Life, assault weapons and consistency

Does the Second Amendment really protect the right of private citizens to own assault weapons?

By Marv Knox

Why do so many people who take a pro-life position on abortion take an anti-life position on possession of firearms designed to execute multiple victims in mere seconds?

The profile overlaps: Many Americans who oppose abortion also oppose restrictions on any meaningful gun controls. If being “pro-life” is a governing principle, how can they take such a hard line on guns?

How often must we reel in shock and anguish? Can we learn from Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine, to name but a few blood-soaked killing fields?

Defenders of unlimited gun rights cite the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “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 an advocate for the Constitution, I affirm the Second Amendment. But that amendment, like the rest of the Constitution, must be interpreted. Several questions and ideas come to mind:

Does “a well regulated militia” mean now what it meant in the 18th century? Today, the armed forces include five branches, which defend our country. A step removed, the National Guard protects us, both at home and abroad. Do individuals need to possess military-grade firearms in order to maintain “a well regulated militia”? No. If we carry that logic to its conclusion, we would legalize private possession of nuclear weapons.

Even accounting for people who detest and/or don’t trust the federal government, individual possession of assault rifles and other combat weapons is not required to maintain a militia.

Let’s say we affirm the right of citizens to possess assault rifles and sidearms in order to maintain “a well regulated militia.” Then let’s require membership in and supervision of “a well regulated militia” for ownership of such weapons.

In order to purchase those weapons, an individual would be required to join -- and be accepted for membership in -- a state or regional militia. Since the mission of all militias would be “security of a free state,” then the legal and protected purpose for owning the weapons would be fulfillment of the mission.

The assault weapons would be stored in secure militia-regulated armories, checked out to the owners during regulated militia drills and returned to the armories at the completion of the drills.

Since the sole constitutional purpose of a militia, and consequently the sole constitutional purpose of bearing such arms, is “the security of a free state,” then the sole legal possession and use of the weapons would be preservation of that security. 

This should protect us from future Auroras, Virginia Techs and Columbines for at least two reasons.

First, the militias would be expected to evaluate and screen membership, limiting it to sane and sensible citizens who desire to risk their lives for “the security of a free state.”

Second, the only occasion for the handling and use of such weapons would be in the presence of similarly armed and trained militia members, who reasonably could be expected to defend themselves.

Of course, many Americans will oppose this reasonable proposal. Some will quote the bumper sticker, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” Well, (a) far fewer outlaws will have assault rifles, (b) legal gun ownership hasn’t done a great job of protecting the innocent from assault rifles and (c) the militias can go after the gun-toting outlaws.

Others will stress their right to possess a firearm to defend families and property. While the Second Amendment does not address this idea, it is reasonable, and this proposal would not limit possession of single-fire, small-caliber handguns, as well as hunting rifles and shotguns.

If the millions of Christians who claim to be pro-life would join forces with their fellow citizens of all beliefs who are appalled at the trauma wrought by weapons of merciless destruction, we could change the assault-weapon culture of our nation.

This, too, is a pro-life issue.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.