In the United States, firearms rule the day. It is a constant topic there, and one that many are very passionate. It is a curious thing that so many invest so much in this issue. What I mean is, I can understand better why people who have lost others or been injured by arms would invest in the issue. Yet the loudest, most passionate, and most dominating voices are those who simply own or like arms. This curious polarity often leads to bizarre public policy and surreal debates, notably after, say, a mass shooting event. This interest may illustrate the popularity of the gun-slinging Western in cinema. Think about that. A forty-something year period in a particular geographic region of the planet has its own category ranked equally with the sweeping genres of Drama, Romance, and Science Fiction! If that does not hint to the power of guns, I do not know how better to make the point. With this in mind, and as interesting as the Western may be, I will today propose a solution to this issue based on, I hope, rational thinking, fairness, and a solid understanding of the history and intent of the governing ideals of that nation. We shall see if it works out that way.
Arms, arms, and legs
For this proposal to make any sense, we must start with the basics. The US Constitution includes an amendment that ensures a right to "arms". So what are these "arms" anyway? They are appendages, much like legs, though distinct from the legs of humans. The standard human has two of them. In addition, according to the IHS Jane's Defense guide, "arms" are anything that has potential use as a weapon, which, I suppose, could include those appendages, as well as legs. Merriam Webster defines it as "a means (as a weapon) of offense or defense" and Oxford defines it simply as "a weapon". This is broad – sharp pencils, swords, firearms, tanks, and bombs are all "arms". In theory, though, there are courts to help Americans define this further.
Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court has not defined specifically what "arms" are, but have, such as in the 2008 Heller case, determined that "handguns" are, as the generic definition points out, arms, and they affirmed the individual right to keep them. In the Heller decision, the court referenced the 1939 Miller decision; "Miller stands only for the proposition that the Second Amendment right, whatever its nature, extends only to certain types of weapons." The Heller decision then included handguns as one of those certain types of weapons. Miller too relied on previous decisions, narrowing what "arms" civilians may possess.
The point here is that Americans have a long tradition where they regulate "arms" – which the Second Amendment allows ["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"]. There is necessity in this, given the broad definition of "arms". In the case of the Second Amendment today, the informal militia is the general population; this is part of what gives the state powers to conscript Americans into military service. The formal militia in the United States is a State Defense Force for each state, a force that is independent of federal authority. There is also the state National Guard, which the federal government can use as a supplement to, or in addition to, the federal armed forces.
Americans, as a society and in their courts, define what "arms" are in the context of what shall "not be infringed" and they define what "infringe" means in the context of arms. For example, a private citizen may not personally own modern field artillery, an F-22 fighter jet, or even a 50-caliber machine gun. Americans do allow certain regulated private clubs, museums, et cetera, to own certain types of arms the general population cannot privately own, such as a 6-lb smooth-bore "Napoleon" cannon, used in Civil War reenactments. Even in those cases, they regulate what, if any, parts of those arms must be modified and in what way, to be owned by these groups (such as mandating the removal of all the armaments from a museum owned WWII era German Messerschmitt 109 fighter plane).
Why do American have a right to arms?
The debate today implies there are many reasons why arms are a right for citizens. There really is only one. Back in the day, large standing professional armies where not the norm. They were, and still are, very expensive. Additionally, there was only one kind of firearm. It was, therefore, easier to mandate citizens, as the Militia Act of 1792 did, to use their own money to purchase from private sellers their own musket and other military supplies. American citizens, from the founding to the Great War, were mandated to give up some of their individual liberty, by purchasing what they may or may not have wanted and reporting to militia mustering calls whenever requested. This sacrifice of liberty puts firearms in the hands of these citizens, and necessitates the right to keep them. It is notable that today, with the State Defense Forces, the National Guard, and the US Armed Forces all being volunteer, none now need give up some of their individual liberty to be armed, yet many continue wanting private arms to be part of the equation.
An often cited reason why is preparation to defend against government. For those making that argument, needing "arms" to protect themselves against government, the courts have already ruled that position void. The US Constitution, in Article I Section 8, gives congress the power to call "forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions." Thus if an American wishes to possess arms for use against their government, they become the "insurrection" which is constitutionally forbidden.
