November 15, 2008

The Right to Keep and Bear Arms

The Second Amendment at GPO Access
The Second Amendment at Wikipedia

A video on Gun Safety:

I grew up surrounded by guns. My father owned guns, all of his friends owned guns, and for my twelfth birthday the one gift I received that lasted me for years was a lever-action, single-shot .22 rifle.

The National Rifle Association has a number of platitudes that people who fear guns do not understand and cannot agree with. A couple of these are, "if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns" and "guns don't kill people, people do!"

I live in Japan where gun ownership is so tightly controlled it is basically impossible for me to even consider owning a gun. One reason for this is that Japan has a long history of forbidding normal citizens from owning any kind of weapon at all. Well, one of the reasons I hate living here is that the result of this long history is a culturally reinforced level of individual arrogance and egocentricity that would make a backwoods Georgia cracker blush in embarrassment. There is a cultural assumption that people in positions of power not only have the right to verbally, physically, and emotionally abuse their subordinates, they have a duty to do so in order to "make them stronger". This problem is so widespread that a high school teacher who kills a noisy student by hitting him over the head will go to trial and proudly confess that he struck the child, "to make him a stronger, better man. It's not my fault he was too weak to withstand a simple blow on the head."

The Japanese samurai have a worldwide reputation for being honorable, loyal, and meticulously polite with one another. What the world does not know is that samurai of all ranks regularly raped peasant women, regularly killed peasant children to test the edge on their sword, and performed other atrocities with no fear of resistance or legal consequences. Only the samurai had weapons and the legal system allowed them to use those weapons however they liked as long as they did not use them against one another. Yes, that's right, a samurai could rape a farmer's daughter, test his blade by killing the farmer's wife, or even beat the farmer to death because he was bored and nothing would happen to him, but the minute he turned his sword on another warrior to duel both duelists were subject to anything from heavy fines to death sentences.

The same is true of feudal Europe, the Chinese empire, and countless other historic systems where an armed minority commanded an unarmed majority. The founders of the United States knew firsthand the kind of atrocities and excesses made possible by similar laws in the British Empire and in order to prevent that situation from ever arising in the United States of America, they wrote into the constitution right from the very beginning that every individual in the country should be allowed to keep a weapon. It is not an accident that the second individual right enshrined in the constitution, before freedom from search and seizure or anything at all except freedom of speech, was the right to self-defense.

America has tens of millions of guns, perhaps even billions. Of those, a few thousand are involved in violent crimes. Less than 1 in every 1,000,000 guns gets used in a violent crime. More people die in traffic accidents or industrial accidents than die in gun-related accidents. In my hometown, almost every single person in town owns many firearms. Nonetheless, there have been only a few firearms related accidents in the entire history of the town and not a single firearms related homicide!

I know guns are scary to someone who only knows about them through movies, television shows, and the daily news. I understand this. Murders, assassinations, mass school/workplace shootings are terrible, horrifying tragedies. Just the thought of some gun-wielding nut walking into your child's school (or your own workplace) is enough to both keep you awake at night and then give you nightmares when you finally fall asleep. I understand because I have those same feelings. In my case, those feelings are even stronger because I don't have to imagine the damage a gun can do. I was an avid hunter all through high school and I have seen first hand what happens when half an ounce or less of solid lead slams into flesh at high speed. The thought of seeing such wounds in my children or wife is nauseating.

And that's exactly why if I lived in the United States I would keep a gun, probably several guns. If some nut walked into my house intent on doing harm, the only person leaving on a stretcher would be the nut. If you feel dialing 911 is good enough, if you believe the police (or a private security company) could arrive quickly enough to keep you and your family safe that's okay with me. I have no objection to your insistence that you don't need a gun to feel safe. But that does not give you the right to demand I feel the same way, believe the same things or accept the same reality!

I can promise you this, if I owned a gun my gun would never be stolen, fired in anger, or involved in an accidental death. Gun safety is a very serious matter to me personally and everyone in my house would be trained to safely use and diligently secure the guns in our household. There are tens of millions, possibly billions of firearms floating around the United States that will never, ever be a threat to you and yours. Gun control laws do not stop the criminals. The only thing gun control laws ever succeed in doing is creating an environment where armed criminals are free to roam about doing whatever mayhem pleases their sadistic minds.

It was true in medieval Japan. It was true in medieval Europe. It is true today in England. It is true today right here in Japan, widely believed to be the safest country on the globe. I am forced to take many additional precautions to insure my family's safety because I cannot own a gun. I lay awake many nights wondering if all the doors and windows are properly locked, and sometimes I get up several times a night to check them. If I wake up in the morning and discover someone has gone out and left the door unlocked my heart freezes in my chest. On many occasions over the past three decades nightmares of home invasion have woken me drenched in sweat and screaming for help.

It is now mid-November and there have been a dozen home invasions in Japan this year. A dozen places where multiple people died in their sleep and entire families were stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned, and then had their houses burned down around their corpses. Burglars operate in my neighborhood with complete impunity even though I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in one of the safest cities in the world. I cannot relax in Japan because I cannot know when the time will come when I will find myself face to face with a much younger, much stronger man intent on doing harm to me or my family and the only tools I will have to protect us are my wits and my aging body.

Yes, it's true. Violent criminals and sadistic people are rare. They make up about 17% of any given population group.

Seventeen percent is not as rare as you might think. If you personally know 100 people then seventeen of them have the potential to do something so unspeakably violent you will shake your head and say, "I never would have believed it of them."

Will they act on that potential? Probably not. If they do, and if they target you, who will keep you safe?

Some other relevant blogs and articles:
Gun Control Discussion among Obama/Biden supporters
"Right Pundits" Analysis of Obama on Gun Control
"Blue Star Chronicles" on Gun Crime in America
"Blue Star Chronicles" on Gun Crime in Switzerland