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My thoughts on reasonable restrictions for gun ownership

by | Sep 28, 2022 | Criminal Law |

I am not a proponent of removing firearms from citizens who use them for self-defense or hunting or simply as a sport.  I am a proponent of reasonable restrictions on ownership and use, as we do with driver’s licenses or pilot’s licenses, or land use.

Let us take land use because owning land feels more constitutionally basic than cars and airplanes – which did not exist in the late 18th century.

In most places in the U.S., you cannot build whatever you want without regard to zoning or building permits.  The fact that your property is yours does not give you unrestricted rights to it.

Why?  Because all rights can be misused to affect the rights, liberties, and safety of your neighbor.

The government regulates how each of us uses our rights to prevent us from oppressing our neighbors.   Imagine your subdivision zoned for housing had a chemical plant open in the middle of it- and you begin to see the point.   Even if the plant did not poison the air and water you drink, its presence would dramatically lower the value of your investment.   Your rights would be affected by the unrestrained exercise of your neighbor’s rights.

I also can imagine a time when before the federal government had a standing army, and state police existed when a “militia was necessary for the common defense” at the behest of the Government.

What I find ridiculous however is the notion that the Second Amendment allows for anarchy— the notion that any group of citizens can choose to behave violently whenever they decide they don’t agree with the Government or the law.

Can you imagine how the not-yet convicted members of gangs of drug dealers and human traffickers and thieves would take advantage of such an exception to the rule of law?  Do you want such folks parading their imagined constitutional rights through your neighborhood?

Imagine the life of police and prosecutors and judges if the family members of criminal defendants could show up armed and menacing outside police stations and courthouses.   That sounds like provinces in certain other countries where the rule of law does not exist— where warlords rule and the authorities are terrified.

The quality of life with roving bands of armed citizens is not good.   You may think that such armed bands are people you like and who would protect you.  This only works as long as the “good guys” rule— waits until another roving band of thugs kills the group of armed people you like and now, they menace you instead of protecting you.

The reason Government exists wherever humans live is that without it life is “nasty brutish and short” as Thomas Hobbes famously wrote several hundred years ago.

The irony is that those areas of the U.S. in which police are most involved in the lives of citizens— inner cities— citizens are not clamoring for everyone to own guns.  People who live in such communities know the dangers of guns appearing routinely.

Government can be changed by constitutional amendment and by election, and governmental action can be challenged peacefully through litigation in the courts and peaceful lawful protest.

There is no role in our constitutional republic for taking up arms against the Government.   The dangerous fantasy that January 6 was a constitutionally legitimate expression of violence must be called out for what it is:  a threat to the Republic and to the rule of law and therefore a threat to all of our property and safety.

This NY Times article, “The Second Amendment Gives No Comfort to Insurrectionists” by a distinguished member of Congress and a thoughtful constitutional lawyer makes this point better than I can.