It may help to recall part of the motivation of drafting the US Constitution. The United States spent their first several years governed by the Articles of Confederation. This allowed for a very weak national government. Many incidents motivated a change, but one notable event was a rebellion in Massachusetts, called Shays Rebellion. Massachusetts was unable to effectively deal with the rebellion, and appealed to their national government for help. This confederate government, however, did not have the powers needed to compel other states to send their militia forces to Massachusetts. This showed Americans an obvious need for a stronger federal government. If you consider this event, and recognize its influence on the creation of the US Constitution, then it quickly fails to make much sense why the Founders would explicitly allow citizens to keep arms for the purpose of insurrection. Additionally, after the constitution was adopted, another rebellion, called the Whiskey Rebellion, occurred. President Washington, with the new powers of a stronger federal government, personally led a force to suppress it. Thus allowing citizens to keep arms for the purpose of insurrection defeats a key reason for why the Founders dropped the Articles of Confederation in the first place. It also helps show why they would ensure, in Article I, that insurrection is illegal, ranking it right up there with a foreign invasion.
It is important to appreciate the US Constitution for what it is, an all or nothing social contract. An American cannot pick or choose which parts they "support" and which they "reject". In other words, if one supports the Second Amendment, but rejects Article I, they are rejecting the constitution, and thus rejecting the Second Amendment. It is a paradox! Politically, one may oppose a part of the constitution, and seek through activism and the legislature to amend it; but for as long as the constitution includes the part one does not like, one must accept it as the law of the nation until otherwise changed. It should, I hope, be clear now that, because secession (which is solely a state action), rebellion, and insurrection are unconstitutional, one cannot keep and bear arms for any of those purposes. Explicitly doing so for those reasons essentially forfeits any constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Revolutionary Change & Guns
Regardless, because Americans already regulate arms, and none owns a personal & armed M1A1 battle tank, then if such an insurrection within the United States were to occur, the handful of Americans armed with myriad of small arms are hopelessly out-gunned, out-organized, and out-led. Consider further, if you will, the challenge of a mass of individual actors, with absolutist ideals of individual liberty, organizing a leadership structure, strategic planning, junior officers and NCO's, a supply chain for all the parts and calibers for all those different types of privately owned arms, ammunition too, et cetera, without a state or governing authority to enforce it. Herding cats would be easier, and it creates a palatable contradiction. If one defers instead to State Rights, I will remind you there is already a State Defense Force, and you are free to join tomorrow. It will uniform, arm, and supply you.
There is no real need for this anyway. As one example, the nation of Tunisia overthrew their dictatorship, yet Tunisia has some the strictest gun laws in the world, and ranks as having one of the fewest guns per capita rates in the world. It is a case study showing that one really does not need arms to overthrow a government; all one needs is massive popular support. This is something anyone who wants to overthrow the US constitution and the government it has created, like some of those in militia groups, will likely never have. I suppose, if they are truly committed, what they are really wanting is to get enough arms to impose a new order against popular will if the opportunity ever actually came to overthrow their federal government.
Let us then keep these points in mind. Americans already regulate and define what "arms" are. It is constitutional and affirmed by their courts that their citizens may do this. It is hopefully now clear Americans cannot constitutionally use their arms against their government. Therefore, the reasons to keep arms in the United States is reduced to bravado, personal defense, home defense, and hunting/sport. These are, minus bravado, the same reasons often cited by the widely influential National Rifle Association (NRA) and elected leaders who are also firearm advocates. I will stress again that the formal militia does exist as the State Defense Force, autonomous from the federal government, with citizens being free to join. However, if you are an American residing in a US state that no longer maintains an active militia, this is a political matter. If it is important to you, you may begin advocating for the resurrection of this defense force, and its associated costs.
