Celestial Lands Liberal Religious Faith… and the occasional political musing.

Gun Control, Militias, and the Second Amendment

I have chosen never to carry or use a firearm ever again. I made that choice not because of a fundamentalist attitude toward guns, but rather because I am entirely too good with them. I reached a place in my faith journey where I realized that I would rather die than be responsible for taking another human life… although protecting the lives of those I love might challenge my commitment never to use a firearm again. But put simply, my religious faith prevents me from using weapons anymore… because I am entirely too good with them. If it were not for the requirement that military chaplains neither use nor carry (nor even touch) firearms as a part of their official military role, I could not serve as a military chaplain.

Being a good shot with firearms is in my blood. I am only a few generations removed from some Tennessee mountain men who depended upon their ability with a rifle to put food on the table. My great-grandfather was a famous soldier and marksman. My grandfather was a WWII Anti-Aircraft gunner with over 7 Japanese planes to his credit. My father’s ability with a pistol would have made him a trick-shot in the old west, had he been alive then… as a “Revenuer” in the Tennessee hills his 357 Magnum was not just for show. In the earliest days of my military career, I qualified expert with both the rifle and the grenade… and my ability continued to develop the entire time I was in enlisted service (I’m now commissioned, not enlisted).

In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Tucson Arizona, there has been a resurgence of calls for “Gun Control” measures to be passed. I stated in an earlier article that while I do support sensible Gun Control, I have never stated what I mean by that… and why I hold the position that I do. I do not believe that any Gun Control measures will stop or even significantly lessen the impact or tragedy of mass shootings, because I believe that such shootings are coming from deep identity issues within American culture. These identity issues include a vitriolic public discourse, where politicians seek to divide the American people for political expediency. It includes a culture where violence has come to be not only celebrated, but our main form of entertainment. It includes the beginnings of a reversion to an understanding of mental illness as resulting from personal sin (though we don’t always use that language). It comes from a fame-seeking culture where if you kill a bunch of people, everyone will learn your name and see your face on national television, and people will write books trying to understand why you did what you did. It comes from a loss of respect in public life, and from the idea that we can protect ourselves with enough security…

I believe we focus on Gun Control arguments in the aftermath of such a mass shooting because we do not want to deal with the profound cultural issues that rest at the heart of such shootings. Though Gun Control is more than difficult in the United States, it is far easier than trying to change the culture of violence that created our entertainment industry, or the culture of fame that has created our media industry. We do not want to deal with our own feelings of superiority/inferiority that lead to how we approach mental illness, nor do we want to look for a way to completely re-imagine our politics to take into account that the world is not as simple as good vs. evil.

There is also, to my mind, a significant fallacy in the moral logic of believing that Gun Control is the solution to such mass shootings, in that it accepts the premise that such shootings are going to happen, and all we can do is make it as difficult as possible, and try to limit the damage. Making getting firearms more difficult (and that’s not what Gun-bans do) does not prevent mass-killings. It only means the killer needs to be a little more industrious. Banning high-capacity magazines only means the killer has to bring more guns. Even without additional firearms, why is firing 15 rounds into a crowd more acceptable than firing 30? Morality and our cultural responsibility are about more than the numbers.

Now, I am completely in favor of sensible and effective “Gun Control”. I believe the current near free-for-all in the production and distribution of firearms is morally reprehensible. I believe that the Second Amendment has been twisted into a pretzel by constitutional fundamentalists who have completely forgotten the first clause and focused solely on the second. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State…”

I believe that what has happened in this country is that the two clauses to the Second Amendment have been separated, to our nation’s great detriment. We do not have a “well regulated militia” as the writers of the constitution understood it. Many people point to our Reserve and National Guard forces as if they are this “well regulated militia”, but that is not, in my opinion, true anymore. Reserve forces (like me) are federal troops, not militia. National Guard forces are nominally under state control, but they are primarily trained and funded with federal money, and they are more and more being used as operational federal forces, focused on overseas deployment.

The intent of the second amendment was that everyone who had a firearm would be under some form of close regulation and monitoring as they served as part of a “well regulated militia”. The truth of our current situation is that most people who own firearms today, legally as well as illegally, are under very little regulation past the point of legal sale, and are under no supervision after the point of sale. They are not receiving training in care, use, and safety by a militia command; they are not being regularly assessed for their stability by a militia chaplain or command chain. They are not registered as militia forces, so we do not even know who owns weapons, where they are, or what training they have with them.

