Balancing The Constitution’s Stance On Guns

Our county legislature has had two votes about gun violence, one vote each in its last two sessions. The vote in May was about newspapers printing the names of people who had gun permits.

It was said that the printing of the names of those who got a gun permit is an example of an assault on our rights as Americans, our Constitutional rights. It was said that we have a right of privacy, preserved to us in the Tenth Amendment. We have the right to own guns, which the motion of the legislature had in its first paragraph, quoting the Second Amendment, “the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” The motion also said that the right to bear arms was perfectly clear. However, the full Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” One could say that owning guns shall be well regulated; that the purpose of owning a gun is to protect the free State, not your own home from burglars. Men in the militia had to buy their own rifle. The militia was there instead of having to pay an army all the time when there was no war. So the Second Amendment is not perfectly clear because the connection between the militia and people owning guns is not clear.

There were two views of the newspaper printing the names of the gun owners. One view was that it was the newspaper “entering” people’s homes, violating their privacy. The second view was that the newspaper was “entering” government transactions. So it was a First Amendment issue – the freedom of the press, whose purpose is to keep us informed on what the government is doing, in order for we the people to have oversight on what we are doing through the people we elected to work for us. So yes, we even find out if people are being given Social Security cards so that no one is refused a Social Security card by mistake or by prejudice.

Some of our rights that apply to gun ownership are in the Preamble of the Constitution which reads, “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of a Liberty to ourselves and our Prosperity….” The challenge for all of us is not only what are our gun ownership rights, but how do we decide on issues in which several rights are involved and those rights overlap, so that where if one right is emphasized, another right is weakened. That is why one legislator said that you cannot weaken the freedom of the press, while others said they did not want the freedom to own a gun weakened, or their right of privacy weakened.

The right to domestic tranquility is another right not to be weakened. Domestic tranquility means than freedom from riot and insurrection. Domestic tranquility includes neighbors treating each other kindly, so that there is freedom from fear, or freedom to have peace. In some ways, the more guns there are, the more we emphasize the right to own guns, and the more we weaken our right to domestic tranquility.

Here are some facts about that domestic tranquility being weakened at present. States with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114 percent higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. For every time a gun is used at home for self-defense, there are seven assaults or murders with guns, eleven suicide attempts using guns, and four accidents involving guns in or around the house. In 2011, nearly ten times as more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime. A woman’s chance of being killed by her abuser are seven times greater if her abuser has access to a gun. Women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

For every instance of a person using a gun to protect themselves in their home, twenty-two people are hurt or killed by a gun. And ten time more people got shot in an argument. Guns are a risk to others. Since gun ownership is a risk to others, for the safety of neighbors, it would be best if they knew if their neighbor had guns. And knowing is part of why the freedom of the press is there. So for the issue of gun ownership, not only do we have the Second Amendment, we have the First, the Tenth, and the Preamble. How would you balance all those different over-lapping rights, and would your balancing be about you or your neighbor?

Timothy Hoyer is a Chautauqua County legislator representing District 14 in Jamestown.