Rethinking the 2nd Amendment

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution states that the constitution was established, among other things, to help “insure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare” for the American people.  Included in the constitution would be the Bill of Rights, with the 2nd Amendment being one of them. The 2nd Amendment 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 the way that the amendment is worded, especially with the phrase, “shall not be infringed,” makes it seem that the Constitution ought to guarantee citizens of any background unrestricted access to keep and bear arms, as this would help secure “the security of a free State.”  Unrestricted access would be all well and good if all citizens were able to use arms in a responsible manner, but sadly, that is not our reality.  Not everyone should have access to arms, especially considering how much our weaponry has improved in their efficiency to kill.  It simply is not wise to guarantee unrestricted access to the weapons that we have available for every citizen, at least not without having some systematic checking system in place to minimize the probability of their misuse.

In the immediate context, the 2nd amendment was made to help ensure “the security of a free State,” but in a larger context, I feel the 2nd amendment is still subservient to the ultimate purposes of the Constitution, among them being insuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare of the American people.  If the way that the 2nd amendment is being interpreted contradicts the purposes set out in the Preamble, then it should follow that we should take steps to rectify the problem.

It would be too extreme to remove all access to weapons in our country, and there really is no need for such measures. We do need access to weapons for self-defense and protection, but we usually leave those roles for law enforcement officers and the military.  If we had no weapons at all, we would be left defenseless at the hands of criminals and foreign invaders.

On the other extreme, which is where we find ourselves, we have seemingly unrestricted access to firearms  for the average citizen, even for those individuals who are likely to use them in an unethical and destructive manner. Far from insuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare of the American people, such unrestricted access to arms has only caused great harm and loss of lives.

Thankfully there is a balance between these two extremes. What this country would greatly benefit from would be regulated access to firearms, whether it be at the federal, state, or local level, or even at all possible levels. We have a similar system in place for the privilege of driving an automobile vehicle. For the average citizen to drive a car, a person would have to go to the local DMV and pass a test with a supervisor in order to get a license.  If the car has been used irresponsibly, reparative measures take place where the individual at fault may have to pay a fine or have the license removed.  I feel an analogous system could take place when it comes to purchasing a firearm. If a citizen has a history of violent behavior, which could be recorded in a computerized database, then that person should be prevented from purchasing a firearm.

Some may say that even if we have a systematic checking system in place, would-be killers may still find a way to get their hands on a weapon, and I say that may be, but at least we are taking tangible steps towards minimizing the likelihood of their ability of getting one from legal avenues.  Such measures would be better than the situation we find ourselves in.  We act like there is nothing more we can do, when in reality, there are actions we can still take.

I’ll take a cue from cellular biology. Our cells have these enzymes called lysozymes which degrade cellular material.  If our cells did not have these enzymes, it would be unable to break down some bacteria or digest food. However, if these enzymes were left unrestricted access they would degrade the host cell. Therefore, these enzymes are secluded into a unique compartment to prevent self-destruction.  Thus, at the cellular level, our cells understand the importance of regulated access to destructive tools. Ideally, the cell only uses these degradative enzymes when appropriate, and when it does not, chaos and death ensues.

To conclude, the 2nd amendment, as part of the Constitution, ought to serve the ultimate purpose of “insuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare” of the American people. If the phrase, “shall not be infringed,” is taken to mean unrestricted access to firearms, then we would be failing to achieve the purposes for which our Constitution was established. Therefore we either need to modify the wording of the 2nd amendment or at least modify the interpretation of it so that it better serves the purpose of our Constitution.  A regulated access to firearms would better serve the purpose of promoting the general welfare of the American people and to our posterity.

P.S. There are other measures we can take such as finding resources to help individuals at risk for violent behavior and perhaps defining gun violence as a public health issue and thus give the CDC permission to look into the root causes of these problems and help develop a rationally designed solution to a situation that has become all too common. I could speak more about these another time, but for now I wanted to look at this problem from a constitutional perspective.