So, by the absence of a mandatory “well regulated militia” remaining connected to the “right to keep and bear arms”, we have arrived at a situation where there is almost no control of the ownership and use of firearms in our nation. What militias do exist certainly do not qualify as being “well regulated”, at least not in the sense of having any connection to formal political authority.

If I could wave a magic wand, all gun ownership in America would require the owner to be part of such a “well regulated” militia organization… similar to the system that you see in Switzerland or Israel. If you own a weapon, you should receive actual training in its use and safety, and regular supervision and monitoring of your mental fitness and intent in its use. Gun ownership should have specific obligations that go along with the right of ownership… no right should ever be held without such obligations.

Yet, I fear that the chance of such a system in the United States is long past the point of possibility, and so we are left with an almost impossible situation. The Gun free-for-all that has existed off and on for the last two centuries or more has left us with a situation in which we are the most personally armed country in the world. Even if we never sold another new gun in America ever again, there would still be more than Two Hundred and Fifty Million firearms held in personal hands in America. Add all the firearms held in government hands, and the number is even more astounding.

Unless we want to embark on a program of confiscating the millions of firearms held in personal hands in our country, (the most assured way I can think of to spark a second Civil War), our efforts at Gun Control have to take in the reality that the majority of guns themselves are well beyond our ability to control them. With the exception of the absolute necessity to prevent military weaponry from being in other than military hands, we need to craft “Gun Control” laws that focus on the ways that people use such weaponry, not whether they can have the weapons in the first place.

Every ban of an item in human history has produced an illegal market for such items… and such illegal markets are by definition beyond the reach of government regulation and oversight, and produce far more collateral problems than a well regulated legal market for the item would. I am amazed that many progressives and liberals can see this trend clearly when it comes to the movement to legalize drugs such as marijuana, but do not see that the same process works in efforts to make the sale of firearms illegal. The prohibition of alcohol in the United States had the same effect. Blanket bans of firearms do not prevent firearms (be they pistols or assault weapons) from ending up in the hands of those who will use them… they only remove any and all forms of oversight and regulation while exponentially increasing the incidence of violence and corruption associated with them.

If you ban high-capacity magazine clips, you create an illegal market for such clips. Having created an illegal market, to remove all capacity to oversee and regulate such a market, and you increase the violence and corruption associated with the existence of such an illegal market. There are few trends in human behavior more clear than this one.

So, effective and sensible “gun control” should not focus on controlling the guns, but rather on controlling the people who own guns. There should be rigorous and regular mental, physical, and safety testing of anyone who owns a firearm. All firearm ownership should be registered. Anyone who owns a firearm should be part of an organization that helps monitor the use and care of said firearm. Systems should be developed and enforced that keep firearms from being owned by those with known criminal records or significant mental instability. Everyone who owns a firearm should be required to annually qualify on that weapon, not just in using it but in knowing how to care for it and keep it safe. The sale of firearms should be both legal and heavily regulated. Everyone who owns a firearm should be connected to some kind of supportive duty as the responsibility of that ownership, be it as a member of a police auxiliary, a State sponsored militia, or a civil defense organization.

The right to keep and bear arms also comes with the responsibility for that right. We’ve been too long focusing on our rights, and ignoring our responsibilities.

Yours in faith,

Rev. David

15 Thoughts on “Gun Control, Militias, and the Second Amendment

  1. “Why is firing 15 rounds into a crowd more acceptable than firing 30?” I’m surprised that you frame it that way. You are trying to cram a common sense proposition, 30 bullets will do more damage than 15 bullets, into a moral relativity box to make it sound absurd. Of course neither is acceptable. But that isn’t the measure to consider. The result of 30 bullets vs. 15 bullets is the measure. “Morality and our cultural responsibility” are a far distant second and third concern compared to the damage one bullet can do. There may be a “fallacy in the moral logic” of gun control, but the practical reality outweighs whatever fallacy may exist.

    “Controlling the people who own guns” is about the only thing harder to do than “controlling the guns,” both legislatively and practically, so if you are defeatist about gun control, you should realize controlling gun owners is impossible.

