Sunday, November 22, 2015

The second amendment is about the military, not the individual

This post is the fourth part of my response on a gun control thread on Facebook. Specifically, my response to:

4. The second amendment doesn't guarantee individual rights to self defense, only those in military service can bear arms.

This falsehood is based on articles like this one in the NY Time, which says “Most federal appeals courts have said that the amendment read as a whole protects only a collective right of the states to maintain militias.” But appeals courts are not infallible.

The second amendment reads:

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 whole controversy rests on whether the first phrase constrains the second to refer only to states' militias. Before we get into the law and history involved, let's try a little experiment. Replace the “controversial” terms with equivalent “neutral” terms and see how a reasonable person would interpret it.

A well educated electorate being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and read books shall not be infringed.

So, in the above statement, who has the right to keep and read books? Registered voters, or the people? It is pretty clear that the first phrase merely defines the purpose for the statement, not a limitation. The Supreme court agrees. In D.C. v. Heller the majority opinion states:

The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, "Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

The Bill of Rights contains two other amendments which use the phrase “the right of the people.” In both cases the phrase refers to an individual right.

Amendment 1: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Amendment 4: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Furthermore a grammatical analysis of the second amendment reveals

"The words 'A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,'... constitutes a present participle, rather than a clause. It is used as an adjective, modifying 'militia,' which is followed by the main clause of the sentence (subject 'the right', verb 'shall'). 

The to keep and bear arms is asserted as an essential for maintaining a militia.
"The sentence does not restrict the right to keep and bear arms, nor does it state or imply possession of the right elsewhere or by others than the people; it simply makes a positive statement with respect to a right of the people."

We can also look at the founders and framers of the Constitution to see what they said relevant to the second amendment.

George Mason said “I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” (Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1778).

Richard Henry Lee said “A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves… and include all men capable of bearing arms... To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms… The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle.” (Letters From the Federal Farmer to the Republican, Letter XVIII, January 25, 1788)

Samuel Adams said “And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms...” (Debates of the Massachusetts Convention of February 6, 1788)

Thomas Jefferson wrote “False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. Laws that forbid the carrying of arms laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they act rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” (Quoting Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment)

He also wrote “A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.” (Letter to Peter Carr, 178)

Thomas Paine wrote “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside. And while a single nation refuses to lay them down, it is proper that all should keep them up. Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them.” (Thoughts on Defensive War, 1775)

Realize that the second amendment, while it affirms the natural right to self defense, states explicitly that the people have the right to defend themselves and their community against not only criminals, but armies, both foreign and domestic. Therefore such things as “assault weapons” bans are unconstitutional. The quotes around “assault weapons” are because the weapons banned by these laws are, according to the federal government's own definitions not assault weapons. In fact, when the federal government buys more powerful, more deadly versions of these firearms, they call them “personal defense weapons” or PDWs.

To summarize:

  • The founders of our country considered the second amendment to be an individual right.
  • A grammatical analysis of the second amendment affirms it to be referring to an individual right.
  • The Supreme Court has affirmed multiple times that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right.

Self defense is a limited right

This post is the third part of my response on a gun control thread on Facebook. Specifically, my response to:

3. Self defense is a natural right, but it is not unlimited.

This statement is obvious, and I agree with it. The problem is it's being used to justify the disarming of law abiding citizens because they don't “need” a gun. So let's get into the moral and ethical side of self defense.

What does a right to self defense mean? It means that you have a God-given right to preserve your own life against someone who would take it, or cause you serious harm. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor... The one is intended, the other is not."

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful... Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.
2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

It's pretty explicitly stated in 2265 “those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.” One could argue that this is restricted to police and military, since it talks about the "civil community". However, the basic unit of a community is the family and parents have legitimate authority over the family. I would therefore claim that this statement includes parents in the explicit right to bear arms.

Furthermore limiting this to police and military has a problem in that police are not charged with repelling aggressors, but merely arresting those who have broken the law. Several Supreme court cases have affirmed the fact that the police do not have a duty to protect citizens. So a narrow view of this would be that only the military can bear arms.

Even conceding a narrow view of paragraph 2265, what does the rest of it say about firearms? Note that “Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow” so lethal weapons are not out of the question.

What constitutes a legitimate means of self defense? Certainly one has the right to use one's body to defend itself (e.g. fists). But what if a 5 foot tall 90 pound woman is being attacked by a 6 foot 5, 290 pound man? Saying she has the right to use fists is essentially denying her any effective defense.

Any effective means of self defense must at least even the odds of the defender and attacker. In a
world where attackers are likely to be armed with deadly weapons (knives, guns, etc.) anything less than that is really no defense at all. There is an old adage “God made men, Sam Colt made men equal” referring to firearms manufacturer Colt. There is some truth to the saying.

