Guns kill people, dude!

The fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida once again raises moral questions about the right to carry guns and the crying need to ban them from public life.

First let’s recall what the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution says: “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 meaning of the wording has been a source of vexation since it was passed in 1791, but it clearly does not say, “The right of the people to shoot other people shall not be infringed.”

Most rational individuals instinctively know, given the lethality of guns, that the Amendment was intended to refer to service in a militia whose conduct was subject to the law of the land. Sadly, in the legal case District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court upheld the interpretation that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected to service in a militia and to use that firearm for lawful purposes. Surprisingly, what constitutes lawful is a matter of contention.

Courageously, and in the minds of many people rightly, four Justices dissented from that ruling. They believed that:

“The Amendment’s text does justify a different limitation: the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia. Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase ‘bear arms’ to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as ‘for the defense of themselves’.”

Despite a 220-year-old legacy of civil violence involving firearms of all kinds, “shoot first, ask questions afterwards” appears to be the unstated policy of many people and police departments in U.S. society. In the case of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, the State of Florida’s seven-year-old self-defence law also raises questions. The law, nicknamed a “stand your ground” or “shoot first” statute, gives protection from criminal prosecution or civil liability to people who claim self-defence after a shooting or violent incident.

One of the broadest such laws in the USA, it says that people have no duty to retreat from a place they are legally allowed to be in and have the right to use deadly force if they “reasonably” believe they or another person are threatened with death or serious harm. Before 2005, deadly force was only permitted if the person using it had shown that he or she had tried to avoid confrontation.

Many states have so-called “shoot first” laws, although there are nuances in the language used. But, according to the U.S. Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, at least 33 states have laws that extend the right to use deadly force in self-defence. To use a phrase more appropriate to 1791, a “coach and horses” could pass through the interpretive gap between using reasonable force and shooting to kill.

An Op-Ed by Gail Collins in The New York Times (21 March 2012) titled “Pity the Poor Gun Lobby” gets the solution only half-right by advocating:

“A strict national gun-control law that makes it very difficult to get a concealed weapons permit, permits gun dealers to sell only one handgun per individual per year, and makes it illegal for even permit holders to keep handguns anywhere but their home, store or car glove compartment unless they are employed in the security business.”

There is something inherently and morally wrong in a society that needs guns in order to conduct its daily life. There is no sadder evidence of this than the senseless death of a young man and the grief of his family. It is time to ban guns. They kill people!

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13 comments on “Guns kill people, dude!

  1. When someone uses a *blank* to commit a crime, they are a criminal, and are prosecuted under the law.

    a. car
    b. computer
    c. gun
    d. steak knife
    e. all of the above

    The answer is not to regulate away every possible tool for committing crime, but to prosecute crime when it occurs. We are innocent until proven guilty.

    • Philip Lee says:

      None of these is intended to harm even if they can be used to do so. The sole purpose of a handgun is to maim or kill. That is the crucial difference. Having a gun carries the possibility of using it. Using it carries the possibility of killing someone. There are many countries where handguns are illegal. It is only a supreme disregard for human life plus the immoral antics of the Gun Lobby that prevent handguns from being banned in the USA.

      • You are right that a gun is a tool to cause harm. Where we disagree is that I feel we have a right to defend ourselves. There are times when a law abiding citizen has a legitimate need to maim or kill a criminal to protect themselves or their family. In that case, they should be equipped with the proper tool.

        Most legal gun owners never have, and never will fire their gun in anger. Those that do generally do so in their own homes, protecting themselves and their families. It would be a shame if a single mom had to make-do with a steak knife to defend her children against a home invader.

      • Philip Lee says:

        This is simply not true. There are many cases in which a home-owner has used the cover of the “right” to carry a gun or a weapon to assault or kill another person. The concept of “reasonable force” applies and, of course, in genuine self-defence of life and limb it can be invoked. But a gun has no other purpose than to fire a piece of metal randomly into another person with the probability that that person will be killed. Take the gun out of the equation. You can still have self-defence; you can still criminalise an aggressor. Have gun, will shoot and, likely, will kill.

      • You can have self-defense without a gun, but the homeowner is more likely to be hurt or killed. This is particularly the case if the criminal is armed. A gun is simply the right tool to kill or maim the criminal while limiting the risk to the homeowner. There is nothing wrong with killing someone if they are endangering you or your family.

      • Philip Lee says:

        There is a moral chasm between “Nothing wrong with killing someone” and “if they are endangering you or your family.” There is everything wrong with killing someone. The gun makes it easy; simple; conscienceless. Shoot first, ask questions afterwards. There are many countries where guns are illegal and there is no demonstrable need for people to defend themselves or their families by killing. Find other solutions to criminality. Take the guns off the streets. Educate people in what is moral. Give them jobs and livelihoods and dignity and respect for society. The few remainming criminals can be dealt with according to the law and not according to the lawlessness evident in the Trayvon Martin case and many others.

  2. Interesting points of view.The Trayvon Martin case is not the best justification for gun control, in fact after more information has been released one could say the opposite applies.

    • Philip Lee says:

      A vigilante shoots dead an unarmed young man who was not threatening him – that’s not a case for gun control?

      • Philip if a vigilante had shot an unarmed man black or white i would be behind you on this one but we now know that is not what happened.Trayvon Martin was beating the guy and had already caused him to crack his head and break his nose the guy shot in self defense.
        The press are responsible for the way in which this was reported they purposefully created a situation that was not true they whipped the general public into a frenzy using race when this was never a race issue.

      • Philip Lee says:

        What you say is disgraceful. The newspapers are speculating and carrying unsubstantiated stories purporting to come from both “sides”. Innocent until proven guilty does not apply in the USA, so “information” about pending court actions and actual court cases can reach the public domain as hearsay without any factual basis. Here’s a less biased account of the facts as we may or may not know them: http://blogcritics.org/politics/article/why-did-trayvon-martin-die/ The point is that one man carried a gun; the other didn’t. The man not carrying a gun died under extraordinarily suspicious circumstances. If guns were banned, illegal, taken out of the shops and off the streets, this kind of incident would be less likely to happen.

  3. Why disgraceful?

    I agree the world would be better with less guns but in truth when guns are outlawed or strictly controlled what happens is the very people you don’t want to have guns “criminals” have them, regular folk then have nothing to defend themselves with.
    I guess we will have to agree to disagree and both wait to see what conclusion the US justice department arrives at.

    I enjoyed our too and throw maybe we can debate another story some time.

    • Philip Lee says:

      Disgraceful because you are adding to unfounded speculation. As for the argument: By criminalising the use of guns, a country can apply appropriate and legal sanctions. Access to guns can be blocked. Sure, there will always be people who obtain illegal weapons, but the force of law would be against them – as it is in the United Kingdom and other countries. Let’s take weapons and killing as legal resorts out of the equation.

  4. Kristine says:

    Guns kill. Unbridled use of guns makes unbridled killing possible. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work that out.

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