    I am amazed that you don’t recognize the difference between a product which all negative outcomes come from the fact that it is illegal (marijuana) and a product which can produce extremely negative outcome all by itself (guns).

    I am also disappointed that you make no mention of suicide. I sincerely hope that military chaplains are extremely aware of the effect the easy availability of guns has on success rates of suicide attempts. To use your argument: “Making getting firearms more difficult (and that’s not what Gun-bans do) does not prevent mass-killings. It only means the killer needs to be a little more industrious.” Forcing a person who will attempt suicide to be a little bit more industrious will save countless lives. Research has proven this. Putting up a slightly higher railing on a bridge has completely stopped people from jumping off it. If you think almost all people will go to another bridge, you don’t understand depression. The availability of guns causes the success rate of suicide attempts to skyrocket. Even if gun control never stopped a single mass killing, it will have been worth it to thousands of attempts and tens of thousands of family members and loved ones every year.

    As far as changing the culture, I would argue that Canadians have almost the same culture as Americans, human behavior doesn’t vary much at all between the two peoples, but it has far fewer guns deaths. How do you explain that?

  2. Mark,

    I know you and I disagree on this, and can understand your points without agreeing with them. And I do find I disagree with you almost across the board. I will share a bit of that disagreement… and I accept that our positions may be insoluable.

    First, the question is not about 15 rounds or 30. Bringing two guns of 15 would give just the same downrange capacity as one gun of 30… so I question whether focusing on the size of the magazine is really a useful solution to the problem… practically, I agree with you that smaller magazines are better, and that there should be serious government regulation of high-capacity magazines. But such is not a solution to the problem of mass shootings. It’s too easy to get around.

    Second, the moral question we should be working with is not how do we limit the damage of mass shootings (limiting magazine size) but how do we keep them from happening at all? Focusing on limiting the damage pre-supposes that we are powerless to prevent them, and I do not accept that. You may accept that if you wish, but I do not.

    Third, I disagree that legislation that limits human behavior is more difficult than legislation that limits inanimate objects… especially when the inanimate objects are as numerous as firearms are. Most effective legislation focuses on human behavior, not on innanimate objects that can not be held responsible. Current gun-control legislation also focuses on limiting human behavior of those who legally sell guns. I want to focus on the behavior of those who own guns as well. And, even if it is more difficult does not mean it is not the right and most effective way to actually affect how our nation uses and mis-uses firearms. I did not say it would be easy, only that it is, in my opinion, the only thing that will be effective.

    Fourth, I disagree that most of the negative outcomes of marijuana come from the fact that it is illegal. There are many negative outcomes to marijuana that will still exist when it is legal…. especially if that legality comes without the attendant responsibility. You don’t like the argument about marijuana… that’s fine. I would say that the argument about alcohol and prohibition is even more on point with the issue of firearms… Driving under the influence is a good case in point.

    Fifth, I find your mention of suicide to be a strawman argument. The human race has been completing suicide for thousands of years prior to the invention of firearms, and would still be completing suicide if all firearms were taken away. In my experience, both as a trained suicide prevention counselor and as a military chaplain, it is not the method that is the motive force behind suicide, but the emotional and psychological state of the person. If I take all the guns away from someone with suicidal ideation, all I do is make it slightly more difficult for them to complete their ideation. I would find taking alcohol away far more effective… but I’d also have to take away their car, knives, ropes, pools, drugs, … and so on, and so on.

    My issue with your position all the way through, be it on firearms or the implied position on suicide, is that you are focusing on the implements of human intention, not human intention itself… and I believe that stance is one that accepts failure from the outset.

    You brought up suicide and firearms… so I will use that to make my point. A soldier tells me they are having suicidal ideation. I know they have firearms in the house. Of course the first thing I will do as their chapalin is take away the firearms (I’ve done this multiple times). Yet, if I leave the situation at that, I have solved nothing. The real work is not taking away the implement of the soldier’s suicidal ideation, but working to understand and transform the soldier’s intent.

    This is my overall point. I am not saying we do not need sensible gun control. I’m saying perfect gun control is impossible… and that our only real solution is to work with the deeper issues of intent… and set up a system whereby no one who has a gun is left where their intent as to the use of that firearm is left unevaluated, unmonitored, and unsupervised.

