Saturday, April 11, 2009


I have no trouble with the right to bear arms. The Constitution is an evolving document, so that, even if the Second Amendment originally implied a right to bear arms only in a militia, I am content that it now implies the right to bear arms. But I do have trouble believing that this right is an absolute one. After all, no First Amendment rights are absolute. The right to free speech does not entitle anyone to libel or slander anyone else, to commit perjury, to yell “fire” in a theater, to incite to riot, etc. So I do have trouble with the right to bear—that is, possess and use—any arms at all unconstrained by similar concerns for the public good.

State, district, or territorial legislatures should define constraints on types of arms, use, and ownership for the public good. I see no more danger from registration and regulation to ownership and use of arms than I do of automobiles. But I see no danger to denying people assault rifles, bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, Stinger missiles, and a lot else. Or restricting use of arms to hunting game, killing critters, and protecting people. Or restricting their deployment which recognizes differences in safety concerns in countryside and city. Permitting the carrying of automatic weapons near schoolyards makes much less sense than allowing bars, strip joints, or adult movie stores near them. As it is, no one can carry arms into schools or most other public buildings, or unto planes. Legislatures do regulate the possession and use of arms without outlawing arms.

Legislatures should also restrict the bearing of arms by certain kinds of people. They deny former felons convicted of violent crimes the right to possess arms. They sometimes deny deranged or disturbed people the right to possess or purchase arms. They deny children the right to purchase arms but allow parents to buy them for them. Legislatures do regulate the bearers of arms without outlawing arms.

More problematic are citizens who believe that the possession of arms gives them a sense of security or protection from possible or perceived threats against their freedom by the federal government. I am aware of such claimed, but no such creditable, threats in my lifetime. Today, some people perceive the enormous scale of government action to address economic difficulties as a power grab; I can understand that view, but I cannot make the transition from an objection to bailouts or stimulus funds to any concern about the right to bear arms.

Indeed, the Obama administration has publicly stated its support of the recent Supreme Court decision establishing the individual’s right to bear arms, militia or not. Nevertheless, some blowhards charge the president with plotting against gun-owners. I hope that such indulgence of fears or defiance of facts has no unintended consequences. But if some wingnut reacts by shooting the president, legislatures may place truly tough constraints on gun possession and use which will make defenders of the Second Amendment long for the good old days.


  1. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. I'd rather be able to make a choice to own a gun than have the choice taken from me. Sort of like some women would like the choice to have an abortion rather than have the choice taken from them.

  2. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. I'd rather have the right to choose to own a gun than have that choice taken from me. Just like some women would rather have the right to choose an abortion than have that right taken from them.