It’s always suspect when someone tries to analyze the way “the other side” thinks, so I please take this post with a healthy degree of skepticism. I’m trying to understand why gun ownership rights are such a crucial matter to so many Americans. I have some ideas, but they’re not even developed to the point of being a theories. I’m thinking out loud here.
I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that the Second Amendment was intended to function as a hedge against government power. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t generally guarantee the right to bear arms, but the intent was that gun ownership would serve as a check against a government that overstepped its authority.
To me, at least, it’s pretty obvious that the original purpose of the Second Amendment is woefully obsolete. No militia, no matter how well-regulated, is going to be more than roadkill when pitted against the power of the U.S. armed forces. If the government does exceed its legal authority, my carrying a pistol, a rifle, or even a machine gun isn’t going to make one bit of difference. I think we can dismiss the original rationale for the amendment.
Unless I’m missing something, that leaves three reasons material reasons for owning weapons: Crime, sport, and self-defense. I’m going to just assume that no one is in favor of keeping gun ownership legal so criminals can have access to guns. Owning weapons for sport is something that a small-ish segment of the population enjoys and I don’t get the sense that the right to hunt is held so dear that it would cause people to hold the Second Amendment in such high regard.
Self-defense is trickier. I can absolutely understand feeling like you need to own a firearm to feel safe. It’s a lot like the desire to drive the biggest vehicle on the road: It probably makes you safer, but it can make the people around you less safe. Still, I can understand the emotional tug to own weapons to defend yourself.
But…I don’t think that’s really it. I think that, for a lot of people, guns are the symbol by which they measure their “freedom.” I’m not saying that to be snarky. I feel that way about the first amendment. Any attempt to curtail free speech or impose religion on me will draw an unreasonably emotional response from me. You’ve probably heard the bit about how “The fact that I can say all these horrible things about my country and my President just demonstrates how free this country is!” I think gun ownership strikes a similar chord. As long as the freedom to own weapons is preserved, there’s a sense that we’re “free.” A police state, after all, probably wouldn’t encourage all citizens to own guns.
At least, that’s my take on it. I think gun rights are, for a segment of our country, the measure of freedom. It’s not even what you do with them so much as the fact that you’re free to own them. When you run up against restrictions, you notice the walls around you and don’t feel as free.
What do you think?