A 5 foot tall 90 pound woman can hold off a much larger stronger attacker if she possesses a firearm and knows how to use it. There really isn't another weapon that can effectively stop an attacker who is physically superior. I'm not saying everyone should have a firearm, I'm saying that the right to self defense implies a right to be able to morally possess a firearm.

To summarize:
  • A right to self defense requires a right to tools sufficient to defend oneself from likely attacks.
  • Police have no duty to protect citizens from criminal attack.
  • Since attackers are likely to have deadly weapons (knives, guns, bats) defenders should have recourse to similar tools.
  • Firearms are the only practical means of self defense against a physically stronger attacker.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Legal concealed weapon holders are a menace to society

This post is the second part of my response on a gun control thread on Facebook. Specifically, my response to:

2. Legal concealed weapon holders are a menace to society/toddlers are dying at more than one per week due to "legal" gun owners.

The articles responsible for the second part of this claim are the “People are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis this year” and “L. A. to require that stored handguns be locked up or disabled.”

In this case, the data is sort of accurate. It's not easy to find numbers of toddlers shooting people, but if we look at children under 5 killed by being shot accidentally, there are 30 per year. And that is a shame.

L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian said in the L.A. Times article “It’s unacceptable to live in a country where it’s more dangerous to be a preschooler than to be a police officer — and we can do something about that today.”

It is true that it is more dangerous to be a preschooler (death rate 25/100,000) than to be a police officer (death rate 15/100,000) but claiming that accidental shootings by lawful firearm owners are to blame is a lie.

If you look at the deaths of all children under five, you would be hard pressed to find a firearm death. That 30 deaths per year is competing with the 27,500 deaths from other causes.

Car accidents claim around 500 toddlers a year, but we don't ban cars on that basis. There are 400 toddlers a year lost to drownings. If our goal is to save the toddlers, we have a number of areas that will give more “bang for the buck” than harassing law abiding citizens.

In fact, the case can be made that innocent lives are saved by having unsecured firearms available. Just this week there was a story about a 13 year old boy who used his mother's gun to defend himself against armed intruders. Had this boy lived where this law was enacted, he could be dead now.

According to a 1993 survey, firearms are used in self defense 162,000 times per years in situations where the victim believed he would have been killed had he not used a firearm (this data excludes military law enforcement and security guards).

The majority opinion in the Supreme Court case D.C. v. Heller states:

Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.

Understand I am all for protecting children from harmful things. When my kids were too little to understand I kept child proof locks on all the cabinets that had cleaning supplies and other poisons. But once they were old enough I removed those locks. There are already laws on the books against allowing minors access to firearms, just as there are laws on the books against negligently giving poisons to children; but we don't write laws that require all household poisons to be locked up at all times.

Now let's turn to the more general question: are lawful concealed weapons holders a threat to the public? Let's divide this into two parts, since they are different and the data is collected differently.

There are two ways a concealed weapon holder can be a danger. First off, they could become violent and shoot someone. Secondly, they could be well meaning but accidentally shoot someone.

So let's look at how many concealed weapon holders shoot someone in rage. There are no specific numbers for that, but when someone is convicted of a crime so they lose their conceal weapon holder's license, and we can track that. Understand that this includes not just a concealed weapons holder shooting someone intentionally, but any felony crime committed by a concealed weapons holder. According to the Florida Department of Justice that rate is 0.02%. Another study showed that while the crime rate for the general population is 3,813/100,000 and the crime rate for police is 124/100,000, the crime rate for concealed weapons holders in Florida is 12.5/100,000. In Texas that rate is 20/100,000

That means concealed weapons holders are 6 to 10 time less likely to commit a crime (with or without their firearms) than police officers. If you want to save people from being shot, disarming police would be a better thing to do than disarming concealed weapon holders. Understand that I respect the police and am not in any way claiming they are criminal or dangerous – I am saying that calling concealed weapon holders dangerous to society is even more absurd than calling police dangerous to society.

The second way a concealed weapons holder could be a danger to society would be to accidentally shoot people. Going back to my earlier CDC data, the total for all accidental firearm deaths in the US is 508 per year. There are over 300 million firearms in the US, owned by 110 million citizens. 38% of all households have at least one gun, and there are over 2 million licensed concealed weapons holders (plus six states, Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming have “Constitutional carry”, meaning you can carry a concealed weapon with no license required). All of those law abiding citizens carrying concealed weapons result in less than 508 firearm deaths (the 508 includes all deaths, not just from people carrying concealed weapons). Again, compared to the 130,557 accidental deaths per year it is hard to say that firearms are a major factor.

To summarize:

  • Accidental firearm deaths are extremely rare
  • Concealed weapon holders present less of a danger to society than police.