Murder is hard
As they saying goes, guns do not kill people – people kill people. Likewise, I am sure you know that baseball bats do not hit home runs; people hit home runs. These are tools to achieve specific aims. It is fair to say that if a human is committed to killing another, they will do so with their hands, or other arms, such as the sharp pencil or baseball bat. However, you also surely recognize that firearms make it a lot easier to kill people, intentionally, accidentally, or in an irrational and emotional state. When a human has to kill someone with their hands, a pencil, or a baseball bat, they are far less likely even to try it. In the event they do attack the person, they are far less likely to actually kill them (and damn near assured not to kill bystanders or a mass of people).
It is widely known that most humans killed or injured by firearms are the owners themselves, be it a suicide or an attempt, or someone else getting hold of their firearms and using them against the owner. Unfortunately, those dying or suffering injury from firearms increases each year, despite a corresponding decline in crime rates, with gun-related deaths now nearing auto deaths. States that have fewer gun restrictions are also those that lead the nation in gun related injury and death. This could suggest that good laws and proper enforcement might have statistically significant impacts on the numbers killed or wounded by firearms.
With these factors in mind, I would like to propose a law for the United States. I do feel it is sound, reasonable, and constitutional. Yet given the passions on this issue, it may leave some feeling I am, to say the least, uncool. In the modern tradition of American legislation, I have created a fitting title and an apt acronym:
The Arms, Safety, & Solution [ASS] Act
PART I: CURRENT ARMS
All firearms presently legally owned shall remain legal to that owner. However, this law bans the sale of that firearm, with exceptions found later in Part IV.
This law allows legal owners to continue owning legally acquired and registered firearms.
PART II: REGULATED ARMS
This law will define arms to be sharp pencils, swords, knives, axes, baseball bats, pitchforks, shovels and similar. The rights to own these are not generally "infringed" in any way, though knives do have some existing regulations depending on the state or other jurisdiction, as do swords and battle-axes. However, an American may freely buy a baseball bat or a pencil just about anywhere. These would be classified under the general label of "melee" arms; making for the classic "armed mob". Added to this would be smooth-bore and rifled muzzle loaded muskets and pistols.
I will liberally add the revolver, the single, double, and pump action shotgun, and the single shot, manual bolt-action rifle. This assortment of arms will suffice for personal defense, home defense, and hunting. This group is available now, and shall remain available, thus the individual right to keep arms is not infringed by this law.
The automatic reloading gas or recoil-based action found in many firearms today, such as a Glock 17, makes it easy to fire many shots with minimum effort. In addition, these weapons capture the recoil, allowing the operator to stay on target while unloading the magazine or clip within a few seconds. I consider this a problem concerning "safety". This law bans all such automated actions for civilian use firearms. That manner of action was born in war, allowing recruits who completed basic training to fire easily many rounds down range very quickly. This is not needed for personal defense, home defense, or hunting. The reason why is simple. As noted, we know it is hard to kill a person, no matter how mad you are. Providing firing mechanisms designed to make this effortless does not help. Cocking a hammer, and revolving a wheel, requires some effort and commitment – more so than something that will fire and instantly reload, little recoil, with a very soft squeeze of a trigger. Though many surely will modify a revolver to loosen that action, it can take more effort to pull that trigger, and it captures very little of the recoil, so an operator will have to re-aim after each shot. In addition, in most cases of crime with firearms, the incidents are up close and personal. There is no need for precision aiming in these scenarios. Presently the treatment of handguns is as if operators will be using them at a distance. This just is not the case regarding personal defense. If a civilian is using a handgun at a distance, that user is probably the murderer. Certainly, many will take the time to learn sincerely how to use their revolver, and modify it, becoming modern day Doc Holliday's with a revolver. In most cases, however, these slick shooters will be rare, though likely law-abiding legal owners.
There is no reasonable case to make for why anyone would ever "need" a semi-automatic assault rifle to hunt deer or any other game. Frankly, if a human requires a telescopic lens, automatic fire, and a 30 round magazine to shoot deer, they are pathetic. One shot. Make it count. That is sport. That is hunting. After the bang, if you miss, the deer are off and running and you will have to start over. To accurately fire one shot from a bolt-action rifle, one will need skill. The operator will have to learn how to use their rifle. I consider this a plus, for both sport and for safety. In addition, no scopes, laser sights, and so forth should be available, legally, to the public. Why would one need them (unless they are a lousy shot, or pathetic, and should not bother hunting in the first place; or perhaps they are a murderer)?
