In many ways, 2014 had been an exhausting year filled with events that illuminate the triumph of the human spirit as well as tragedies that shake us to our core. It is unfortunate that the impact of the tragedies often outweigh the buoying nature of the triumphs. Regardless, near-instantaneous global digital connectivity, the 24 hour news cycle and an unprecedented access to information send us an endless stream of facts, figures and opinions on just about every major event. Even when supposedly objective data is presented, extreme elements of both sides obscure any kernel of truth by manipulating, exaggerating or committing hyperbole to promote their particular point of view. This can leave the average American citizen to ask two essential questions: “What should I believe and what can I do about it?”
In terms of triumph, tragedy and longevity, few social and legal issues can match the Gun Rights debate. Rather than analyzing the merits of both sides of this long-standing issue, I will focus on the foundation of the Gun Rights debate, place it in the current context of personal security, and conclude with some thoughts on personal actions available to you.
The Gun Rights Debate
The Gun Rights debate traces its roots back to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. The original Constitution focused on establishing and delineating the powers of our three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial), but made no specific mention of gun rights. Over two hundred years of hindsight make the ratification process seem clean and straight-forward. However, Federalist and Anti-Federalist factions hotly debated each and every issue within the document. As a result, the Constitution was founded on extraordinary compromise, but many issues were left unresolved. In order to get the Constitution ratified in 1788, the framers agreed that the document was a foundational “start” to the process, but would continue debates on contentious issues that would be amended at a later date. In 1791, the first 10 amendments were encapsulated into the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment, stating: “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,” was included in the Bill of Rights.
Since then, any number of events from the Civil War through the Cold War and some of our current tragedies stress our understanding of those 27 words. In general, there are three different interpretations of the Second Amendment. The first interpretation focuses on the initial clause and believes that it only authorizes each state the right to maintain a militia. The second interpretation expands the viewpoint of the first by purporting that only individuals who are part of a state militia may keep and bear arms. The third interpretation strongly focuses in the words as written, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Today, these differing interpretations are adopted by the political parties that align themselves with their belief in which entity is most responsible for ensuring and providing public security. One extreme believes in a very powerful government that provides collective security supported by citizens who willingly submit individual rights to have their security provided for them. The other extreme believes in a limited government that provides only the level of security required to protect from external attack while ensuring the rule of law supported by those who believe in strong individual rights and the right to provide for one’s own security.
So, where do you fall within this continuum?
If there was ever a metric that was hard to define, it is “American Popular Opinion.” From our country’s foundation through the current day, there have been extreme views and thousands of intermediate variations on “what is right or what is the collective good?” In the last 30 years, we have seen public or popular opinion in regard to gun rights vacillate and even spike in relation to major events. While lawful use of firearms in self-defense tends to be woefully under-reported, unlawful use of firearms tends to be grossly over-reported. In the wake of major events, parties on both extremes entrench in their respective ideological positions while the flames are fanned by an equally ideological media. The truth, of course, can be found obscured somewhere in-between.
One recent tragedy that sparked national outrage occurred two years ago in Newton, Connecticut, when a deranged individual unlawfully used firearms to commit a number of murders. The twenty-six deaths aren’t what caused alarm and national outrage… it was the age of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Predictably, an overwhelmingly compliant media obliged lawmakers at the local, state and federal level who eagerly pushed a variety of gun control measures. In short order, President Obama issued a list of gun control initiatives and asked Congress to pass legislation expanding background checks, banning so-called high-capacity magazines and banning military-style rifles. While the legislation failed in Congress, some states took it upon themselves to institute unnecessary and ineffective measures.
Two years later, a Pew Research Poll indicated that for the first time in over two decades American Public Opinion is now skewed toward Gun Rights over Gun Control. http://www.people-press.org/2014/12/10/growing-public-support-for-gun-rights/
Up 7% from 2012, the most recent poll indicates that 52% of Americans believe that Second Amendment rights are more important than Gun Control measures. Looking at the chart, every demographic except Liberal Democrats increased in regard to viewing gun ownership as a means to protect them from being victims. Coincidentally, the number of Liberal Democrats who believe that guns can protect them from being victims dropped 3%.
While this data is encouraging for those who believe in Gun Rights, the debate is far from over. Many lawmakers are unrelenting in their pursuit of Gun Control legislation, whether it is common-sense based or a naked attempt to pursue their agendas. This leads us to address the key questions.
So What Should I Believe?