    And you are right… your understanding of depression is very different than mine, given your example of the bridge. My understanding of depression is this it is not nearly as transitory as you appear to be implying. Raising the railing on a bridge does not prevent suicide. It only prevents suicide using that bridge as an implement. If one thing my experinece with depression related suicidal ideation has taught me is that it is far more connected to intent and emotional trends than it is to method of implementation. Far more. And that depression, especially clinical depression, is not nearly so transitory.

    I’ll tell you one cultural difference between Canada and the United States when it comes to mass killings… their media does not nearly celebratize violence and especially those who conduct mass killings the way they do in the U.S. I think there are profound differences between U.S. and Canadian culture, and those differences do account for some of the differences we see…. they have a whole different understanding of the place of guns in society, for one.

    We should be learning from the differences between Canadian and American culture, not pretending those differences do not exist. Don’t agree with me about the differences? Ask a Canadian.

    Yours in Faith,

    Rev. David

  3. I just want to weigh in about depression as you are, in my opinion, both right and wrong. David is correct that depression is not transitory, suicidal ideation is not transitory. I believe Mark is correct that the moments in which the gun is in your hand and you are actively deciding whether to use it or not is transitory. The most profound thing about depression is that you cannot motivate to do much of anything. Therefore the more you have to “do” to get the gun in your hands the more time there is for that active struggle to pass. There is a marked increase in suicides after medication for depression has started, why? You still hate your life and wish you did not have to live it and you feel better enough to “do” something about it. If people had to do everything David is suggesting…

    “There should be rigorous and regular mental, physical, and safety testing of anyone who owns a firearm. All firearm ownership should be registered. Anyone who owns a firearm should be part of an organization that helps monitor the use and care of said firearm. Systems should be developed and enforced that keep firearms from being owned by those with known criminal records or significant mental instability. Everyone who owns a firearm should be required to annually qualify on that weapon, not just in using it but in knowing how to care for it and keep it safe.”

    I do not think many depressed people would be out there motivating to get one.

  4. I appreciate your response, David. I’ll think it over and look for the suicide research.

  5. Wow… I did not think that the comment thread on this post would focus on suicidal ideation and depression…

    Jean, you make a good point, as far as it goes. Here’s the piece I think needs to be added. Most suicidal ideation incidents are indeed temporary… and unless someone who is experiencing suicidal ideation finds their way to help, especially in cases of clinical depression, they are likely to re-experience the suicidal ideation again and again.

    So, in this case, they may choose not to use the weapon that time, or jump off the bridge that time. However, the likelyhood is that they will continue to experience episodes of suicidal ideation until they do attempt to complete suicide. So, dealing with the implements of suicide does not work to transform the underlying issues that lead to the suicidal ideation. It simply buys time.

    An incident of suicidal ideation can indeed be temporary… and without doing the work around it you are more likely to have continued incidents of such ideation without intervention and help.

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  6. The main issue is not suicide ideation. It is the impact easy access to guns has on suicide attempt success. That impact is tremendously deadly. This alone is a strong argument for tighter gun control.

    “But such is not a solution to the problem of mass shootings.” I don’t think we can completely solve the problem of mass shootings. Short of a sci-fi scenario, how can we end the possibility of mass killings ever happening? So I think we should do everything in our power to mitigate their impact while we work to solve the underlying problems causing mass shootings.

    “Focusing on limiting the damage pre-supposes that we are powerless to prevent them, and I do not accept that. You may accept that if you wish, but I do not.” It does not pre-suppose we are powerless. It is a matter of picking the low-hanging fruit first. Do you think that I would stop advocating gun control and other measures to prevent mass killings once those fruit are picked?

    “My understanding of depression is this it is not nearly as transitory as you appear to be implying” I did not imply depression is transitory. As someone who has suffered from clinical depression, I would never mean to make even a small hint towards that.

    “it is far more connected to intent and emotional trends than it is to method of implementation” Agreed. So small changes to reduce more deadly methods can be very effective in preventing suicide successes.

    This just occurred to me, our debate on the feasibility of ending mass killings is similar to suicides. Your position focuses on ending suicide attempts, mine on making them less deadly. Do you agree with this?

