Teaching Your Children & Students About the 2nd Amendment

This is the second of two posts in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. You can also read the first post on teaching children about tragedy.

In the wake of tragic events, it’s important to first speak to children’s feelings. Eventually, though it is good for them to become more civically minded and discuss those hotly-debated topics. I vacillated over whether or not to write this as I don’t want this to become a politically themed blog as I believe the education children need not be partisan. I have fired guns and hunted, and I understand the allure. As a teacher and father though, I also understand the risks. In as unbiased a way as I am capable, I teach my students it is important to start with logic, facts, and history. Here is an effort to address those.

Fallacies of Argument

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I teach my students to not automatically take web sources at face value and to look for faulty arguments which are where I want to start when examining the discussions that so often erupt after a national tragedy like the one that just happened in Las Vegas. I actually led a student debate team for several years, and we even got second in the District 75 citywide competition. Pro-Con and Debate.org are sites that are great for students to view and debate both sides of an argument. Here I’ll examine some of the fallacious arguments that often appear in this national discussion.

DON’T TALK ABOUT IT – Some of the rhetoric says to wait a moment to discuss the issues. There is some point to that at least in the moment as the story unfolds because we don’t know enough information. In the wake of the Boston bombing and Las Vegas, there were false accusations that put some in danger. Alternately though we can’t say don’t talk about guns and mass murder right after an event because there have been 521 mass shootings in 477 days. At that rate, we’d never say a thing (though that might be what some want). Also, we don’t seem to slow the political discussion when terrorists are the focus.

CRIMINALS DON’T OBEY LAWS – Here’s an argument I loathe. By this logic, we shouldn’t have any laws at all because good people will do what’s right and the bad won’t, so let it happen and figure out the punishments later. This argument that “you can’t legislate morality” is so ridiculous and incredibly defeatist. It’s akin to “sorry your family burned without detectors or sprinklers, but bad landlords are just gonna ignore the laws, so why pass anything” or “sorry your family died in that crash, but we need freedom from onerous regulations like licenses and seatbelts that wouldn’t really help anyway.” You see how silly that sounds.

Laws aren’t just about punishment or moral imperatives. We pass laws like building codes and vehicular safety regulations not because we expect everyone to obey them but to put barriers in place to make it harder not to. We create and empower agencies to protect our land, air, homes, and bodies before the harm comes. It isn’t always perfect which is why we make new laws not just hold our hands up and say ‘oh well’.

WE CAN”T SOLVE ALL OF THIS – If you can’t run the New York Marathon tomorrow you shouldn’t even bother walking. That’s the thought that comes when people say this one effort, law, or initiative won’t solve the mass-murder problem. Or maybe they say it wouldn’t stop this attack. Well, nothing can, because it’s in the past. Let’s look to the future. Just because we can’t renovate our kitchen doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mow our lawn. Small steps can lead to bigger steps which can lead to real change. No, we can’t solve all of this tomorrow or perhaps ever, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix some of it.

IT’S ABOUT DEFENSE – Perhaps emotionally it is about defense for those owners of a few guns. The guy with 30 guns with no military background may say it’s about “defending his body and his rights.” If a tyrannical president though calls on a couple of drones, your “righteous stand” won’t last very long even with all of your rifles. So the defense plea is based on emotional appeal more than evidence. That doesn’t make it less valid, but the odds that you will use the gun you own in self-defense is tiny compared to the likelihood that it might be stolen by a criminal. That’s far less than the odds that it will be used by someone in your home to kill them self or a family member either accidentally or purposefully.

YOU WANT TO TAKE ALL THE GUNS – This is another fear tactic that goes hand in hand with all the others meant to boost gun sales. I have rarely heard anyone advocating removing all guns from the U.S. and never have I heard it from someone in authority. Even if removing all guns were possible (probably not), no one of consequence is saying it. Even Democratic politicians usually go out of their way to say, “I love guns, but…” So this idea that someone is coming for guns in the midst of little to no action on gun reform is ludicrous. In fact, we can’t accomplish basics like research and registration which you can see in the statistics section. You think a government that struggles setting up websites can get it together enough to go get all the guns. Really?

WE DON’T NEED NEW LAWS – New technologies are developing regularly even in the firearms industry, so obviously, new regulations need to be in place. Should people be able to 3D print guns that evade metal detectors? Should Identilocks be required on all new guns? Is everything as good as it can be? If not, new laws can help. That doesn’t mean ‘bye, bye guns’. It may just mean some extra paperwork. Oh no. As of now, there are basic regulations that most people can agree on and others that might not make sense (free ice cream with every gun), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t examine to see what may improve the situation. I give examples in the Second Amendment section.