While my narrative above is admittedly colored by my personal beliefs in limited government with a premium on individual rights/responsibilities for personal protection, I am certainly in no position to tell you what to believe. The best answer to the question, however, is at the very heart of being an American and has its roots at the foundation of our Nation: you are FREE to develop your own beliefs and you are also FREE to pursue these beliefs. You are, then, left to decide between supporting a big government to provide security for you, or by supporting a limited government which will allow you to retain your individual rights and actively provide for your own safety. Concurrent to this decision are the inherent trade-offs and responsibilities. Enabling any entity to provide security enhances the power of that entity while limiting individual rights… while limiting the power of that entity places a greater responsibility on the individual for personal security.
So again, what should you believe? All I can recommend is that whatever your belief system, you should try to analyze objective data and CONSIDER both sides of the argument en-route to forming your own opinions. At face-value, this advice may not seem helpful, but I’ve witnessed an alarming number of unqualified talking heads (athletes, actors, celebrities and institutions) abusing the bully pulpit to promote both sides of the argument. Just ask yourself, what makes the ability to throw or catch a ball, wear make-up and a costume while reading lines of a script someone else wrote, or possessing letters behind their name somehow make them any more informed or authoritative on this issue, or any other, compared to you? I believe that our society has been lulled into an “infotainment mindset” and relegates the formation of opinions to unqualified sources who simply dominate the airwaves, big screen or the Twittersphere.
So What Can I Do About it?
It is unfortunate, but I believe that we can do very little to directly change the course of the national dialogue at the highest levels. We do, however, possess the innate ability to affect the conditions in our immediate sphere of influence. True change must start with ourselves and the immediate areas that we can impact.
I made this personal choice years ago and believe in limited government, rugged individualism and that I am best able to provide for my own personal security and that of my community. In supporting this choice, I have embarked on a life-long study of personal defensive measures that include observing my surroundings, avoiding conflicts whenever possible, securing my home and my automobile, and studying unarmed and armed defensive combative arts. This constitutes my personal circle. I have since expanded this circle to include my family and have educated and trained them similarly. Through time, I have further expanded this circle by becoming a firearms instructor, being active in my community and involving myself in elections at the local, state and national levels.
Instead of shaking my fist at the national-level problems or falling prey to “slacktivism” (a unique term which substitutes action with the mere “appearance” of outrage emanating from the keyboard or mobile device), I’ve made the conscious choice to become actively involved within my sphere of influence.
While my approach is neither prescriptive nor unique, you can adapt it to your sphere of influence as defined by your unique capabilities and limitations. Imagine what happens when your circle, or sphere of influence, contacts others in a complimentary manner. Focused, educated and engaged individuals create safer families, which build stronger and safer communities. Communities populated by families who are engaged, active and aware make crime an undesirable option. This results in communities and a society less prone to crime while generating a strong positive political influence which will continue the trend cited in the Pew poll, and keep our freedoms and individual rights secure.
Ready to take action? Here are some things you can do to become involved…
Be Informed: Gather your information from both source documents and analysis from BOTH sides of any issue
- The U.S. Constitution http://constitutionus.com/
- The Federalist Papers http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/fedi.htm
- The History of Gun Rights http://civilliberty.about.com/od/guncontrol/a/Second-Amendment-History.htm
- The History of Gun Control http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/history-of-gun-control-legislation/2012/12/22/80c8d624-4ad3-11e2-9a42-d1ce6d0ed278_story.html
- The National Rifle Association http://home.nra.org/#/home/video/nra-all-access-origins-of-the-national-rifle-association
Be Aware: Study personal defense and participate in training, whether or not it focuses on firearms.
- Aegis Academy Courses http://aegisacademy.com/
- NRA: Refuse to Be a Victim http://refuse.nra.org/
- NRA: Eddie Eagle (gun safety for children) http://eddieeagle.nra.org/
- NRA: Personal Protection in the Home http://www.nrablog.com/post/2009/02/27/NRA-Basics-of-Personal-Protection-In-the-Home.aspx
Be Active: Maintain proficiency, learn new skills and push your limits
- NRA competitive shooting http://competitions.nra.org/
- United States Practical Shooting Association http://www.uspsa.org/
- International Defensive Pistol Association http://www.idpa.com/
- National Sporting Clays Association http://www.nssa-nsca.org/index.php/nsca-sporting-clays-shooting/
Be Involved: Spread your skills, experiences, and awareness
- Take a friend or family member to the range – http://wheretoshoot.org/index2.cfm
- Become an instructor http://training.nra.org/instructors/become-an-instructor.aspx
- Contact your elected officials http://www.usa.gov/Contact.shtml
So what have you done? What are you going to do?
Please feel free to share your stories in the comments below or e-mail me at HHall@aegisacademy.com.
Stay Safe and Shoot Straight
~ Howard Hall