Thoughts on the Second Amendment: Is Gun Ownership an Absolute Right?

“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.” - The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.

It’s time we think clearly about this amendment.  I’m not lawyer, nor am I an expert on the Constitution.  But I can read and think (to a degree), and here’s what I’m thinking:

First, let’s put aside the opening phrase of the amendment – the bit about a well-regulated militia.  Exactly what the authors of this amendment meant by that, I really don’t know.  To my mind it could be anything from what has become the National Guard, or it could mean a citizens’ militia group of the type that we see cropping up nowadays.  I really don’t know.

Let’s focus on the second part of the amendment.  Gun rights advocates often point to the words “shall not be infringed” as grounds for no gun regulation at all.

First thing I want to say is that none of our rights exists without limitations.  Regarding our right to free speech, for example, the Supreme Court has upheld that we can’t use our freedom of speech to endanger others or to incite violence.  That’s an inherent limitation on our right to free speech.  I would think that our right to keep and bear arms is also inherently limited.  For example, we can’t use our arms to hurt somebody else.  If we’re going to keep (and bear) arms, we have to do so responsibly.

Fact is, we already “infringe” – or “regulate,” which is the term I prefer – people’s right to keep and bear arms.  Notice that the amendment doesn’t say “guns” or “firearms.”  It says “arms.” That could include such things as knives, swords, bows and arrows, etc.  In short, I take it to mean anything that is designed to be used as a weapon.  (I don’t think it includes things not intended as a weapon – a baseball bat, for example.)

If you don’t believe we already regulate arms, try calling up your congressman for an office call, and tell him when you come to visit, you’re bring your combat knife, tomahawk, sword, and crossbow with a few bolts.  You’ll find out very quickly that you can’t bring weapons into the Capitol.  Bingo – a regulation.  An infringement, if you will.

We regulate WHERE a person may have a weapon – you can’t carry a weapon into most government buildings or on a school campus.

We regulate HOW a person may carry a weapon – you can’t carry a handgun in many states without a permit to do so, and in most states, you cannot carry a concealed handgun without a special license.

We regulate WHAT weapons a person may have – you can’t own a machine gun, or a tank, or a howitzer, or a nuclear bomb.

So the question is not WHETHER lines should be drawn regarding gun ownership – we already draw them.  Rather, the debate is about WHERE those lines should be drawn.  I think it’s high time we redraw some of those lines.

No doubt the gun rights advocates will accuse me of being a “gun grabber.” Far from it!  I served thirty years as an infantryman (a paratrooper and Ranger) in the Army and Army Reserve, with several overseas deployments for combat and peacekeeping duty.  Now in my retirement from the military, I collect guns, and absolutely don’t want to see my collection taken away.  I’m all for responsible gun ownership – keeping in mind that gun ownership with no limits is irresponsible.

Conversely, gun control advocates might say that I’m not going far enough.  I would submit that trying to eliminate ALL, or even MOST firearms in the U.S. will only provoke a backlash and encourage gun owners to “go underground”, so to speak.  Any new regulations on guns must be reasonable – understanding that we will certainly debate what is reasonable and what is not. Besides, with the millions upon millions of guns in this country, it is simply not practical to confiscate them all, even if we wanted to.

With these thoughts in mind, I offer the following possible gun regulations for consideration and debate.  Please consider these, discuss these, share them with your state legislators and members of Congress.  Think about where the lines should be drawn, what should be added to or deleted from these.  Think about how new gun regulations could be implemented in a way that is fair to the millions of law abiding gun owners like myself.

  1. Before purchasing a firearm, an individual must
    • Pass a criminal background check.
    • Pass a mental health evaluation.
    • Complete a course in firearms safety and maintenance.
    • Receive a permit from the state government to own a firearm.
  2. The firearms permit must be renewed periodically, with a mental health evaluation and criminal background check required for renewal.
  3. Minimum age to own a firearm of caliber greater than .22 should be 18 years of age.
  4. Individuals should be limited to a certain number of firearms.  Collectors may apply for a permit to exceed the maximum number allowed.
  5. Firearms must be registered with the state or local law enforcement office.
  6. Bump stocks and other items that permit a semiautomatic weapon to perform as an automatic weapon should be illegal to own or use.
  7. Silencers should be illegal to own or use.
  8. Magazine capacity should be limited.  A special permit should be required in order to own a magazine that exceeds the normally allowed capacity.
  9. Gun sales must be reported by the seller to the appropriate agency within a specified period of time.
  10. Any theft or loss of a firearms must be reported by the owner to the appropriate agency within a specified time of discovering the theft or loss.
  11. Transfers of ownership must be reported to the appropriate agency by the receiving owner within a specified period of time.
  12. The number of firearms an individual may purchase within a specified period of time will be limited.

A final closing couple of thoughts:  First, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not just a gun owner – I’m a gun collector.  I have a small arsenal at my house, and nearly all of them are military grade.  But I don’t keep these guns out of some display of support for gun ownership.  I keep them because I served for many years in the Army.  I was an infantryman, and combat weapons – whether an old Soviet-made Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle or the more modern German G-3 – are historical artifacts.  But as a “grunt,” the tools of my trade hold a special interest and attraction for me.

The second thing is the fact that I was a soldier.  Still am, I suppose, even though now I’m listed in the Retired Reserve.  Because of that, I’ve caught a lot of flak for my views on gun regulation.  Second Amendment enthusiasts often take the view that any regulation of guns at all is an infringement and that because I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, my support for gun regulation means that I’m breaking my oath.  If you’ve experienced this sort of thig – stand your ground.  I reject the argument that gun regulation and gun rights are mutually exclusive.  As I’ve stated above, all of our rights are subject to limitations.  Ownership of a weapon is no different.

This gun collector says it’s high time we adopt reasonable gun regulations that will find the balance between responsible citizens’ being able to own and carry, and keeping our streets – and schools and churches and temples and movie theaters – safe.

Contributing Editor: Tim Chauncey

John Kaminar served ten years in the Regular Army and twenty in the Army Reserve.  A paratrooper and Ranger, he has served with the international peacekeeping forces in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and in combat in the Persian Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan.  The son, son-in-law, and father of combat veterans, this physical fitness enthusiast, amateur military historian, and self-professed “foreign language geek” now works in security and emergency preparedness in his home state of Arkansas, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and pack of dogs.

@jidk1187

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    Not sure I agree about silencers, though I may be swallowing the Kool-Aid from opinions I’ve heard. As you well know, silencers don’t actually silence. They are more properly called suppressors (though I don’t fault your using the more widely-understood term). Hearing loss is a public health problem, and not all of it is due to listening to rock music on headphones. Even using suppressors, hearing protection would be needed at the range, but hearing risk for people who are around gunfire a lot, especially at indoor ranges (instructors, etc.) would be minimized. Suppressors can be seen as a public health measure for recreational shooters and those who work with them. In an shooting incident that took place indoors, even suppressed gunshots would still be audible, and in a situation like Las Vegas, with the shots coming from so far away, I’m not sure the sound of gunfire was all that useful a warning to the victims or responders. But I may be wrong.

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