WE DON’T NEED ANY REGULATIONS – The Second Amendment guarantees me whatever weapon I want…except that it doesn’t (more on that later). Should a mentally fragile former violent felon be able to own a bazooka? Obviously not. So that’s a regulation. That is a line. Check out the continuum of regulation below. You see it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Where do you think we should fall? I simply think the current line which, in some states, would not allow that hypothetical former felon to vote but would allow them a gun is not in the right place.

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BANNING GUNS WILL FIX ALL OF THIS – Even if we outlawed all new guns tomorrow, what would we do with the guns here today. Guns, like tobacco and alcohol, are an inherent part of America’s origins. Interestingly lasers and marijuana aren’t so we have no problem regulating or outlawing those in places. We did attempt to ban alcohol, but that didn’t go so well. We have regulated alcohol and its sale and, even more so, tobacco. Banning guns would probably go less well than the prohibition thing since led poisoning from angry resistors seems a greater danger than alcohol poisoning from bad vodka, so that seems unrealistic. Some greater regulation though seems reasonable according to most Americans, including gun owners.
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Important Gun Facts

Here are some facts about firearms in America. Are these statistics useful? Do they tell us what actions to take? Is it correlation or causation? I try not to give my students answers and allow them to struggle to a conclusion themselves, so I’m going to do the same for you. It is difficult to have some details because of the first and second facts. At the very least, whatever you believe, it is obvious we are unique.

The History of the 2nd Amendment

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I’m not an attorney or a legal scholar, but I do study and teach history and civics. This is not a comprehensive method to explain the history of guns in this country. It’s just some insights I’ve gained that can begin a more thorough discussion. If you’re looking for a more thorough background about the constitution and the men behind it I recommend Richard Newman’s Plain Honest Men or Stephen Halbrook’s The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms.

History of Mass Murder

So let’s first look at the history of mass murder. The news has called Las Vegas the deadliest attack in U.S. history which ignores past tragedies like Wounded Knee, the East St. Louis Massacre, or the Tulsa race riots. They may say modern history as a caveat, but it still ignores vast sections of our nation’s history. I think it’s always important for teachers and students to look back to the origins of something for a fuller understanding.

The Second Amendment

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.

As for the Second Amendment, what does it really say? How should it be interpreted? The version above is one of a few different versions. Mostly the differences are capitalization and punctuation, but the ratified version and the one passed by Congress are slightly different. So who decides? Well, the short answer is the Supreme Court, but that body is far from infallible as the Dredd Scott and Korematsu decisions illustrate.

So what did the original authors intend? Does it mean freedom for all guns? Apparently, we’ve agreed the freedom doesn’t apply to fully-automatic weapons and explosive ordinance. So where should that line that I mentioned before be?

Most historians agree that the actual purpose was to prevent us having a standing U.S. army (which, according to government spending, we already have). Some would say the National Guard is an example of the militia mentioned and the target of this statute rather than an individual citizen, but it says the right of the people surrounded by those baffling commas. Yes, the founders wanted to prevent the federal government from getting a standing army that could lead to tyranny. I wonder what they would think of our military-industrial complex today. It’s clear what Eisenhower thought much later. As for the state’s rights and militia arguments, they seem to be moot after 1865.

Modern Reinterpretation

The reinterpretation of guns as a right for all is fairly new one which isn’t inherently positive or negative. It’s just an indicator of a shift in public thought. Maybe it will shift again. But in modern history, even the revered and controversial conservative Justice Scalia cited sources in his 2008 pro-individual-gun-rights majority (5-4) opinion on DC vs. Heller that the amendment covers only arms that have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia. That means it doesn’t include the weapons of a formal army like a cannon or an M-16. Does that also mean semi-autos should be subjected to greater scrutiny? It is clear that new technological advances bring new questions. Should special mods and extended clips only be at ranges or used by extensively trained personnel?

There have been major changes to the Constitution before through the addition and repeal of amendments. Should this change? Maybe the answer is no, but, if asking the question angers you, it might be time for self-reflection. We should never fear a challenge to even our most strongly held beliefs. It’s how we refine them.

NRA History

So now let’s look at the NRA, the most prominent (though definitely not the only) gun rights organization. Did you know the NRA was originally founded in 1871 as one of America’s foremost gun-control organizations? They wanted people to be trained to improve safety and, in 1934, they assisted Roosevelt,  in creating the National Firearms Act and, in 1938, helped build the Gun Control Act. These are essentially America’s first real gun-control laws. The NRA helped make gun protection laws. So what happened? The NRA shifted in the 70s after an ATF raid that injured an NRA member accused of stockpiling weapons. After that, the NRA shifted from an organization of gun owners to more of a lobby for gun manufacturers. Thus the goals and perspective shifted. Was it a worthwhile shift?

