In 1791, Congress ratified the Second Amendment and with a three-fourths vote, the Constitution of the United States ensured the right of the people to “keep and bear arms.”
Highly regarded as one of the most contested amendments, the shooting in Parkland, Florida — 227 years and 61 days after its ratification — once again called into question if it should be amended or even remain at all.
Independent Journal Review spoke with four gun owners about their thoughts on common arguments in the gun control debate and proposed measures to prevent further gun violence.
The Issue: The Second Amendment
Dave S., whose daughters are alumnae of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, explained the Second Amendment is about the “civilian population having the wherewithal to defend itself against a tyrannical government.”
Even after the shooting that occurred close to home, Dave explained that his opinion on the Second Amendment hasn't changed. His belief that “'we the people' have a right to defend ourselves,” actually became even stronger.
Caleb F. called the Second Amendment one of the “smartest” amendments and told IJR the Founding Fathers knew that government has a tendency to expand.
“I believe the Second Amendment, although aged like the Constitution, is a perfect balance between the power of the state and its citizens,” Ted F. explained.
While the Second Amendment is largely seen as a way to fight against an oppressive government, Ted. F. added that it's a way to prevent mass genocide.
Various points in history — the Holocaust, mass roundups in the Soviet Union in 1929, the Armenian genocide — all took place after firearms were taken away from civilians.
“It's more than just a legal right, it's a human right,” Tex F. declared in reference to self-defense.
The Argument: When the Bill of Rights was written, the Founding Fathers couldn't have envisioned semi-automatic weapons
Just as the Founding Fathers didn't envision the internet, Caleb concluded they probably didn't picture an AR-15, either. However, both are protected under the right to free speech and the right to bear arms, respectively.
He explained that although they may not have known specifics, the Founding Fathers knew the world would evolve, and yet they still put the amendments into the Constitution.
“It was meant to stand the test of time,” he said.
Given that no one alive today was alive in 1791, both Ted and Tex acknowledged that interpretations of what the Founding Fathers were thinking are merely speculation.
However, Ted noted that when the Constitution was written, the founders implemented what they successfully used against the British “into the core component upon what our nation was created upon.”
While many believe the Second Amendment isn't inclusive of weapons of war, Tex argued that muskets were used to fight the American Revolution. So at the time of its adoption, the Second Amendment was about muskets, which were the weapons of war.
He explained that the principle of the right should remain the same because people's rights are just as important now as they were 200 years ago and will be just as important 200 years from now.
The Argument: No one needs a semi-automatic rifle
Dave acknowledged that people have used semi-automatic rifles to harm others but defiantly answered the question as to why he needs one:
“Why? Because I want one. That's why. Because I can have one. I'm not doing anything illegal with it, I don't have the hate in my heart to kill somebody.”
He added that the same type of comparison could be made to someone who needs to drive around in a Cadillac Escalade when they could use a Prius instead.
Caleb agreed and explained that defining what qualifies as a “need” doesn't matter when it's protected by the Constitution.
“There are many things that I don't need to say, but it's still protected under free speech,” he said. “The same concept could be applied to the Second Amendment.”
Aside from the question of whether or not an individual needs a semi-automatic rifle, Ted explained to IJR that citizens owning these weapons act as a deterrent to potentially even larger-scaled attacks.
Proposal: Banning semi-automatic rifles
Dave told IJR he feels a ban on semi-automatic rifles would “start to erode” other parts of the Second Amendment and wouldn't stop anyone bent on doing harm.
He explained America already has “strict laws,” which include a law making it illegal to murder someone, but people still do it.
“So what more laws are going to stop somebody with the hate and evil in their heart from causing harm to somebody else?” he asked.
Dave pointed to the assault rifle ban that was enacted during former President Bill Clinton's term in office, which enabled people to comply with the ban simply by changing the cosmetics of their weapon.
Caleb also highlighted the slippery slope that a ban on any type of firearm could lead to:
“I have the opinion that liberty is the default position ... I've always found that when you give those rights up, it doesn't take away the risk or the danger. You've just given up the liberty that you thought would protect you, and it doesn't end up doing that very often.”
Proposal: Raising the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21
At 18 years old, Dave was in the military and trusted with an M16 rifle, and to him, a few years aren't going to matter when it comes to gun violence.
“What's the difference between 18, 19, 20, or 21? If somebody wants to do something illegal or they want to harm somebody else, the age in the law isn't going to make a difference to them,” he said.
Tex noted that the United States trusts 18-year-olds to drive, vote, and pay taxes, and therefore, they should have the “same rights as everybody else.”
For murderous people, Ted explained an age limit won't make a difference because there will always be a “means to an end.”
He added that raising the age limit will likely have a much more minor impact than its advocates think it will and used drug dealers frequenting drug-free school zones as an example.
Proposal: Improving background checks and mental health checks
Dave would “without a doubt” support improvements to the background and mental health checks. However, he pointed blame at people who don't properly enforce the laws and not necessarily the system.
Caleb agreed that the background checks already in place need to be enforced because in many cases, it would have stopped a shooting before it happened.
Dave added that when it comes to someone who already owns a gun and is thought to be a possible threat, there needs to be a process in evaluating that threat.
Along with a solid definition of what an actual threat is, there needs to be a very quick due process — as in a few days — in taking someone's weapon away.
“Because you can't take something away from somebody just because you're the government,” he reasoned.
Ultimately, there is no one solution that can fix the problems of mass shootings in America.
However, these gun owners believe solutions including bringing American values back to society, enforcing background checks, and allowing more law-abiding citizens to carry firearms is part of forging the best path forward.