Perhaps it’s time to revisit that whole “well-regulated militia” part of the second amendment

Perhaps it’s time to revisit that whole “well-regulated militia” part of the second amendment May 20, 2013

cuz the whole 22:1 ratio thing doesn’t look healthy to me:

[E]every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.

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  • Barfly_Kokhba

    …and shall we have the IRS in charge of compliance?

    Keep your bowl of lentils, my friend. Even Jacob had to reconcile with Esau eventually, and petition him for mercy….because for all of Esau’s gullibility in succumbing to Jacob’s trickery, he remained a well-armed and well-skilled hunter.

    And as you scramble to give up any and all personal freedoms in exchange for a politician’s promise, remember what Tacitus said of the Empire who crucified Our Lord:

    “They create a desolation, and call it peace.”

    • Desi Ersamus

      Yes, revising the 2nd amendment (no guns for you, peon), revising the 1st amendment (licenses for “journalists” protected by 1st amendment?), revising the 4th amendment ( )… that’s what we need these days

      • chezami

        And here I thought paying attention to the actual text of the second amendment was not revising it. Silly me.

  • vox borealis

    Seems silly to include attempted or completed suicide in this list. Anyway, at least you are addressing the core issue, which is the gun debate is a Constitutional debate. If critics have serious qualms about American “gun culture,” the way to address is it is not a bunch of legislation—much of it half-cocked (pun intended)—but rather with a Constitutional debate leading to an amendment.

    • Brian

      I think the reason suicide is included on the list is that it is evil, and facilitated by guns. Some studies show that rates of gun ownership and rates of suicide seem to correlate.

      I think including suicide in the gun debate is absolutely a legitimate point of contention. As Catholics, suicide is a grave matter, a possible mortal sin. Even if we hold hope in God’s mercy, a suicide is still a major grief for the loved ones of the deceased. Guns promise a quick death to those trying to escape pain, and it seems to me quite likely that less guns would lead to some suicides that never happen.

      • MarylandBill

        I would hope that no one here is opposed to the idea that suicide is a grave evil. That being said, I think it is legitimate to question whether suicide rates would be significantly impacted by stricter gun laws. America’s suicide rate is lower than quite a few European countries, including Belgium and France despite the fact that the European countries have far more strict gun laws.

      • Colin Gormley

        I have trouble believing the studies. Korea has some of the worst suicide rates yet has the strictest gun control laws.

  • Does that statistic factor in every time that a gun is “used” in self defense by merely being drawn? I don’t see anything in the article to indicate that it does. Still, the number of “accidents” involving guns does indicate that there ought to be a bit more training with the things, whether through the NRA or the Boyscouts or through other organizations (preferably state or local in sticking to the “militia” theme).

  • Dave G.

    Some would argue that given the rampant problems and abuses in our country it’s time to revisit more than just one Amendment. It is a consistent argument, but not one I feel confident about, given the nature of our modern culture that I sometimes think is leading to the problems in the first place.

  • ivan_the_mad

    Combined with the DOJ’s analysis of the oft-quoted 2.5mn defensive uses per annum, this study does present a picture more complex than some partisans might have it. Certainly, the phrase well-regulated militia isn’t a standard part of the discourse in the sense of ensuring training. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that, as well as the meaning and role of the militia.

    • Boethius

      Combined with the 2.5million (some say 1.5million) uses of a gun in self defense (whether fired or not) per year, the 22:1 ration statistic is completely false. There are FAR more defensive gun uses than murders and assaults (which is about 300,000), etc. The only way to make the reported stat work is to discount all the times a gun is used for self defense but not fired. Pointing a gun at someone standing in your yard holding a crowbar in the middle of the night, and yelling “get out of here I have a gun” and they run, counts a defensive use of a gun in my book…

      • ivan_the_mad

        Sorry, I’m not swayed by gratuitous assertions in a combox. Quod gratis asseritur gratis negatur.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    How would it be affected by state constitutions? The Wyoming State Constitution says that all male citizen of the state between 18 and 55 are considered part of the state militia.

    • Dr. Eric

      In my reading of the second amendment, all able bodied citizens are part of the militia. So, this becomes a different problem.

      • kenofken

        There are several problems with rooting unrestricted gun ownership in a universal militia concept. For one thing, the modern military has absolutely no need of private citizen arms. They may need people, but they have Selective Service as a way of obtaining them, if it comes to that. Second, most ardent militia theorists have no interest or intent of placing themselves under the command of government forces. As often as not, they envision themselves in the role of self-initiated armed rebellion at an unspecified date in the fairly near future.

