“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,
Introduction. The twenty-seven words cited above are the basis for a long-standing battle over whether or not private citizens have a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms individually, in any manner they choose, and without any restraint, restrictions, controls or other forms of regulation by the government. This blog offers my personal views on the subject, along with some suggestions on how we might be able to break the impasse that divides us and reach an equitable, reasonable, and acceptable accommodation on the subject. First, however, let's examine the text above and its meaning.
What is a Militia? Simply stated, a militia is a collective body of citizen soldiers enrolled for military service, and called out periodically for training, but who serve full time only in emergencies.
What is a “Well-Regulated” Militia? The word “regulated” is defined as “controlled or directed by rules, principles, methods, etc.” Based upon many sources from around the time our Constitution was drafted, the term ”well-regulated militia” is one that is thoroughly trained, highly-disciplined, with a certain level of expertise in military movements, that functions as a coordinated unit. Alexander Hamilton indicated that a well-regulated militia is maintained in a state of preparedness obtained after rigorous and persistent training. He wrote in Federalist Paper No. 29:
entitle (a militia) to e character of a well regulated militia ...”
Is Our Existing Body of Firearm Owners a Well-Regulated Militia? No. It does not meet the requirements cited above. What we presently have is a huge, uncoordinated mass of generally untrained and undisciplined gun owners throughout our country, very few of which have much expertise in military movements or maneuvers. They do not constitute a “well-regulated militia.”
Who Are “The People?” The preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with three simple but very crucial words, “We, the people ....” The word “people” is a collective noun. The legal definition of the word is “the aggregate of the individuals who comprise a state or nation.” Its usage in Constitutional law refers to “the entire body of those citizens of a state or a nation.” Therefore, the Constitution does guarantee the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, but only as part of well-regulated militias only, and not as private individuals.
What Happened to Our Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms? Nothing. The Constitutional right to “keep and bear arms” extends only to members of a “well-regulated militia.” It does not apply to private gun ownership for personal security, sport, recreation, or hobbies. This amendment does not prohibit gun ownership for these activities. It just doesn't guarantee such ownership as a Constitutional right.
Does This Mean We Have to Surrender Our Guns? No, not necessarily. The Constitution establishes the right for the people to keep and bear arms as part of a well-organized militia, but it does not prohibit gun ownership by private citizens for their personal use. The difference is that private ownership outside a militia is considered to be a privilege, and not a Constitutional right.
Can Our Government Ban Firearms for Private Individuals? Yes. Because gun ownership outside a militia is a privilege and not a right, our government can exercise control over their distribution, ownership, and use. However, banning all guns from private possession might not be advisable.
What Can We Learn from History? In 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, banning the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Positioned right at the onset of the Roaring Twenties, prohibition was doomed to failure from the start. Alcohol became the product of the underground. It flourished in the black market, and was eventually taken over by organized crime. Prohibition fostered corruption and disdain for the law and law enforcement. In 1927, Al Capone reportedly took in $60 million and bragged that he had half of Chicago's police force on his payroll. By that year. there were an estimated 30,000 speakeasies in the country – twice the number of legal bars and saloons prior to prohibition. Raids in New York were severely curtailed after raids uncovered some of the City's top officials and leading citizens at some of the speakeasies. At least one U.S. President, Warren Harding, served liquor openly at the White House during prohibition.
If Success Builds on Success, Can Failure Breed Failure? We did not succeed in controlling the consumption of liquor by banning it. We are not succeeding with our war on drugs. And, if we were to totally ban firearms for individual use in this country, we would undoubtedly fail again.
Why Ban Firearms But Not Motor Vehicles? In discussions of firearm regulation, pro-gun advocates often cite the maxim, “Guns don't kill people; people kill people.” The same could be said for motor vehicles: “Cars don't kill people; people kill people.” The primary reason for this comparison is apparently that both contribute to tens of thousands of deaths per year in this country.. However, while many people call for an outright ban of civilian-owned firearms, there is no such outcry for an ban on motor vehicles. We might learn something by comparing guns to cars and how differently these two entities are viewed and have been handled.
What Are the Facts About Cars vs Firearms? Motor vehicles have been involved in more deaths per year than firearms for quite some time, but that gap has been closing for many years, and firearms are about to overtake motor vehicles when it comes to numbers of deaths. It is not the purpose or intent of this paper to validate or invalidate either side in this issue. Rather, it is to examine the similarities and dissimilarities between the two and how they are handled.
