Opinion | Tony Jones: Addressing our gun problem

I came across two articles recently that did a good job analyzing America’s gun problem. An article from The Trace shows how, despite the level of gun violence in our country, many states are making it easier to procure and carry a gun openly by ending restrictions such as concealed carry permitting and mandatory live-fire training. A Vox article on gun violence in the U.S. says that there were 390 million guns in circulation in our country in 2018, a number that is doubtless much higher five years later, which means we could arm every U.S. citizen just with the firearms already in circulation.

Gun violence continues to haunt our country, and it seems there is no safe place from this disease in our society. The presence of guns in our communities, and our inability to deal with them effectively, has become such a flashpoint that even brandishing anything that looks like a gun can result in tragedy. While there may be truth in the saying that it’s not the gun, it’s the person behind it that we have to worry about, too often the gun, real or not, is the spark that ignites an already volatile situation.

With existing gun laws seemingly ineffective in preventing the increase in gun violence, and states and the Supreme Court evermore open to allowing the proliferation of firearms, it would seem eliminating, or even significantly reducing the number of guns in our country is a quixotic endeavor. The disease has already spread too far to excise it without killing the patient in the process. If we were to somehow summon the political courage (and foolhardiness?) to attempt to reduce the number of firearms through mandatory buybacks or some other methodology, given the current state of discord in this country, that collection process could lead to the dissolution of our society.

Gun advocates tell us they’re protecting our constitutional rights by exercising their Second Amendment rights. This argument seems a bit self-serving to me, since they appear to want to cherrypick the portion of that amendment they enforce (“the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) and ignore the rest of it (“a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”). That language seems pretty straightforward — U.S. citizens are allowed to bear arms in case mobilization is required to defend our country. This defense could be via a national call up to defend the country against foreign invaders, or at the state level to defend against internal threats, including our own government. Either way, for the militia to be effective, it would be necessary to ensure it was well-regulated by state or national authorities.

So what if we implemented the Second Amendment fully — particularly that “well regulated” part? Perhaps that regulation could be something similar to what Switzerland and Israel do — the U.S. could require all citizens of both genders to serve in the National Guard. That service would enable conscripts’ constitutional right to own guns as part of a “well-regulated militia.” There would be other benefits besides ensuring our national security in doing this. These would include ensuring that those who bear arms have the training to do so safely and effectively. Additionally, we could ensure that the evaluation on whether you should be allowed entry into the National Guard hinges on successfully passing background checks and mental health evaluations. Over time, this would ensure that the majority of Americans have been vetted for gun ownership on a skills and psychological basis.

Another requirement that comes with your Second Amendment rights would be that even after your active time in the guard is up, you’d still be considered part of the “militia” and could periodically be called upon to help with natural disasters, civil unrest, or an invasion from Mexico or Canada. As part of that continued participation in the National Guard, periodic evaluations of your fitness for duty (and to bear arms) would be required.

This won’t eliminate gun violence of course, as even in countries like Switzerland that heavily regulate firearms, gun violence continues to be an issue. But it would address the farcical Second Amendment excuse for enriching gun manufacturers at the expense of our citizenry. The reason for Americans to have access to firearms, per that amendment, is to protect this country from threats. Enabling gun ownership outside of that constitutional purpose only serves to further the epidemic of gun violence we’re experiencing and push solutions for bringing it under control further out of reach.

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