We have all learned from movies and video games that the shotgun is the best weapon in the event of the zombie apocalypse. It remains so for home defense.
The shotgun is the only firearm I can think of that we may consider a "tool". Certainly as a hunting weapon; bird and buckshot, et cetera; but also a farmer/rancher tool. A farmer may have to use the shotgun to kill a rabid dog threatening livestock, or to put down a dying or injured cow, and so on. A shotgun is also great for home defense; a scenario also likely to be up close and personal, and a shotgun allows the defender to fire with poor aim and still maim or kill their target, if not just terrify them into leaving. We have all learned from movies and video games that the shotgun is the best weapon in the event of the zombie apocalypse. It remains so for home defense.
Resulting from only keeping the muskets, revolvers, shotguns, and bolt-action rifles legal, there will be no reason to have any independent clips, belts, or magazines of any kind.
This law therefore bans the production and sale for civilian use of all firearms with automated or mechanized reloading/recoil systems, clips, belts, and magazines. In addition, all firearms that use a magazine will need redesigning for the purpose of civilian use to accept only one round at a time, manual reload, with the exception of the hammer locking revolver wheel, and the exempted pump action shotgun. This law also bans all scopes, laser sights, suppressors, and other attachments designed to assist in targeting, quiet a firearm, or otherwise convert a firearm into an offensive, limited or no skill weapons system.
PART III: AMMUNTION
Presently regulated are powder, shells, and bullets. Under this law, the sale of ammunition is legal at retail prices at sanctioned gun ranges, sporting clubs, hunting grounds, and so forth. However, there will be no removal of ammunition bought at these places. Their use shall only be at the range, for training, sport shooting, and so forth.
With regard to ammunition available elsewhere, all rounds will have an additional and very high tax, say 1000%, based on the retail price found at the ranges, or a flat tax. If a bullet sells at a retail price of $1.00 at a range, perhaps it would cost $15 at a gun store. Likewise, powders, empty shell casings, caps, and similar will also be heavily taxed.
Many enthusiasts already know how to make their own ammunition. They will surely teach others. However, the majority of humans will not make their own ammunition, and likely will buy only enough ammunition to fill their firearm(s) of choice; otherwise taking no ammunition to the range and buying there for practice or fun.
PART IV: BUYBACK
Concurrent with the ban, and financed in part by the sale of retail ammunition, this law implements a national no-questions buyback program. The buyback will markup the price of firearms to be high, such as 500% or more, or flat rates, on the factory retail costs of the banned firearms. This means it will be an easy way to make some money; selling guns back to the state. This program would not work if there were no ban, because people could buy the firearm for $100 at a gun shop, and sell it to the state for $500, making a $400 profit. With the firearm types banned, the buyback may galvanize humans to round them up, similar to collecting aluminum cans. Many will sell legally owned, but newly banned, firearms when an unrelated bill comes due. Over time, the amount of banned firearms in the population will drop significantly, and the street price will rise exponentially, to the point that few will be able to acquire them on the black market. Certainly, many will keep their legally owned firearms; but over time, these firearms in circulation will continue to reduce. The buyback program shall remain in permanent effect, always no-questions, though the percentage amount or rate may rise as banned firearms become rarer.
This four-part proposal intends to achieve several things. It protects the individual right to keep arms. It clearly defines what "arms" are. It incentives training and safety. It removes many illegal and black market firearms off the streets. It may help reduce the likelihood of mass shootings over time. It may lead to fewer accidental shootings, and fewer deaths and injury from gunshots (though this law will likely have little impact on suicide by firearm other than possibly making the psychology of the act harder for the less committed). This proposal will not catch every scenario, especially as technological innovations continues. Things such as 3-D printing of homemade firearms will not be influenced by this particular proposal. However, with ammunition being, for some, prohibitively expensive, humans may be more conservative in how and when they might use their firearms, however acquired.
This is my proposal. The ASS Act. What say you?