Of the more than 4,500 words in the United States Constitution, a mere 27 words comprise the most controversial section:
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.
This, of course, is the second amendment, whose many interpretations have been argued incessantly in every facet of the media over the past few months. While I believe this entire country can agree we need to find ways to prevent tragedies such as those at Sandy Hook, what we disagree about is how to achieve that goal, whether it be through gun control or gun rights.
Though I respect the good intentions of many advocates of gun bans, I recognize that their ideas are nothing more than that: good intentions. A world without crime or murder would be an amazing achievement, but proponents of gun control refuse to acknowledge one critical flaw, which is that banning guns removes them from the hands of the innocent, not criminals, and history verifies this.
Even before the Sandy Hook tragedy, Connecticut had some of the most stringent gun laws in the country. In fact, of the 15 states with the highest homicide rates, 10 states–including Illinois–also have very restrictive gun controls. Despite Illinois’ gun laws, Chicago has one of the highest crime and murder rates in the U.S. with 506 murders in 2012 (primarily gun-related).
If gun controls work, why would Chicago have such a high homicide rate? Simple: gun restrictions don’t work. In 1974 Jamaica instituted a heavy restriction of handguns, which preceded a profound growth of violent crime. Take our very own city of Evanston as an example. In 1982, Evanston became the largest town in America to ban all handguns (as well as all other guns, including BB guns), and yet violent crime remained wholly unaffected. Chicago even followed Evanston’s lead in prohibiting handguns, but in 2005 96% of all gun-related murders in the Windy City were caused by handguns.
Actually, many studies indicate that higher gun ownership leads to less crime. A recent study of Virginia found that from 2006 to 2011, firearm sales increased 63%, while gun-related crime decreased more than 27%. Furthermore, Houston has a crime rate of ⅔ of that of Chicago and also has significantly less restrictive gun laws than Chicago, despite the two being socioeconomically similar.
Essentially, gun bans should be considered to work in the same fashion as prohibition of alcohol and marijuana; alcohol still existed despite the 18th amendment, and today marijuana is still available despite it being illegal. As such, when handguns are banned in Chicago, they still account for a significant amount of crime.
Yet at the end of the day, this debate isn’t about the numbers. Rather, the gun right debate hinges on the incompatibility of the second amendment and a supposed moral high ground: the right to not get shot supersedes the right to own a gun. I say that the right to defend oneself supersedes the right to not get shot. The right of a person to defend his or her own life is an extension of the fundamental right to life. This is not to say, however, that life is not a right without a right to guns, but rather that man can only have a right to life when he is truly free to defend it. This is why the second amendment does not state the “right to bear firearms”, but simply to bear arms, meaning anything with which a man can use to defend himself.
But the purpose of the second amendment is not the right to self-defence against others; the true purpose is to give people the power to expel an oppressive government should it arise again. Many people find this notion absurd – that the government could end public sovereignty – yet it is nevertheless always a possibility. History is fraught with examples of democracies becoming oppressive, and Americans should not be so ignorant and arrogant as to consider themselves removed from this possibility (as the Japanese sent to internment camps in WWII will likely attest). A populace without weapons has no choice but to succumb to the whims of the ruler, as have been the fates of the peoples of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Soviet Russia. The second amendment has and will continue to help prevent such a fate for the United States.
Even with national elections, the federal government could do anything if it were not the for the right to bear arms- the section which lets our politicians know that if they are unresponsive to the will of the populace, they can and will be replaced by force if necessary. Without that threat, our Constitution is nothing more than words on paper, but so long as they are there, those 27 words comprise the most important sentence of our great nation’s history.