So with all of this information what should we do? Would it matter even if I knew the right answer or would I just be one small inconsequential (read: non-congressional) voice among some others that already deny the reality of the event. So I wrote this as a small something. A something that is obviously of far less import than those of politicians, news media, and the voices of victims’ families. It may do little if any, good, and I may be rebuked by family and strangers for it. The point of this whole endeavor though is to be brave in the attempt. Hopefully this was in some small way.Image result for constitution

6 thoughts on “Teaching Your Children & Students About the 2nd Amendment

  1. Well-reasoned and a great starting point for productive discussion. I especially like the counters to standard pro-gun arguments — your points are valid but are open to discussion. What I would suggest is getting some of the basic facts a bit more correct so that your starting point doesn’t get nitpicked before getting to the meat. For instance, your first “fact” — “the CDC is banned from researching gun violence.” That is simply not true. The CDC regularly publishes research studies into the topic. The ARE banned from doing any advocacy; this is in order to preserve impartiality so that the data can be analyzed without the taint of partisanship. So, the CDC is NOT banned from doing research into gun violence.

    Your third point, “the firearms industry enjoys special protections . . .” Again, not true. The firearms industry enjoys protection from spurious lawsuits that are based on criminal or negligent misuse of their products by third parties. In other words, if someone buys a gun and commits a crime with it, the industry is not responsible . . . the individual who made the choice to commit the crime IS responsible. This stems from a time when advocacy groups attempted to bankrupt the industry with spurious lawsuits. The enjoy the same protection that, say, Ford does with respect to drunk drivers. If someone buys a Ford, gets drunk (which you might be tempted to do when you own a Ford), and kills a pedestrian, the car manufacturer is not liable . . . the driver who made those bad choices IS.

    The 30,000 gun deaths per year is something of a red herring. Yes, the number is accurate, but less than a third of that number are criminal . . . the rest are accidents, suicides, and justifiable homicides (a police shooting usually falls into this latter category unless negligence is proven). And of the 10,000 or so criminal deaths, the vast majority are gang- or drug-related. Using 30,000 just magnifies an imagined issue and prevents us from tackling the real issues.

    60% of homicides in the US are by guns vice much lesser percentages in the UK and other places. I’m sure that’s true, but it is an apples-to-oranges comparison. There are indeed fewer gun deaths in the UK and others, but there are also fewer guns. But the numbers that matter are the number of deaths due to other causes. In the UK, for example, knife murders are way up; acid has also been popular in Europe but is now even moreso. In other words, reducing gun deaths is meaningless if perpetrators simply find other ways of committing mayhem. In my mind, the real issue is solving and preventing crime and, although the tools play some part in that, it is far less important than the roots causes.

    I would also dispute the relationship you draw between the number of deaths in locales being correlated to gun control, but I don’t have my stats at hand right now to cite them. I will challenge just one more item, though . . . that a person’s weapons are no obstacles when the government has drones (and many other technologies). As a single isolated set of two data points, you’re correct. However, you MUST put it into context. The US with all its technology and vast resources lost a war to pajama-clad insurgents armed with little more than find AK-47s; the Soviet Union experienced the same thing in Afghanistan. The British discovered this much earlier in the Boer Wars. The little guys can be much more effective, in the long run, than you imagine, if they have the will (and perhaps outside assistance, as in French assistance to the Americans in the Revolutionary War).

    All that being said, I truly do find your material an excellent basis for constructive compromise discussions.

