Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Guns, “Gun Control,” and School Massacres (Part The Second)

In the first part, entitled “Guns, ‘Gun Control,’ and School Massacres (Part The First)” I tried to give the background reasons upon which I take a position on the issue of guns neither conservative nor liberal. Failure to do something substantial toward reducing the probability of the shedding of the innocent blood of our children and grandchildren seems to be due at least in part to irreconcilable extremes from the far ends of the political spectrum brought to bear on the matter, as if they were the only alternatives. This second part hopes to spell out an alternative with a different approach, one that does not “take one side or the other” and one offering practical solutions. Near the end of the first part it was claimed the NRA is misreading the Second Amendment, our starting point for the second part.

Regardless of your political views and regardless of your feelings toward organizations like the NRA, take a deep breath, relax, and channel the anger over murder in classrooms and schools into determination to come up with a reasonable solution. Let us read together the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights of our Constitution:

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.

It reads clearly to me if you keep only the middle comma. Then it seems straightforwardly saying that the purpose of the people keeping and bearing arms is to form a militia when the security of the nation is threatened. It does NOT directly justify or address personal ownership of guns. This right had to be part of the Bill of Rights because of the military abuse perpetuated upon the colonies by the British. The Second Amendment was written in response to the complaints stated in the Declaration of Independence about colonists forced to quarter British and foreign troops and about colonists having their arms confiscated at the whim of local British military commanders. It was abundantly clear that only a well armed militia, one armed “from home,” could safeguard liberty in case the British, or whoever, tried to take over power from the populace through force. It was the lesson of Lexington and Concord, indeed one of the military lessons of the entire American Revolution.

The Second Amendment, in my opinion, ignores the reality of guns in homes in America, the former need for them on the frontier and in rural areas and the preference of so many Americans to have guns as a hobby, to have them recreationally in the present (See Part The First). By not addressing personal use of guns because of need and/or taste is permission by omission and was, ironically, an oversight by the British that played no small role in their losing the American colonies. This means that in order to have a regulated Militia, a widespread possession of guns was already in place at the end of the American Revolution, thanks in no small part to French arms distributed to American Continental soldiers and American militia in the days before the siege at Yorktown. “Permission to have guns” would have been mute and useless to spell out. In Part The First I maintain that today a practical lack of the old American frontier and the overwhelming urbanization of America has left the reality of guns only as a matter of taste and preference, having nothing to do directly with the right to bear arms toward having a well-regulated Militia, if needed for national security’s sake.

At first this might appear convoluted, but not really. The NRA, in my opinion, has taken advantage of permission by omission and interprets the “right to bear arms” as the right to own as many guns as you want and as many kinds. Any restriction on guns, like not selling assault rifles and limiting the size of magazines for the assault rifles, is taken as an infringement upon the right to bear arms by the NRA. This is pure paranoia. Trying to take or limit the number of guns owned by Americans is like Prohibition, trying to keep them from drinking alcohol; any attempt to take our guns would be as futile and catastrophic as Prohibition. Then the NRA says that citizens must have weapons equal to the military and the police, in case the well-regulated Militia is needed when authorities take over in some kind of “Red Dawn” scenario spawned by some kind of rogue government or military coup; have you noticed the increase in weapons sales since Obama was elected? Again, pure paranoia. Not since the Whiskey Rebellion has a situation arose whereby we probably needed a citizen Militia, and that uprising was mostly handled by the Army. We fought each other in the Civil War over whether or not we split up, not over the right to keep and bear arms; it was over the rights of States and the right to own slaves.

I maintain even if we were reduced to single-shot guns and some rogue government of ours tried to take over, we would pick them off from behind trees and steal their guns, just like we did the British. How long do you think it would take a well-regulated rebel Militia to become equally as armed as the troops, whoever they are, whom we are fighting? The citizenry outnumbers the military in numbers and numbers of guns. Did you see the news in the aftermath of Newtown from Camden NJ? Over 1100 guns of all forms and varieties voluntarily turned in over a day or so, taking advantage of a local police buy-back program! Multiply that by several million to give you an idea of what we could conjure. The NRA needs to check some of those gun shows it supports; a sufficient Militia could be assembled from gun show attendants alone, and, boy, would they be armed! Germane to this point, again think how Obama’s elections have increased the sale and distribution of guns.

