket ban on private gun ownership since 1976 - citing the sensible argument that suburbanites don't need weapons.

Which is true - and I fundamentally agree with that principle. However, the Constitution of the United States wasn't written with Washington suburbanites in mind. It was written with the memory of the Revolutionary War fresh in everybody's memory - and the knowledge that the revolutionary army was often made up of farmers and plantation owners bringing their own muskets to the battlefield.

The fact that these private citizens owned guns was the sole reason they were able to fight back against British occupation - and that cemented the importance of private gun ownership in the common American psychology.

But private gun ownership in America was important long after the revolutionary war.

Private citizens with rifles and pistols fought off Mexicans at the Alamo. People defended their plantations and homes against Confederates or Union soldiers during the American Civil War.

In the lawless wild west, a shotgun and pistols were essential to defend your homestead from Indians or desperadoes - or to deter shenanigans in a saloon-room game of poker.

Even during the 20th century, private gun ownership has played it's part. During the days of 'lynchings,' more than a few African American families were saved when 'Pop' scared off the mob with the business end of a twelve gauge.

When corrupt local lawmen wouldn't help, it was the 2nd Amendment (or, at least, the principle of it) which provided the most desperate last line of defence.

So while it's all too easy, in our smug suburban existence, to forget the important role the 2nd Amendment has played in American history, we should make an effort not to.

Yes, it's true. Living in the commuter belt of New York city, I know I don't need a gun. In fact, I'm more worried about my neighbours 'packing heat' than what might occur if we left our homes 'defenceless.'

I've said it once and I'll say it again - a Louisville Slugger is probably the most effective form of home defence out there.

But the issue up for discussion was THE LAW.

Aristotle told us: The law is reason free from passion.

Therefore, as much as I hate guns - passionately, in fact - the only reasonable interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is the one decided on today by the Supreme Court.


Anonymous said...

"In the lawless wild west, a shotgun and pistols were essential to defend your homestead from Indians or desperadoes - or to deter shenanigans in a saloon-room game of poker."

Shelly Parker is a community organizer who resides in a high-crime neighborhood and has been threatened by drug dealers. Shouldn't she be able to guard herself from them?

Dick Anthony Heller, a security guard, lives in a high-crime area of Washington DC. He spends his days defending the federal judiciary. Why shouldn't he be able to use the same tools to protect his own house?

Tom G. Parker is a gay man who has been assaulted on account of his sexual orientatation. Why shouldn't he be able to protect himself from a repeat?

Even in lawful areas like NYC and DC, it can take minutes for the police to arrive once they have been summoned. When your life is on the line, those minutes can be far too long.

I suspect that there are two stable states here: One where nobody is allowed arms, and one where everyone is allowed arms. The former isn't very reasonable, however, as there are so many things that can be turned into weapons. (Cars, knives, etc.) Firearms are also useful for other purposes, like stopping rampaging bears. So the only stable state is one where people get to defend themselves.

- Tom

Roland Hulme said...

All good points, Tom! I think I'm approaching this from a smug, European approach. when I was brought up, gun crime was practically unheard of and the idea of a homeowner having a gun seemed laughable.

Ironically, in the UK, since the total gun ban went into effect, gun crime has shot up more than 300%.

fb said...

Maybe up 300% back in Blighty. But it's still a drop in the ocean compared with US gun crime.

BritGal' Sarah said...

Roland I will be back to read what looks like an intersting post later after some sleep!

But in the meantime there is an award waiting for you back at my place, maybe not the one you were anticipating, but a bigger compliment I hope!?

Becky said...

I am terrified of guns, and probably won't ever own one. But I respect the right of others to own them. I guess I wish that there was more of a ban/impossiblilty to achieve an assault weapon.

With my luck, I would shoot myself accidentally while trying to shoot a burglar who turned out to be my husband.

The Maid

Anonymous said...

"I guess I wish that there was more of a ban/impossiblilty to achieve an assault weapon."

I'm curious... what do you consider an assault weapon to be?

Realize that fully automatic firearms (any gun that shoots more than one bullet per trigger-pull) have been highly restricted since the 1930s.

The definition of "assault weapon" is a gun with more than 2 of five cosmetic features, none of which matter particularly with respect to the functioning of the gun. You can take a gun that's perfectly legal, replace the stock, and wind up with one that isn't. What's the sense in that?

I'll note that, unfortunately, the UK violent crime rate is several times higher than the US rate. I think this is a more interesting metric than the gun crime rate.

(To be fair, the US has a higher murder rate.)

- Tom (why won't blogger let me log in?)