I've been thinking about this lately and wondering just how many people actively think about their right to bear arms.
I know at least a few of you do, judging from comments made on my blog and other sources, but I'm kind of concerned that most of us "sane" (for lack of a better term) individuals don't seem to be on the same page here. One comment about passing concealed carry laws and allowing 17 year old black males to "defend themselves" against overzealous white vigilantes has me particularly concerned.
For the benefit of the uninformed who were cheated out of a decent education in high school, here is the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
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.
Now, by the wording of that amendment, the reason for people to have firearms is to protect themselves from aggression. Since a militia is defined as civilians trained as soldiers but not part of the regular army, this would pretty much cover just about anyone who isn't wearing a uniform. And since the 14th Amendment has stated that all people in this nation are to be regarded as equals (I know, saying it doesn't make it so, but that is another can of worms we can discuss later), then why would we need to pass extra laws to state teenage black males should have special consideration to keep and bear arms?
The first part of this Amendment is the part I'd like to focus on for a moment, if you will bear with me. Specifically the word "militia", and further the part about being trained. Obviously training would include the mechanics of the weapon, how to aim it, how to load it, how to clean it...etc. But since the definition included above says "civilians trained as soldiers", is this really the training we are discussing?
When I was in the military, and when I was a reserve and military police officer in the San Diego area, I received the training mentioned above for a variety of weapons. I learned to aim properly, care for and clean the weapons, and how to secure them when they are not in use. But I also learned the rights and responsibility of using a firearm.
You see, in order to have a firearm, it is not enough to simply know how to use it, but much more important to know WHEN to use it, and when not to. Simply thinking you might be threatened or being afraid is not enough. You need to justify the use of "deadly force" before you use it.
Deadly force is generally defined as physical force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury. In order for deadly force to be justified there must be an immediate, otherwise unavoidable threat of death or grave bodily harm to yourself or other innocents. Deadly force is that force which could reasonably be expected to cause death or grave bodily harm.
The use of force is generally illegal unless it fits within the strict requirements of one of the four legal justifications. They are: self-defense, defense of a third person, crime prevention, and law enforcement. Each of these areas has specific requirements that must be met to avoid criminal liability. You may only use the amount of force that is reasonable and necessary in the situation.. This is judged by what a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances. In a self-defense situation, it is only when the aggressor uses or attempts to use deadly force that you have the right to respond with deadly force.
Without getting into specifics, this would appear to mean that the individual holding the firearm in any given situation is burdened with a tremendous responsibility to be sure the situation warrants the use of deadly force. But this also begs the question: "Is it reasonable to assume that a person acting under duress in any of the situations mentioned above is capable of responsible, dispassionate action?".
Since we employ people to cover the areas of Crime Prevention and Law Enforcement, and there are already procedures to hold them accountable for their use of deadly force (i.e., laws, civilian review boards, internal affairs protocols, etc.), let's concentrate on the use of deadly force in the first two circumstances: Self Defense and Defense of a Third Person.
Self Defense has several legal definitions, depending on the state or country you live in, but I think we can reasonably agree in this discussion we are talking about defending ourselves from someone who is intent on doing us physical harm. One example I can think of is a man or woman who is concerned about a number of muggings and robberies occurring in an area who arms him or herself with a firearm to avoid being injured. If the person in question is attacked, and the attacks which have occurred prior to this instance have resulted in serious bodily injury or death, does that person then have the right to use deadly force?
You might think the answer is yes, but what if the criminal flees as soon as he sees the gun? Is the person being attacked still entitled to use that deadly force? Since the use of deadly force is for self defense, and since the threat of bodily harm no longer exists, would that shooting be justified?
I could go on and on with examples, and we could argue all sorts of variables, but I think the point to be made here is it takes responsible ownership of a firearm to fully comply with the intent of the law.
So back to the idea of arming 17 year old persons and sending them into the street under the protection of concealed carry laws. Personally, I think that is a horrendous idea, sort of like the mayor of Detroit several years back who wanted to arm young men and send them out in the streets. Or the mayor of the small town in Texas who made it mandatory for citizens to be armed. Firearms are not toys, and they should not be handed out indiscriminately. But the firearms themselves are not the problem.
Firearms are tools, mechanisms which in the right hands can provide food, stave off danger, and defend against violence. But it is ultimately the individual who is holding the firearm who is held accountable for their actions. To issue a license to an untrained, uneducated person is to invite chaos and murder. At 17, most of us have tempers which are fueled by knee jerk reactions to supposed insults, real or imagined. We often lack the emotional discipline to restrain ourselves, which is probably the greatest reason I can think of to restrict concealed carry laws to those individuals who have successfully passed a rights and responsibilities course.
By the way, this is the primary reason I am a member of the NRA. This organization is adamant in their belief that firearms should be available to persons who understand the responsibility of ownership and use.