A Comparison Between Motor Vehicles and Firearms
What Might Be A Workable Solution? Pro-gun advocates have asked why anti-gun advocates would like to see a ban on guns but not on motor vehicles that are as lethal as guns. Perhaps that question should be asked differently:. Why shouldn't firearms be subject to regulations similar to those for motor vehicles? The following steps, common to most motor vehicles, should also apply to guns. It wouldn't totally eliminate our fatality problems, but it could go a long way toward establishing accountability, responsibility, and tracking ability for firearms, which should eventually decrease the number of gun-related fatalities by a huge amount. At least it would be a step in the right direction. ”
Firearm Registration. On an annual basis, all firearm owners would be required to register their firearms by a unique identification number permanently affixed to each weapon. Registration fees would vary, based upon class, model, and intended use. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons would be subject to more stringent procedures, justification, and approval, because of the increased danger to the public. A national firearm registry could be checked to ensure that the gun was legally procured and has been used in a lawful manner. Such checks would be repeated for each renewal of registration.
Insurance and Notification Requirements. Gun owners would be required to maintain and provide proof of liability insurance for each firearm they own and submit to possible safety inspection of the weapon(s) as well as provide evidence of safe storage. They would also be required to notify the appropriate agency, within prescribed legal time limits, of the purchase, sale, donation, gift, theft, salvage, or location of any owned firearms. They must also notify the appropriate authority, within applicable time limits, of any change of owner's address.
Responsibility and Accountability of Ownership. The greatest element of this proposal lies with the owners of firearms. Owners would have to assume all responsibility for the safekeeping and safe operation of their firearms, as well as for the consequences of failure to do so in a lawful manner. This includes ensuring that the firearms are stored in a secure place that is kept locked at all times whenever it contains one or more weapons. In addition, all guns should be equipped with trigger locks which must be used at all times, except when the firearm is in actual use. Preferably, the storage unit should also have an alarm connected to an alarm control center to monitor and alert the owners and/or police in the event of unauthorized access to the storage unit. Weapon owners could be charged with criminal neglect for failure to comply with the safekeeping provisions.
Operator's License. Before any individuals would be authorized to operate a firearm, they must be licensed for each class or type of weapon they plan to use. They would have to pass both a written and a performance test to demonstrate their knowledge and competence in each class of firearm for which they desire to be licensed. Licenses would be valid for five years and renewed as established by the issuing jurisdiction.. Retesting and re-inspection of the firearm(s) at each renewal point would be up to the issuing jurisdiction. In addition, the owner would also have to undergo a background check to ensure that he or she did not have a criminal record, a history of violence or threats of violence, or any mental condition that might be result in hostile action with the weapon.
What About Use by Somebody Other Than the Owner? If any firearm is knowingly used by a friend or a member of the owner's family, that owner would be responsible for determining in advance that any person using such a weapon is legally licensed to operate that class of weapon. The weapon owner, as well as the person using such a weapon, could be charged criminally for any unlawful use of such firearms, and would be legally liable to any damages incurred or lawsuits that might ensue as a result of such use, including homicide.
What About Ammunition and Magazines? Ammunition would be sold based upon documented need. All sales would have to be done in person – no more mail order or purchases for others. The purchaser would also have to provide the registration of the gun in which the ammunition is to be used. Such purchases will be recorded in the central registry and excessive purchase could be flagged for investigation. Magazines will be limited in capacity to a reasonable level appropriate to the owner's intended use.
What About Concealed Weapons Permits? These would be handled on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the applicant's stated need. Permits would be valid for one year, subject to renewal yearly based upon demonstrated need. Permits would be valid for a specified time period and renewed for an additional period upon expiration.
What About Automatic and Semi-Automatic Weapons? Existing weapons of this type could be subject to a “grandfather” clause, which would allow them to remain with their owners for a period of up to five years, subject to proper registration, licensing, and insurance requirements. After that time, the need for such weapons would have to be justified on a year-to-year basis, just as newly-purchased weapons of these types would be. Failure to comply with any of these requirements can result in a forfeiture of all such weapons and an automatic suspension from gun ownership or operation for a minimum period specified by the governing jurisdiction.
Who Pays for the Costs of This Program? Ultimately, it would be the owner. Just as gasoline for cars includes taxes in the price of the fuel, so too could these be included in both the weapons and the ammunition costs. Gun licensing and firearm registration fees could also address the costs of administering those programs.
What About Firearm Manufacturers? Motor vehicle manufacturers have been required over the years to implement new safety features ranging from such items as tempered glass windows, padded dashboard/visors/steering wheels, seat belts, head restraints, adjustable and collapsible steering wheels. outside remote-control rear-view mirrors, directional signals, backup lights,power steering and brakes, , anti-locking brakes, protective air bags, and the list goes on and on. I am certain that there are at least a few features that gun manufacturers could implement to promote safety and reduce homicides and suicides. There could be reduced registration fees for such weapons if these types of features ere implemented, which might give such manufacturers an edge over their competition's.
What About Variations in Laws from State to State? Because the recommendations described here could be implemented differently within the various states, there is no way any given state could be expected to enforce the gun laws of another state. Therefore, it would be incumbent upon the gun owner, bearer, or user to be knowledgeable of and conform to the laws of any other state he or she may visit.