        • MarylandBill

          I would point out that the military has had no need of private citizen arms since at least the civil war and probably even earlier (since even early on, there were advantages to standardizing on a single type of musket to use). But that is not really the point of a militia. Its first purpose is, for lack of a better way of putting it, to keep the government honest. While the Federal government could almost certainly put down any armed rebellion that were to happen, facing one might give politicians pause before enacting policies that might cause a general uprising. Further, if the United States were to ever reduce its military to a reasonable size, having an armed citizenry does actually increase domestic security by making it harder for any potential invader to secure territory in the United States.

          • kenofken

            I don’t think our “militia” has ever kept the government very honest or afraid of popular sentiment. It didn’t thwart unpopular policies even when the militia made good on its threat in the Civil War. It didn’t stop integration of schools or the Civil Rights Act (which DID cause a general uprising, with a very well-armed terrorists movement that was sanctioned even by local and state law enforcement). Oklahoma City and any number of lesser successful attacks demonstrated that “the militia” could strike the government at will. Has any of that made the federal government more sensitive to our will or inclined to respect civil liberties?

  • Michael Humpherys

    These statistics seem to be somewhat overstated. The author acknowledges that 61% of gun related deaths are used in suicides. This is indeed a tragedy but does not relate either to lack of gun safety or training, since a person trained with guns does not seem less likely to commit suicide. Also that guns are likely to be used in criminal assaults does not seem to be a mark against training or safety either, since a trained criminal will be more likely to shoot fatally. Also, the fact that guns generally are 22 times more likely to be used in criminal assault, suicide, or accidental death than self-defense does not mean his gun is 22 more likely, since he is thoughtful, relatively wealthy, very well educated, writing in a scientific journal etc. and thus not a statistically average American. Thus, it seems fallacious reasoning for him to get rid of his gun based on these statistics.

    It would have been more interesting to see the statistics between accidental deaths and self-defense. The inclusion of suicide and criminal assaults seems a means of bloating the statistics. The inclusion is interesting and gives a certain insight to gun violence, but does not relate to gun training or safety, it seems to me.

  • Andy

    The problems with studies of this sort are two-fold. One is the definitions used to describe self-defense, accidental deaths, and the like. Definitions in a study drive its outcomes. Second the NRA has lobbied quite well to keep the CDC out of investigating gun deaths – they have lobbied quite well to keep doctors from speaking of gun issues to their patients, which has removed medical studies of gun violence. This means that the one agency with the “horses” to examine the statistics involved with gun violence of any sort is barred from doing so.
    The second component that is concerning is the relegation of the phrase “well-regulated militia” to the side of the debate – or ignored. This is part of the “sacred” amendment and should be examined.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    When it comes to gun legislation, both sides commit sins of omission in regard to the Second Amendment.

    Those wanting more gun control really hate the part about “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” All they want to focus on is that one word “militia.”

    On the other hand, those who don’t want any gun control really hate the part about a
    “well regulated Militia,” especially the “well regulated” part.
    But really, anyone who thinks we don’t need saner gun control laws in this country must be burying his head in the sand.

  • MarylandBill

    I think there are lots of things this study leaves unsaid, and I can’t help but feel there is a political slant (Mark, just curious, why are you so eager to accept these scientific findings when you are ready to dismiss other scientific studies?). As others have pointed out, this study only considers that a gun has been used defensively if it has been fired.

    Further, there is no consideration of actual risk in this study. It is easy to argue that a gun is 22 times more likely to be involved in a shooting death than to be used in self defense, but how likely is it that a gun will ever be used to kill another person in the first place? Given the number of gun deaths per year, there is roughly a 0.01% per year chance that a gun will be used in a crime (based on roughly 30,000 gun related deaths and the estimated 300,000,000 guns in the United States).

  • entonces_99

    From the article: National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre
    believes he knows: ‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a
    good guy with a gun.’ If LaPierre means professionally trained police
    and military who routinely practice shooting at ranges, this observation
    would at least be partially true. If he means armed private citizens
    with little to no training, he could not be more wrong.”

    The obvious solution: Provide the NRA Basic Pistol and Basic Rifle courses at public expense to anyone who wants them.

    • rmichaelj

      I believe LaPierre made that statement in regards to having police/security at schools.

      • entonces_99

        And I believe the author of the article cited it to scoff at the idea that letting non-cop civilians have guns could be a good idea.

  • kirthigdon

    Hunting and target shooting are also legitimate uses of a gun although generally outside the home. But there is no reason to exclude them in a comparison of legitimate or non-legitimate uses. On the subject of suicide (and I realize this is anecdotal), I know a few people who committed suicide and only one of them used a gun. The rest tried other methods until they found one that worked. Suicide is skyrocketing within the US military which would suggest that the issue is not a lack of firearms training.
    Kirt Higdon

  • Dan F.

    perhaps we should try the Swiss method?

