Justifying Citizen Possession of Firearms, by S.G. in Florida

Most persons recognize the value of the firearm as a hunting and food gathering tool for the rural American. Often, gun control advocates will latch onto this justification for the Second Amendment when proposing various gun restrictions. The firearm tool can find utilitarian employment by an individual in many situations, and this article seeks to list the possible contemplated individual uses for firearms. Note that I am in no way suggesting that these situations exist now, nor am I advocating the employment of firearms in any of these ways. However, thinking ahead and outside of the box will allow us to fully understand the issue with future situations in mind.

Beginning with basic survival, the firearm has been a tool for food gathering since before the founding of the country. For example, even the peace loving Pilgrims were armed with long guns so that they could hunt the wild turkey, deer, and other abundance of the New World.[1] The thought that this tool could be tossed away by a central state would have been unthinkable to these early settlers. The problem is that with the extreme concentration of the population into urban settings, the American public has become far removed from the source of food and intolerant of the needs of rural residents. Despite this, the hunting justification has been seized upon by anti-gun crusaders as a useful distraction. The anti-gunner asks, “Why does a hunter need a 30-round magazine?” just before proposing a ban on such magazines. Faux political accommodation can therefore be floated where persons are allowed to retain low capacity shotguns or single shot rifles for hunting, while pushing for an outright ban on firearms that serve different purposes. But there are many other historical and practical justifications for the individual possession of firearms.

The most common employment of firearms (beyond hunting) is the individual use of firearms for self defense or for the defense of others against criminals. This situation is the most common justification cited by individuals when purchasing handguns. A home invader with a gun can only be practically stopped by a home owner with a gun. Further, firearms have a leveling effect, allowing an 80 year old grandmother to successfully defend her life against a strong, young attacker.[2] Although quite under reported by the mass media, YouTube is filled with videos recording the legal employment of handguns in self-defense situations. The widespread citizen possession of handguns also provides a considerable deterrent effect on criminals, particularly home invaders. Targeting older, more defenseless victims becomes much riskier once the citizenry is armed.

Next, the Second Amendment is justified by the individual use of firearms against disorganized groups or gangs in a limited civil disorder situation. For example, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the police forces abandoned the city to criminal gangs who rampaged in the city, looting and setting fire to many homes and businesses. At one point during the week of lawlessness, the looters were prevented from looting some Korean-owned businesses by armed citizens stationed on the roofs.[3]

A more modern justification, but one in which is gaining in importance, is the individual use of firearms to provide immediate response against terrorist attacks. Often, terrorist and other perpetrators of mass casualty type attacks seek out areas that are “gun free” and where police agencies will be slow or inhibited from responding. The presence of armed citizens in the near proximity to an attack can limit or prevent large casualties by individual, legal carriers employing their firearms against the terrorists. It is very difficult to discuss successful use of firearms, since by definition, a successful prevention would not be widely publicized and the projection of what would have been would be impossible to know. However, the presence of firearms in the hands of law abiding citizens could limit the impact of any potential attacker. To take three examples pointed out by writer Lior Nedivi, let’s look at the following: a mass shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia was cut short by two legally armed students; on February 12, 2007, a mass shooting event at a Utah shopping center was stopped by an off-duty police officer with a firearm; and on December 17, 2012, a mass shooting at a San Antonio, Texas movie theater was prevented by a police officer before the shooter could harm anyone in the theater. This justification was cited by the singer of the heavy metal group targeted during the Bataclan attacks.[4] He was a witness to the powerlessness of unarmed citizens against armed islamic jihadis and noted that the only way to have stopped the mass slaughter that night was for brave men with firearms to confront the attackers.

The Second Amendment also contemplates an armed citizenry as a deterrent and inoculation against a tyrannical government. This is the most controversial justification for the Second Amendment in the present time, especially to those who have replaced God with government, but it is supported by the history of the Amendment’s adoption and recently affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case District of Columbia v Heller. It is simply true that the individual use of firearms against a governmental tyranny is an integral part of the Second Amendment. As the Supreme Court forthrightly stated, “when the able-bodied men of a nation are trained in arms and organized, they are better able to resist tyranny.” The Court correctly observed that history has shown “the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the able-bodied men was not by banning the militia but simply by taking away the people’s arms, enabling a select militia or standing army to suppress political opponents. This is what had occurred in England that prompted codification of the right to have arms in the English Bill of Rights.” While this idea may seem like a relic of the 18th century, the currentness of this concept can be illustrated by examining the Jewish resistence to the Nazi Holocaust during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.[5]

As a corollary to this idea, a further justification for the possession of arms by the citizenry is to serve as a deterrent to mass seizures of persons or property by police agencies. A necessary effect of civilian ownership of firearms is that police will become more cautious when invading a citizen’s home. It must be remembered that all policemen are citizens employed by the state to do a job who have families to go home to and homes to nourish. These people happened to have badges, but they are just as susceptible to human concerns for physical safety as anyone else. Just how would such a person respond to an illegal mass order from above to enter into every home of the neighbor to confiscate lawfully purchased firearms? While some persons will always blindly follow orders, at some point, the individual officer will soft pedal or resist such an act. Local control of civilian police power is also an important factor in limiting widespread gun confiscation. Of course, there will always be the need for necessary police entry into homes, but the possible presence of firearms will require extra police effort, planning, and care, limiting mass seizures by the simple mathematics of available police resources.

Another justification for an armed citizenry is the individual use of firearms against an armed foreign invader. While modern militaries, two oceans, and weapons of mass destruction would seem to cheapen this justification, it was present in the minds of the adopters of the Second Amendment as a key justification for widespread civilian gun ownership. Many gun control advocates seize upon this justification by their reading of the word “militia” to limit the possession of firearms to those who are sanctioned by the State to defend against foreign powers. While this is part of the meaning, as discussed herein, it is only a part of the many justifications for the Amendment’s existence. Modern countries such as Switzerland and Israel that require firearm possession utilize this tactic in discouraging foreign invasion. During World War II, neutral Sweden unitized a similar “porcupine” strategy in successfully discouraging Stalin and Hitler from invading its soil. It is unknown how many foreign invaders have been discouraged at the idea’s inception by the presence of an American rifle behind every blade of grass, but the discouragement is there nonetheless. This benefit is not limited to foreign invaders, but it also makes American participation in foreign wars more effective. For example, in World War II, the mass American familiarity with rifles during World War II made the average American soldier much more accurate and lethal than foreign draftees without this advantage. Finally, the individual use of firearms to protect against organized attackers in a civil disorder or a civil war situation where widespread governmental breakdown has occurred. While this situation was probably not contemplated by the Founding Fathers, civil war has once in the recent past visited itself upon our country. A future civil war is terrible to contemplate. If it does come upon us, the major players will be those who have the power to physically defend themselves against an opponent. The players might be the Armed Forces, the various Federal and state police agencies, and those citizens who are organized and armed. In such a situation, there will only be wolves and sheep. Possession of a rifle may tip the scales towards survival in such an unlikely and undesirable event.