It seems to me the Second Amendment is covered by the taste and preference of Americans for owning and shooting guns. Constitutional arguments and NRA paranoia are mute to the problem at hand. For the protection of our children and grandchildren, we need to regulate the shooting of guns similarly to the way we regulate drinking, driving, and smoking. And because having to arm ourselves is never a problem, I think even more restrictions beyond banning assault rifles and large magazines, like putting a ceiling on caliber (e.g. stop with what would bring down a bear), could be imposed without compromising the Second Amendment. The vetting of potential gun owners at gun shops and gun shows should be made more rigorous, also; waiting periods should be just that — an extended time in which the potential gun owner is thoroughly checked out.

As a teacher of high school students for almost 40 years, I have a suggestion that will sooner or later, I think, reduce drastically the likelihood that school shootings will continue, without having to amend the Constitution. Incorporate in all public and private schools an elective curriculum in gun safety, whose goal is to have upon high school graduation trained handlers of guns shooting while hunting or while on the shooting range. Students who complete the course(s) receive, much like a driver’s license, a shooter’s certificate, which for many students will be like a rite of passage, a companion to the driver’s license. Of course, students who do not elect to take the gun course(s) do not receive a shooter’s certificate, and cannot ever own or shoot a gun unless they are trained in similar course(s) for adults and, consequently, certified. Just like we already have drivers and non-drivers, drinkers and non-drinkers, smokers and non-smokers, and the sexually active and the celibate, we will also have shooters and non-shooters. A subdivision of shooters would be hunters and non-hunters.

Like the regulation of alcohol, the sales of guns and ammunition can be taxed, similarly to gasoline, and the money gathered used to pay for the nation-wide gun education outlined in the previous paragraph. I do not think that as high a percentage as those who want to drive will want to obtain a shooter’s certificate while in high school, but I do think there will more than enough to pretend we are responsibly upholding the Second Amendment, particularly by pointing out that the Militia, if ever needed, will surely be well-regulated (i.e. trained). The course(s), after a mandatory basic gun safety introductory course, can include a course in hunting safety for future adult hunters, and, again referring to “well regulated,” can also include gun training in an ROTC setting for those students contemplating a career in the military.

How will guns be kept from the mentally unstable, such as seemed to be the case in Newtown? Also funded with gun and ammo tax money will be a mandatory psychological screening process beginning in kindergarten to identify students mentally stable enough to be allowed to take the gun courses when they get to high school. A student such as the shooter in Newtown presumably will have been identified in the lower grades, and, under the pretense of “special needs,” considered ineligible to take the gun course(s), but eligible to receive individual counseling from the time of identification to high school graduation. It is possible that person could eventually obtain a shooter’s certificate, but only after passing a long series of psychological tests. In adulthood, should a certificate holder commit a felony, their certificate is revoked for life. Strict penalties, including substantial fines, will accompany any behavior this side of a felony considered an abuse of the privilege of shooting — just like driver’s licences are suspended or revoked for certain behaviors behind the wheel.

There is a new example of this kind of screening to identify abusive tendencies. Now on the scene for our military is a program for identifying those in the service who binge or sport drink.

Before such a screening program can be effective, school security should be increased, featuring armed officers from the school and/or the community. The need for such security should decrease over time. Also over time those who think requiring a certificate to shoot a gun is an intolerable infringement of their individual freedom, like those who at the beginning of the 20th century thought requiring a driver’s license to drive a vehicle was an intolerable infringement of their individual freedom, will eventually die off. Meanwhile, the Second Amendment will still be revered and covered, if not mythologized, gun shows will require from dealers and visitors not only an entrance fee but a shooter’s certificate, and the NRA can cease taking stupid stands on gun issues and contribute to the betterment of our society by offering, in conjunction and cooperation with local city and county law enforcement, expertise and instruction in the schools’ gun safety courses.

Some futuristic thoughts: as a physicist familiar with what engineers of all types can do, I suggest real, funded progress toward weapon manufacture wherein a given weapon is “matched” with its legitimate, certified owner (using fingerprints, pupils of the eye, scanning of subcutaneous ID chips, etc.). The weapon will only fire when handled by its certified owner; should someone beside the owner pick it up and attempt to fire it, the weapon — handgun, shotgun, or rifle, not recognizing its owner, would go into a self-shut-down mode, and the weapon would not fire. The weapon will not fire again until activated by its certified owner. Also, each gun could send an electronic signal over the social network to a national server every time it was fired. If firings correlate to a crime in progress, the firing information is forwarded to the police presumably headed to the scene. At least the firing information could aid in the crime investigation, should the crime suspects successfully leave the scene before apprehension.

But, more importantly, should actions perhaps similar to those suggested above be taken in our country, we hopefully can be confident that the precious young minds in our schools are receiving their education in nurturing zones of safety.


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