Gun rights are a tricky prospect in the United States. On the one hand, gun violence in the country has a long and tragic history full of millions of dead bodies. But on the other guns have also saved untold millions more lives — to say nothing of the fact that the American Revolution itself likely would never have gotten off the ground were it not for the well armed colonial population.
Of course, there is a lot more to guns than crime and warfare. People own them for a myriad of reasons — sport shooting and hunting, collectibles, and, perhaps most importantly, for self-defense. It’s this last right that allows gun owners to hold the moral high ground any time the question of gun control comes up.
The right to self-defense is one of the most basic human rights. After all, anybody has the right to defend themselves against an assailant, even if that defense includes the use of lethal force. Oftentimes this is simplified to the adage “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with one.” For some, that means call the cops and hope they defuse the situation. For others it means they will fight back if they are able.
In many places across the nation, especially smaller towns and rural regions, police coverage is virtually nonexistent. The idea that you could call the police in the case of a burglary or violent criminal and have them arrive in time is so ludicrous that even suggesting it will get you laughed out of town. Owning a firearm for protection is not only desirable, it is a necessity.
Other concerns in rural areas are the protection against animals. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was dragged in the media for suggesting that bears were of concern for the people of Wyoming and that owning a firearm was prudent for schools in areas where grizzlies might come in. For those who live in the comfortably anthropocentrized cities on the coasts that seems farfetched at best, but for the people who live in the west it’s a very real possibility — to say nothing of other animals who may be around.
The argument then goes that rules which apply in rural areas need not apply to those in places like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles where animal attacks are scarce and police coverage is heavy. But calling the police for many communities can be worse than letting a wild animal into your home — for black communities police are seen as oppressors who shoot first and ask questions later, and immigrant communities, especially hispanic ones, fear of deportation is also a major concern.
Of course, the intention of the Second Amendment has long been debated — is it supposed to be only for sanctioned militias? What does “well-regulated” mean? For those subscribing to an originalist interpretation, the intent of the right is clear: To protect against a tyrannical government. Contemporary writings by several founding fathers bear that out.
But were our government to turn completely tyrannical, even if every civilian in the nation were armed they would still be easily overrun by the much more well-armed military. Of course, this is an extremely unlikely scenario anyway, and fighting back against oppressive government officials in the United States often does not end well — one need look no further than the genocide of Native Americans or the increasing militarization of our police forces. In other words, while the “defense against tyranny” argument may hold water with some, it is an academic discussion at best, the practicality has long been lost.
This all still begs the question of what, if any, limitations should be imposed on the right to bear arms. Some states and municipalities have attempted to impose magazine size limits, others to limit the types and power of guns available for public use. Background checks are pretty much standard in nearly every purchase nationwide, but what they look for is up for debate. Should those with any criminal backgrounds be forbidden from exercising their rights? What if their only offense was possession of marijuana or some other harmless or low-level offense? And what of the vilification of the mentally ill? The gray area slides with every person you discuss — there are thousands of different opinions on where to draw the line, and it can be difficult to even find two people who agree, let alone finding a compromise that will satisfy a nation of more than 300 million people of various backgrounds and needs.
The short answer is that there is no real answer for the gun violence problem in our culture, and the horses have long left the barn on disarming the population — if even it was desirable to do so. Calling the police is simply not an option for a significant portion of the population, but that same segment of citizens still feels the need to protect themselves against sometimes violent incursions against themselves and their property. It is for this reason, setting aside any other arguments, that the Second Amendment will likely be around for as long as there are criminals among us.