18th Century thinking on guns doesn’t serve us well today

This is a reader opinion in answer to Blaine Ross’ Feb. 13 reader opinion, “Guns can be used to protect our freedom.”

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that we are all “endowed by (our) Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As we wrestle with the issue of guns, we often fail to treat all three of these rights with equal consideration.

Yes, we have a right to liberty, therefore we have liberty to own a gun. However, do we not also have a right to life? A right to fulfill our dreams and find happiness without having to worry about being slaughtered at school with a semi-automatic assault rifle?

Many of those who are against any type of gun control legislation fail to put the Second Amendment in proper historical perspective. At the time our founding fathers drafted the Bill of Rights, semi-automatic assault rifles did not exist. Our fathers could not have had any anticipation of any weapon of the sort.

Therefore, it is faulty to assume that with this amendment, our fathers were approving ownership and usage of any type of gun, because most of the guns in question today were not even a speck on the horizon in the late 1700s.

Furthermore, the main reason the Second Amendment was drafted was not to protect individuals’ rights to possess firearms. This is a common misconception. At the time this amendment was drafted, our country’s leaders were still reeling from a substantial rebellion led by Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays who, like many others, was suffering from economic hardships and blamed the new government’s handling of finances. The government needed a way to respond to such surprise rebellions. It created the Second Amendment so that a “well regulated militia” could be formed, stipulating that “the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” so that people could aid with the militia.

The Second Amendment was created at a time when there was no organized military in this country. There was no National Guard. The militia sanctioned in this amendment was the National Guard. Today, the United States has a military larger than most developed countries’ militaries combined. The Second Amendment’s original necessity and purpose is no longer relevant in modern America, and it has not been for a long time.

That being said, a modern America does not mean absolutely no guns in households at all. In other countries, say European countries, this would work perfectly well. However, America is different. In this country, we hold our individual liberties very dear to our hearts. Our country was founded and fought for over the principle of individual liberty.

Regardless of the original intent of the Second Amendment, it does protect our rights as individuals to possess firearms for self-defense. It is a crucial part of the Bill of Rights and it is a liberty that cannot and should not be taken from the American people.

However, there are some guns that have no place in a household. Automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons have only one purpose: to slaughter as many human beings as possible in a short period of time. That is why they are used in combat. That is why they should not be allowed in households, even if it is solely for self-defense. No one needs a weapon such as that just to ward off a few intruders.

The fact is, mass gun shootings seem to have become almost as common as household break-ins, so keeping a deadly assault weapon in a home has become more of a hazard than a safety precaution. The gunman responsible for the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut this past December, in which classrooms full of beautiful little children were slaughtered like animals, obtained his semi-automatic assault weapon from the home of his mother, a law-abiding citizen who had every right, according to current laws, to purchase this gun.

The New England Journal of Medicine published two studies showing that keeping a gun in a home makes it 2.7 times more likely that there will be homicide in that home, and 4.8 times more likely that someone will commit suicide. An International Crime Victims survey showed that more guns cause higher rates of homicide and suicide.

In Great Britain, the crime rate and violence has been lowered significantly since they enacted strict gun laws. All of this evidence proves that guns do more harm than good, and that gun control does work. Many proponents of guns insist that gun control would not prevent all criminals from accessing guns and killing people.

This is true.

However, put this argument in context; we have laws against homicide. Has that prevented people from murdering one another in cold blood? We have laws against theft. Has that prevented all theft in this country? Just because we have a law against something does not mean that the problem will be completely eradicated. But we owe it to the victims of gun violence to at least do something.

We owe it to our kids, so that they will not have to go to school wondering if they will get shot that day.

We owe it to our parents, so that they will not have to wonder if they will see their child at the end of the day.

We owe it to our families to enact legislation that will ban automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons completely; require mandatory background checks on all gun purchases and ban the buying and selling of high-powered magazines.

After all, guns do not kill people; bullets do. The solution to gun violence is not and never will be more guns.

We need to tap into our common sense and realize this.

For modern America, with the largest military in the world and the highest rate by far of gun deaths, the Second Amendment should not mean what it meant in the 18th century. We no longer have the need for every person in every household to own a gun for self-defense. Yes, our right to possess firearms should be protected. But it must be limited.

Weapons used in combat do not belong in a home or in a school. We forget that as Americans, we also have a constitutional right to life. This right to life is being snatched away by guns; it is taken every time some crazed person decides to take an assault weapon to a school, or a church, or a movie theater, or a mall, or a grocery store parking lot. These public massacres have become disturbingly common.

We see death tolls on the news and think, “Oh that’s sad,” and then change the channel because we have become numb to our own gun violence. These killings have to stop. We cannot afford to lose any more precious young children: children with promise; children with hopes and dreams; children who are needlessly and cruelly struck down because we insist on interpreting the Second Amendment as if it were still 1791.

For a progressive society, we still seem awfully primitive when it comes to guns. If we care at all about our well-being as a people, we must change, and we must change today.

Hillary Smith is a resident of McCleary