I don't own guns. I have very limited experience with them. I am not an expert in Constitutional Law. However, I have read up on this subject and discussed matters with family members, some of whom are gun enthusiasts. I also have a nephew who is in law enforcement in California. A relative of my sister-in-law works for the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency of the Federal Government. So, as something of an outsider, I nevertheless feel compelled to share my personal observations about this.
I personally do not worry if someone owns guns, anymore than I am concerned that the same person owns knives, bows and arrows, swords, chain saws, or a welding torch. My issues with guns include "strict constructionist" interpretations of the US Constitution, the responsibility entailed by gun ownership, and people's attitudes towards safety and security. I will address these issues separately.
People are free to interpret the Constitution how they want, but the courts decide how these interpretations translate into the rule of law. While some have suggested that the Second Amendment was crafted to enable slave patrol militias in the South, this author suggests otherwise. I believe it was designed to empower state militias, and that these have been superseded by the National Guard. As people who have experienced crime and violence will readily concede, however, one would hate to not have a means of protecting one's loved ones and person when the National Guard, or the police, aren't there. I agree with Jason Johnson that the process of acquiring a gun should require rigorous licensing and training, more so, perhaps, than getting a driver's license. What these opinions suggest is that the Second Amendment doesn't spell out what the "right to bear arms" entails. As Johnson has observed, in his conversation with Collon Noir, an NRA supporter, the NRA is really a trade organization, not a guarantor of constitutional protections. It's interpretation is as tortuous as that of any ardent regulator. I am personally glad that our Constitution lends itself to amendment, and judicial review. For me, strict constructionists are like those who cling to scriptural inerrancy, in the face of abundant textual scholarship and archaeological revelations. I believe that Latter-Day Saints, who believe in progressive revelation and an open scriptural canon, should not treat the US Constitution as sacrosanct and infallible. The versatility of the Constitution is precisely why it has weathered attacks against it over the centuries. Some have suggested amendments to alleviate congressional inertia. I believe now that the Equal Rights Amendment should have been adopted. There are conduct and competency issues in the executive branch, which seem to be inadequately addressed by current law. It is notable that no president has been successfully removed from office, except in case of assassination or voluntary resignation.
When I consider gun ownership, I am reminded about my intermediate school shop teacher. While I wasn't the best student, I do remember his message about using tools properly, as they were intended. I still shrink from using screwdrivers as chisels or ice picks, for example. The rules applied both to preventing abuse to the tools, and to personal safety. I am also reminded of the example of my late father, who was in the First Infantry during World War II. He certainly knew about weaponry, and used it to take human life. While he had a service revolver, none of us was allowed to handle it unsupervised. I never played with it, as some children have with their own parents' weapons. He kept it in a safe place, so none of my siblings would get to it. I had toy guns, but I was not allowed to point them at another person. I believe if every parent kept weapons inaccessible to children, and taught them not to point even toy guns at other children, it would make a world of difference.
I served a mission to Switzerland, where every able-bodied male between about 19-34 is required to do active duty for a few weeks out of the year, and is required to pass a marksmanship test. There are shooting ranges in just about every town. Basic training is for 18 weeks and soldiers keep their weapons at home and equipment at home, though not ammunition, according to Wikipedia. Switzerland has very little crime, compared to the United States. However, ownership of weapons there is not necessarily what preserves the peace. I believe it derives from a strong sense of community values, and peer pressure. The Swiss are very aware of what goes on in their communities, and are quick to reprimand those in violation of even minor ordinances. While their confederation means that national laws are not always uniformly enforced by the respective cantons, their heritage of independence does not translate into disrespect for order and conformity. I am sure our gun homicide rate mystifies them.
As I said, I don't mind if someone owns guns, or other weapons. I just think guns, like any dangerous tool, or equipment, should be treated with proper respect. It is an awesome responsibility to carry a gun, because it is designed for protection and, if necessary, the wounding, or killing, of another person, or creature. Those who have served in the military, in law enforcement, or hunted, should know what that responsibility entails. It is not to be treated lightly. How someone can carry a loaded weapon about his or her person when judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs disturbs me. I am appalled when people brag about their willingness to kill someone, under the flimsiest of pretexts. Those who have had to take life do not brag about it. As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has pointed out in On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, normal human beings are not bloodthirsty or homicidal by nature. They must be drilled to kill. A friend of mine who served in Vietnam said his first "kill" was very traumatic. Like most combat soldiers, though, he got used to it. If one has to use a gun, or some other weapon, one must be sure that it is in working order, that one knows how to aim and fire, and must not be hesitant, if the situation requires it, to use it against other sentient beings. How many, indeed, are ready to assume that charge? I would guess there aren't nearly as many as those who actually own guns.
The final issue with me is the sense of safety that many believe owning a gun conveys. If one knows how to properly store and maintain a gun, fine. As before, familiarity with the use of one's tools usually equates with their safe handling. So, if a gun is going to provide protection, one should practice with it regularly. I have bought tools and camping gear, and only used them once or never. I like the idea of having them, but unlike insurance, they provide little security if they are neglected, and I don't use them. Once one has acquired a gun, one is committed to its use, and to constant vigilance, unless one intends to use it only for display purposes. One cannot assume it is unloaded, unless it is taken apart. One cannot assume the safety is on, without checking it. Having a gun, and being prepared to use it, still does not guarantee protection. I do not think anything in life guarantees safety for the body. I believe this is what Nephi means when he refers to "carnal security" in 2 Nephi 28:21 or trusting in "the arm of flesh" in 2 Nephi 4:34. Guns do not protect our spirits, if we are caught up in the pride of our hearts, or our own transgressive wills.
I am also not one to ignore public health and safety warnings, and expect God to protect me, if I refuse wise counsel. Even as one with the priesthood, if I do not take advantage of all the marvelous tools and services available to me, I cannot expect to be protected by angels, nor sheltered from harm. Not all of us are ham radio operators, or have EMT training. That doesn't preclude me from understanding about emergency preparedness, and becoming familiar with the skill sets of my neighbors, or how to contact them when the need arises. That doesn't excuse me from planning what to do if there is a break-in, or if my life is threatened, or someone else is endangered. That doesn't excuse me from consulting with local law enforcement and participating in neighborhood watch. I may not own a gun, but knowing those who do, and being able to trust their competency with one, will ease my mind a bit. I assume that law enforcement officers know how to handle guns. Just knowing someone has a gun, however, is not the same as knowing whether or not he or she is prepared to use it.
When people speak of arming the populace, without a reporting mechanism to determine whether or not that populace knows how to use guns responsibly and safely, it doesn't relieve my anxiety. Just giving guns to people is no more effective against crime and violence than giving money to beggars is in fighting poverty. If people speak of taking ownership of guns, rather than just having guns, then I am assured they are acting in the public interest, and not just marketing firearms.
This is the third in our five-part series titled "Mormonism, Agency, and Politics." In the first post we discussed the importance of agency in Mormon doctrine. In the second we addressed Satan's strategy of limiting our agency. In the third, we addressed the view that agency can be restricted simply by restricting freedom. In the fourth, we will examine the idea that agency can be restricted by removing differences between good and evil and explore its political implications.
As we discussed previously, one popular view of agency is that it can be decreased any time freedom is restricted. As Mormon liberals, we are frequently presented with the argument that a particular government intervention is bad because it limits our agency. This is most frequently repeated when dealing with taxes: "if I want to help the poor, let me exercise my agency and do it. Don't force me to be charitable, because that's Satan's plan." While we obviously don't appreciate being told that our political ideals are the spawn of the devil, we also disagree for doctrinal reasons.Read more