The Constitution of the United States secures every law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms without infringement. Yet today, 224 years after the Constitution was fully implemented as the supreme law of the land, there have been a number of laws passed and bills proposed to curtail law-abiding citizens’ right to bear arms.
Why are we curtailing the rights of law-abiding citizens? What has changed in the last two centuries? I think one of the most fundamental changes is our view of human nature. It had taken the whole of man’s history to culminate in the founding of this country, where individual liberties were hailed as innate and good and, therefore, essential to a thriving society. There was a beneficent view of human nature, so much so that each man was deemed worthy of the same inalienable rights as kings (presidents).
For the Founding Fathers, not only should law-abiding citizens be able to protect themselves and their families when needed, but they could be trusted to act responsibly with their rights. This beneficent view of human nature was the foundation upon which they constructed the Constitution, securing every law-abiding citizen’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–and the right to bear arms in order to defend these rights (e.g., self-defense against an armed intruder in your home).
Contrary to the words and deeds of the Founding Fathers, today the rights of law-abiding citizens are being curtailed. Even if a person has never owned a gun, he is now only allowed to purchase certain kinds of guns and a certain amount of ammunition in many places. The implication from this is that if law-abiding citizens have a certain kind of weapon or own too much ammunition, then they will misuse them. From this perspective, the individual is corruptible; he will be driven to horrendous crimes such as armed robbery and murder if he possesses a gun that fires too quickly or if he has 50 more rounds than he is legally permitted.Thus, the recent legislation curtailing the right to bear arms has a much darker view of human nature than the view held by the Founding Fathers. The modern, pessimistic view of man’s nature says that law-abiding citizens cannot be trusted with their fundamental right to bear arms.
One problem with this pessimistic theory of man’s nature is that certain groups of individuals are exempt, such as the police and the military who are still afforded full rights to keep and bear arms. I call this a “problem” because what are policemen and military personnel other than citizens like the rest of us? If you and I are susceptible to corruption by certain weapons and amounts of ammunition, then aren’t they just as susceptible? If so, shouldn’t their rights be curtailed equally? If not, it is imperative that we discover how these men and women retained their strong, honorable natures while the rest of us have come to possess weak, corruptible natures.
Another problem with this condemnation of man’s nature is that if law-abiding citizens can’t be trusted with one of their natural rights, then why should they be trusted with the rest of their rights? If our natures are so susceptible to harmful behavior, then any one of us would be capable saying something cruel and abusive to another person. Thus, shouldn’t our rights to free speech be curtailed?
Sound like a slippery slope? Where human nature is condemned, it can’t be anything else.
I have to wonder if we have really lost the optimism of the Founding Fathers? Can it be true that we are so afraid of our own natures that we have begun to willingly hand our rights over to other individuals–strangers–who are no more and no less human than ourselves? For this country’s sake, for every citizen who lives here, I certainly hope not.