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    1. John, thank you for your thoughtful response. At a moment when summer feels like 3 years ago when I initially wrote this feels like a decade ago.
      I appreciate the depth of detail in your writing back. So allow me some depth to respond, not in contradiction but more clarification, noting that perhaps some of my initial writing was not fully clear due to some poverty of expression on my part.
      As to the “first point” you refer to, I was explicitly referencing the Dickey Amendment which limited the purse strings of the CDC to prevent “advocacy or promotion of gun control” as you say. That is the exact language. But seeing as any research that shows “guns kill a lot of people” or “more guns available kill more people” (something related to your later gun deaths point we’ll get to) which is likely to occur could be seen as a violation.
      For that reason, though all research wasn’t explicitly banned by the Dickey Amendment, the reality was that the CDC was forced to avoid any gun research for about 20 years from fears due to litigation. That changed in 2018 (after I wrote this) with a new clarifying law which allowed for some research. So in this, I would say you are currently correct, but in practice, at the time of its writing, my assertion was also correct.
      As to the “third point”, yes, all industries essentially enjoy protections from frivolous law suits, but the protections for the gun industry go well beyond that. It mostly comes down to the PLCAA from 2005, but there are a number of state-level laws as well. Most legal scholars have called it essentially immunity except from the most egregiously illegal business practices (i.e. openly selling weapons to terrorist organizations). Even the creators of the law said the same.
      It’s unusual as it provides blanket immunity to an industry and not just one specific method of conduct. It would be like Congress instead of seeking protections for meatpacking plants from lawsuits related to COVID spread due to unsafe conditions, as it did recently, it instead sought protections for all unsafe conditions. So in practice, the five guys who lost hands due to a lack of safety equipment couldn’t do anything about it. Or to relate it to your analogy. No Ford isn’t responsible for the drunk driver, but they could be responsible if the car didn’t have seatbelts or if the accelerator got stuck. But gun manufacturers are immune from suits about a gun that misfires accidentally hurting/killing someone or from being required certain safety features like trigger locks, limited magazines, or fingerprint ID (like on phones). Now, do I know if any of those safety features that I mention would be effective in curtailing accidental deaths or stolen firearm use? No, but that relays us back to point 1 above.
      Calling the 30,000 gun deaths a red herring because they refer to suicides and accidental deaths as well seems a bit hyperbolic. I’m aware they include those numbers as they should. You can see I’ve already mentioned efforts to prevent accidental death. This is anecdotal, but it should be noted that one young man who survived Columbine died not long afterward to an accidental shooting. So statistics around all of that is important. Again we are still waiting on a lot of long-term data because of the first point, but if more guns with fewer restrictions or without mandated training or gun safes, etc. demonstrate increased risk, we may be compelled to take minor steps to alleviate those accidental instances. We may take other steps related to mental health to help curtail suicides. And we may take still others related to mass deaths.
      Your example of the UK is very telling in the sense that “yeah, fewer guns around cause fewer gun deaths” which seems to solidify the point on appropriate data. As for the “dangers of knives” I would agree that murderers are going to murder to be sure. But I’ll not that their ability to murder 60+ people in one moment or the likelihood and speed of death in each individual encounter is severely hampered even if is someone with a set of samurai swords. And it is true the families of the victims in a terrorist plane crash, a shooting, or a vehicular homicide care far more about the loss that the method. But lawmakers and the public do care in that it informs practices going forward. It may mean increased airport screenings, or cement barricades on walkways, or some related regulations on firearms.

      Beyond that even certain types of guns and bullets are more deadly. The velocity of the bullet and its caliber affect its deadliness even if the victim is shot in the same location. They may also be information we utilize to adjust our personal or national decisions. Or maybe not. Maybe we decide that shooting a really powerful gun makes us feel powerful and we don’t want to lose that privilege. And if that is what the republic decides, then it is so. But it should be a decision based on accurate information which I believe I shared.
      As far as your other disputes, which you are more than welcome to express, data is important. And, yes, data can be manipulated and is difficult to come by accurately (back to point 1), it should be the starting point.
      As for a revolutionary spirit that can persist in the face of government overreach, I would agree very much. But the effectiveness of that revolution, while it lay in the hands and tools of the people, it’s a success is often more seen in words. It is communication and language and the press that led to Loyalists becoming Patriots or in rally support and aid from other corners. That is in the words of the justness of a cause more than what sidearm someone is packing. To that, I point to nations like China and Russia who have succeeded in subjecting the populace for a time through their military, but it requires propaganda, limiting media, and curtailing social communication to maintain its effectiveness more than through tanks in Tiananmen Square. To that end, you might be interested in what I write about 1st Amendment protections and accuracy in the media and teaching appropriate discernment of information with students.
 But again thank you for your kind words in agreement or disagreement. It is a testament to the power of language for resolution over violence through guns, knives, fists, or otherwise.

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  2. Sean, thanks for taking the time to continue the discussion. Frankly, I don’t disagree with any of your points — they are exactly what I surmised from the original article — that this is a great starting point for productive discussion. My opinion is that 90% of everything is communication and that opens the road to understanding opposing points of view and finding balance between them. It is, as I infer from your reply, a matter of what society will bear. I’ll paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “A people who are willing to sacrifice freedom for safety deserve neither” (and I’ll admit that although it sounds good, it is totally out of context and his aphorism has nothing to do with what we’re talking about).

    My stance is based on my belief that evil truly does exist in this world and that I am prepared to protect myself, my family, and other innocents around me from its manifestations. BUT . . . to quote someone else whose name I can’t remember, “My right to swing my fist ends at your nose.” I hope you can see that I am in fundamental agreement with your philosophy and I am comfortable that we could talk productively with civility about reconciling implementation variances and reach conclusions that are satisfactory to both.

    Again, thank you for your well-reasoned article and reply. You’ve given me some homework to do (i.e, look more into the detail of PLCAA). I’ll close with a final quote that captures my fundamental philosophy, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetant” by Salvor Hardin (and if you know who that is, I’m even more impressed). Well done, and thank you, Sean.

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