    “[Canadians] have a whole different understanding of the place of guns in society, for one.” That different understanding is not a result of different human behavior, but on the success of shaping the culture through things like a robust gun control debate that influences legislation. This is just a guess, but I doubt that Canada has a NRA that is as powerful as in the US. That is an institutional difference, not a cultural one.

  7. Mark,

    As I said, we’re not going to agree. Both my own personal experience as a Chaplain in Emergency Rooms and as a suicide prevention counselor say that focusing on the implement of suicide is the wrong move… and that if you take away one implement, you just increase the likelyhood of the use of another. And, I have never seen evidence that says that if you took away guns, the suicide rate would go down. My experience says that the suicide rate, both completions and attempts, would remain the same whether guns are present or not. There are just too many ways that a human can find to kill themselves, many of which are easier to obtain and more sure to complete the suicide than guns are.

    And, as I said, we’re not going to agree.

    I don’t accept that the NRA is as powerful as people say it is… and most of the power it has comes from people believing it does. Democratic politicians have been crossing the NRA for years, and their ability to make those politicians pay for that has been mediocre at best. By feeding that myth, you are increasing its power… They don’t even represent a majority of gun owners, although they like to act like they do.

    Yes, I agree with your statement… you and I are having a fundamental disagreement of philosophy. I am focused on dealing with the fundamental issues that bring about both suicides and mass shootings… because I believe that focusing on those issues is the most likely way to reduce their numbers and lead people to wholeness in their lives. I perceive your points as focused on mitigating the circumstances of these issues (suicide and mass shootings) rather than focus on their fundamental issues.

    I’m probably not being entirely fair to your position, because I disagree with it so strongly. I do believe that mitigation of the circumstances is necessary, but it is not where the core of our attention and effort should be focused. That should be on the underlying factors that lead to sucicide or mass shootings.

    Like I said, fundamental philosophical disagreement.

    Yours in faith,

    David

  8. Reading through the thread again, I’m struck by your ability to deflect my suggestions to lessen gun violence into a fundamental philosophical disagreement. Is it a fundamental philosophical disagreement to prioritize gun control measures while thinking that ending all gun violence, while laudable, isn’t realistic? I never said we shouldn’t try – and you said you’re in favor of some gun control. Are we really in any disagreement other than we would prioritize our own efforts differently?

    Behind this diametric characterization of our debate, I think your use of “fundamental” and “philosophical” borders on “moral.” I will admit that this is mostly me reading between the lines. But there is one explicit example, “focusing on the implement of suicide is the wrong move.” Wrong? Is that the word you really want? As the billboards’ say, the number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. I understand that and strongly support depression treatment. I went through it myself. Yet I still focus my comments on gun control. Am I wrong?

  9. Mark,

    What I’m proposing as the difference I see in how you and I are approaching this issue is more foundational, in my opinion, than just a difference in emphasis, or that we “would priorityze our own efforts differently”. I’ve actually decided to make my point about this an upcoming article for CL, so I won’t try and outline it all here… however in short, I believe it is one of the primary duties of liberal religion to name the root causes of social justice concerns, not simply to look to address the symptoms.

    I view gun violence, such as what happened in Tucson as a symptom, not the root cause. I believe efforts that seek to limit the damage of shootings such as in Tucson, such as gun control or controlling the sale of magazines, to be addressing the symptoms, not exploring and naming the root causes of those violence. I believe those symptoms must be addressed… but such is not the primary mission or purpose of liberal religion in social justice, in my opinion. Focusing on the core societal issues and not what I call the “symptoms” (or secondary and tertiary results of the core issue) is what separates religious social justice work from activism.

    So, while I believe it is important for people of Liberal Religion to assist in addressing symptoms of our cultural maladies, I believe that our primary focus should be on exploring and naming the root causes of those maladies, and seeking solutions for those root causes. So, instead of focusing on passing legislation limiting magazines, I want to explore why we treat mental illness as we do. I want to name publically the ways that the tone of the national debate relate to the inner tones of our inner discourse. I want to work to instill practices of consensus and non-violence in our society and communities…. and so much more.

