Gun ownership is a fundamental right

Several months ago, Arizona Governor Fife Symington signed into law a bill that is probably giving Sarah Brady a Class A migraine to this day. I refer, of course, to the concealed-carry law for handguns. A major victory for individualist Americans, it allows any citizen to complete a 16-hour course on gun handling, safety and laws, resulting in a permit to carry a concealed gun (in a purse, for instance). Convicted felons, the mentally incompetent, and the like are naturally excluded, but the upshot is that nearly any adult can now carry a concealed weapon in this state.

Some adults, though, won't even go near a gun, apparently for fear it should leap up and bite them. These same people generally favor laws like the Brady Act and the porcine Omnibus Crime Bill. It's only natural. To them, guns are not lifeless objects but malevolent masterminds of evil, just waiting for the chance to drill a clip or two into anyone handy. You can't blame them for being terrified of the things. If I believed that about guns, I'd shoot mine.

But seriously, we have an election coming up, and the gun-rights issue is a major one. Let's take a look at why the right to keep and bear arms is vital in a free society.

Owning a gun is essentially a matter of being responsible for one's own well-being. It empowers you to defend your life and the lives of your loved ones and to protect yourself from harm. (According to criminologist Gary Kleck, women use guns for self-protection more than`1 million times per year.) Attackers don't have to be killed to be stopped, either; the vast majority of self-defense cases involve merely wounding the perpetrator or even scaring him away.

What if the attacker is not a knife-wielding crackhead but something even scarier, even deadlier the government? Admittedly, the best cure for tyranny is prevention, but it's much harder to create a police state if the citizens can shoot back. Hitler knew this and was a big fan of national gun registration, imposing it in 1935. He would doubtless join HCI if he could.

Thus, firearms handguns in particular serve the legitimate, all-important purpose of self-defense. Like virtually anything else, they can be used for good or ill depending on who uses them. Granted, they can cause tragic deaths. So can electrical outlets, swimming pools, and cars. The responsibility for avoiding such tragedies, and for causing them, falls on individuals, not inanimate objects.

Responsibility, though, is a weighty thing, and it often seems easiest not to accept it. You may shudder at the thought of having to take someone's life, even if he is trying to take yours or a loved one's. You may fear using the gun in anger, or using it to commit suicide. You may not want the responsibility of keeping a gun. That is certainly your choice to make.

The point, though, is that it must be your choice, not the government's. In a free society, laws should exist only to stop the committing of crimes, where a crime is an act society has agreed is wrong. Acts are often considered wrong because they violate some "right" of another person. Hence our laws against murder, armed robbery, and rape. Citizens are not allowed to make their own decisions about whether crimes are permissible unless they change the laws. Thus, one can't "choose" to rob a bank unless one manages to legalize it first.

The only justification for a gun ban (to which registration is a first step) is to say that the mere ownership of a gun is a crime. But owning a gun violates no one's rights; it is using the gun wrongfully (e.g., to rob a bank) that is wrong. So the only way to make the gun-ban case is to argue that if you own a gun, then you will certainly commit a crime with it. In other words, people cannot be trusted with guns, so the government has to protect us from ourselves.

Such an idea goes directly against the American ideal of being "free and independent." If you can't be trusted with the necessary power to take care of yourself, then someone else must hold that power over you, as a parent does with a child. Freedom from such power goes hand in hand with responsibility for one's own welfare.

The right to own a gun is a right to empowerment for defense against violence and tyranny. The responsibility it entails is the price of freedom. If we lose that right, the government will become even more powerful than it already is, since we will be totally dependent on it for self-protection. In the upcoming election, and always, I urge you not to let that happen.

John Keisling can shoot six-inch groups double-action at eight yards. He is a graduate student in mathematics.

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