    Also, the article utilizes quite well one of the three kinds of falsehoods as defined by a certain Samuel Clemens….

  • kenofken

    It wouldn’t matter if the ratio were 222:1 or 2,222:1. The power and means to take advantage of even a remote chance to finally get to kill someone legally is a birthright in this country. We have a culture of bloodlust that would hold its own with any Aztec priest or Roman Emperor and then wail and gnash when that ethos produces a Gosnell.

    We’ve accepted death by gunfire, at any age and for any reason or no reason at all, is a perfectly natural cause of mortality. An absolutely unavoidable and niggling business expense in the American enterprise. At any rate, the fools who were shot should have been carrying their own gun, if they really valued life, and we could instill some respect for life if we were allowed to shoot the abortion doctors, or at least have them shot in the public square upon conviction, to impress that virtue upon the people.

    And terrorists? Well, we should have shot them and done the whole village when the intelligence boys threw the first red flag. Of course no system is perfect, and the innocent families who survived the errant missile are now sure to grow up terrorists, so as regrettable as it may be…. there’s some unfinished self-defense work to be done.

    Remember, the answer is always more guns.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    I’ll leave it to others to argue with this study. I will say, though (in language that Mark can sink his teeth into) that reading the “well-regulated militia” as a limitation on “the right to keep and bear arms” amounts to… proof-texting. It doesn’t work with the Bible, and it doesn’t work with the Constitution.

    The second amendment refers to “the right to keep and bear arms.” The amendment isn’t inventing a right. It’s gesturing outwardly at a right that predated the Constitution. The key to understanding the second amendment is understanding what “the right” was. In colonial times, free Englishmen enjoyed a right to carry those arms that were in use by the regular infantry. (There’s a pretty good argument that the right extended crew-fired weapons, as well, but I’m not going to assert that unambiguously). So when writing/reading the words “the right to keep and bear arms,” everyone pretty much knew what was being talked about.

    Remember, the Constitution doesn’t create rights. It protects those that people get by virtue of their humanity. If the second amendment were creating a right, it would say something like “…the people shall have a right to bear arms.” But it doesn’t do that. It gestures outside the Constitution at “the right” that everyone enjoys.

    Or to put it another way, don’t take a sola scriptura approach to our rights. Much like Sacred Tradition, there are things that exist beyond the text. And even Originalist or fair-weather Originalist jurists agree that there are unenumerated rights. If you read Justice Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v. Texas (the case that struck down sodomy laws), he noted that he couldn’t find an unenumerated right to engage in sodomy that was deeply rooted in the country’s history and tradition. If he could, he’d say the right existed, but he can’t.

    And that’s generally the right way to approach constitutional exegesis. Sometimes people wonder why the thirteenth amendment, which bans “involuntary servitude,” does not extend to jury duty and military conscription. The reason is not national emergency or some sort of state privilege. It’s because the people who wrote the amendment continued to act as if jury duty was a legitimate exercise of power. If anyone thought that “involuntary servitude” meant “jury duty,” someone would have piped up along the way. It’s just like when someone tries to give you a new interpretation of a Scriptural passage to challenge a Catholic practice, such as “call no man ‘Father.'” The Church, which gave us Scripture, has never seen a problem with the way it addresses its priests. The modern interpretation of Scripture doesn’t fit with Tradition.

  • johnnysc

    Does the Catholic Church have a definite teaching on this? I have never owned a gun but have been thinking about it lately. The bad guys are getting badder and I’m getting older. The children are out on their own so It’s just me and my wife. Security systems cost around 50 bucks a month.

  • BillClintonsShorts17

    ‘Well Regulated’ simply means ‘practiced and proficient’.

    • entonces_99

      Indeed. When the Virginia convention that ratified the constitution proposed that the constitution should be amended to include a declaration of rights, one of its proposals (which, with certain modifications, was adopted as the second amendment) actually contained a definition of “well regulated militia”: “Seventeenth, That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated Militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free State.”

  • Elaine t

    I’ve read the article, which is in Scientific American. I also read the comments, if not all of them, most seem to excoriate it as unworthy of a major publication. Apparently the author pulled his statistics from a 1993 study known as the Kellerman study which is stated to have been debunked many times over. There was a link to one debunking, but I’m not statistically literate enough to judge it. Maybe Ye Olde Statistician will feel like taking a crack at it:

    It all reminds me of Bellisle, actually.

    Oh, someone else in the comments pointed to Texas keeping stats on illegal & legal gunowners

    Should anyone like actual data for this debate. In the end, though, I think Imp nailed it, the right is a right existing outside of law, intrinsic in humanity, and if we want to make laws restricting it we ought to discuss them properly not with the obfuscation and fluff and bad faith that we see these days.