*In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the newspaper I work for based in Westchester, NY, began a closer look at gun culture in the Lower Hudson Valley.
As part of this, the newspaper put an interactive map on our website showing the name and address of those people who have permits for handguns in Westchester and Rockland counties.
This map inspired a great deal of debate about privacy and furthered the debate about gun control more generally. Let’s take a closer look at some of these issues.
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.
Gun owners often point to the 2nd Amendment as justification of owning their weapons. They correctly highlight the second part of the Amendment which allows people to bear arms. But focusing on the first part of the Amendment could lead to a completely different conclusion.
More specifically more emphasis could be put on the “well regulated militia” aspect of the amendment. The American Revolution was fought in large part by local militias that were hastily formed by patriotic minded colonists. It was necessary for colonists to own their own weapons because the colony did not provide any. This amendment is really saying that people should have guns because it cannot be predicted when they may band together to fight for the freedom of their state and/or country.
The problem is that none of the people who are so adamant about their gun ownership are arguing that they need their weapons so that they can take part in an impromptu defense of the country. Some of the gun advocates may be members of their local national guards (the modern day equivalent of a local militia), but even then the argument that personal gun ownership is necessary doesn’t hold water. This is because the state has an ample supply of weapons to distribute to anyone who volunteers in its defense.
Some people will argue that personal gun ownership is necessary in the event that the government begins to alter or infringe upon the freedoms of the citizenry. But in a representative democracy like the United States, freedoms are defined by individuals elected by the public to represent them. So any alteration or infringement would be done with the proxy approval of the public. Going against the decisions of our elected representatives means we are no longer talking about “the security of a free state” and instead we are talking about personal gun ownership being necessary for armed revolution. And the Constitution most certainly does not guarantee anyone the ability to form armed resistance against the government – the Civil War was fought in part in response to this exact issue.
Nevertheless the common and historical interpretation of the 2nd Amendment ensures personal gun ownership. And I don’t believe it is such a terrible thing that private citizens have weapons in their home. Coming back to the interactive map I mentioned earlier, the question becomes: Should the personal property of private citizens be made public?
Truthfully I cannot see why this is such an issue.
If the issue is about the privacy of the gun owners then the problem is much larger. The map in question was able to be published because it is a matter of public record that certain individuals asked the state for permission to own a handgun. This is similar to when someone asks the state for permission to own or drive a car, or a boat. In addition handguns are very narrowly defined tools. In contrast to rifles which are typically used for hunting, handguns are only used for ending life, and mostly only human life. When someone has the means to end life it is reasonable that such information be made known to the community at large. Please note that if this information were being kept private I don’t believe I’d have a problem with that either, but I cannot see how their privacy is that much more important than considerations about public safety.
I have also heard and read that the publication of the map has put gun owners in jeopardy. This argument really confuses me. Handgun owners often say people should own guns because if they find themselves in a dangerous situation they would rather have their weapon than nothing. In other words their handguns help them feel safe. Now folks are saying that gun owners are in jeopardy because the thing that has been making them feel safe somehow doesn’t have that effect. What changed? Only the public’s knowledge of their gun ownership; if the public’s knowledge can make their gun ownership irrelevant in their feeling safe, then what really made them safe was their threat.
On the contrary handgun owners should remain confident in their ability to defend themselves should they be faced with a physical threat. In fact there were comments being made to this affect (although they were in the minority). Knowing that the people in the corner house have three handguns should make them less of a target for criminals, especially when compared to their neighbors who have no handguns.
In summary, I think the map that my paper put on our website created a buzz and stirred conversation. But in the end it was neither necessary (what those who support the map might say) or inflammatory (what those who oppose the map have said). Handguns can be allowed. Handgun owners can be identified. What’s the problem with that?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.