    I believe that we often become so focused on working on the symptom, we never seek to address the more fundamental cultural concerns… or to paraphrase a common metaphor, we become so focused on pulling the babies out of the river we never go upriver to see who is throwing the babies in and why, and find a way to make them quit doing that.

    I have one other comment about our dialogue here. I have not intended to make any of this discussion personal, yet as I go back and read it I believe that you may have been taking some of my words, ideas, and criticism of the “symptom” mentality see throughout our culture as being focused on you. That was not and is not my intent, and for however much I was responsible with my language for giving that impression, I apologize.

    I am frustrated with symptom focused social justice, not you.

    Yours in Faith,

    David

  10. “If I could wave a magic wand, all gun ownership in America would require the owner to be part of such a “well regulated” militia organization… similar to the system that you see in Switzerland or Israel. If you own a weapon, you should receive actual training in its use and safety, and regular supervision and monitoring of your mental fitness and intent in its use. Gun ownership should have specific obligations that go along with the right of ownership… no right should ever be held without such obligations.”

    Here here!

  11. Pingback: Liberal Religious Social Justice | Celestial Lands

  12. David, thank you for your many replies and the new blog post. And I appreciate the difference between criticizing someone’s person, which you did not do, and their position. When I said “am I wrong”, I was also meaning not myself personally, but my position.

  13. How is this for stupid? I believe that in general people should have a chance to learn how to use guns if they are so inclined, but ownership should be rare and a privilege, and hunters ought to keep their guns in lodges or “safe places” not in their homes. People who own guns should be put through all sort of tests for skill, character and common sense, as well as reasons to own them, and then be limited in where they may carry them. In general, ownership should be limited to law enforcement, military, and, of course, criminals–who would own them illegally, or course. That would be fewer than having a lot of unwitting people having accidents with them, their children having accidents with them, having them stolen by criminals, etc. I just read that in the marvelous state of Texas they are thinking of allowing college students to carry guns on campus. If I knew that students were carrying guns on campus where I work, I would not want to be there–I’d definitely be thinking early retirement, and wouldn’t want a job where I’d come into conflict with students. Coward? I feel safer in a land with fewer guns. In a play, a gun on the mantel is supposed to be fired by the end of the play. What is the point of having a gun if it is never fired? I don’t believe in being around a lot of guns that theoretically will “never be used.”

  14. One more dopey thought–as for the Second Amendment–we have a well-regulated militia–the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, etc. Do I actually believe that the framers of the constitution meant by “well-regulated militia” a bunch of slightly regulated citizens, with or without attitude, owning guns? I don’t think they meant by that people at large as in people that could not be called into the army at short notice. Were they thinking about the British possibly taking away the weapons from the colonists and depriving them of their ability to protect themselves from the British soldiers somewhere in the backs of their minds? Perhaps. Did they envision a society where guns could be randomly bought, stolen, exchanged, played with by kids? My grandfather as a boy narrowly escaped death when he and his little brother were playing with a gun they considered a toy, and his brother aimed the gun at my Grandfather’s face, and my Grandfather instinctively moved his arm in front of his face, and the gun fired, and the bullet went into his arm, where it stayed for several years. I’m glad I had my Granddad, and think of all the people who have died due to gun accidents. How do we change our culture? I don’t know, but I wish the Second Amendment was not being used to defend mischief, poor judgment, and the ill-conceived notion that having a gun is better protection than not having one. Having a brain is the best protection of all.

  15. One more thought–while Rev. David doesn’t want a gun because he is so good at them, for someone like me to have a gun is dangerous because I am so bad at them, and I suspect there are more people like me than David. I took a course in how to use a rifle years ago because I was reading up on the JFK assassination conspiracy theories and they were full of technical language about using rifles. I finally decided I would have to learn something about them. First of all, the are very heavy, clumsy, and have a wicked back fire, and I can only use them lying down, and pointing them, propped and aiming. Secondly, even then, I rarely hit the target a short distance ahead. Now, years later, I don’t remember how they worked, would not know how to use one safely, and wouldn’t be able to hit the side of a barn, or anything I would aim at, but could hit an innocent target I was not aiming at, and could have one easily wrestled from me and used against me or anyone else. Perhaps this is more true of me than most others, but it would be true of a lot of others, too. Many people would be damn fools to own a gun, though legally they could. I think something should be done about that.

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