The 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right to own guns

Despite my better judgement, I want to engage in a thought exercise this morning. I think we can all agree that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right to the people to keep and bear firearms for basically whatever reason they want. That’s fine. That is the launching point for this mental exercise. From there, we have to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that just because a person has a legal right to own a gun doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. This stems from the fact that owning a gun requires a person to be at least marginally responsible, because hey, it turns out that guns are kind of dangerous when used irresponsibly.

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In our current situation, it is functionally impossible to restrict the access of stupid but otherwise law abiding people to guns without also unfairly restricting the access of reasonable people. So here’s the thought exercise: if it was possible to restrict dangerously irresponsible people from having guns without infringing on the rights of reasonable folk, should we? Would the potential benefit in reduction of accidental shootings outweigh the potential infringement on the Constitutional rights of someone who hadn’t yet broken the law?

You can make convincing arguments in both directions. On the one hand, stupid, dangerously irresponsible people actually damage the right to keep and bear arms. Whenever someone leaves a loaded gun laying around and a kid shoots another kid with it, that leads to more irresponsible legislation. Whenever Bubba shoots Cleetus in the chest with a gun that “isn’t loaded”, Michael Bloomberg gets a chub at the thought of restricting gun rights. There are very good reasons from our side to restrict certain person’s access to firearms, quite simply because it would be better for us in general to clean up our ranks a bit.

The counter argument of course is that it is wrong to remove someone’s Constitutional rights without due process; and the Constitution doesn’t care if you’re stupid or smart. Which is all true, and something that I agree with in principle. In fact, while it’s a simplistic rebuttal, it is incredibly effective because it’s 100% correct.

But that’s not the point – the question that I’m posing to you, the thought exercise is twofold. If it was possible (which it is not and I don’t see how it could be), would you support restricting the access of idiots to firearms? Assume for the moment that the method which makes this possible is 100% flawless and would never restrict a reasonable, safe person’s access. Additionally assume that people aren’t penalized for simple accidents, but only for willfully negligent behavior.

Would you do it?


  1. No way.

    In 2010 there were 31,513 “gun deaths”: in the USA. 19,308 suicides, 11,015 homicides and but 600 fatal accidents.

    In a nation of 300+ million people, with at least that many guns, and half the population admitting to a stranger on the phone that they have at least one firearm in the home, 600 accidental gun deaths is an extraordinarily low number.

    There are millions of stupid people who own guns. Virtually all of them manage to stumble through life without accidentally shooting and killing anyone.

  2. Agreed. In a world where we let habitual drunks continue to drive after several CONVICTIONS, I can’t think of a single argument that would convince me that we should proactively remove someone’s rights to possess a firearm – even if it were guaranteed to only impact people who were willfully negligent.

      1. i don’t think we should either, but we don’t forbid people from driving because we think they’re stupid and might drive drunk somewhere, somehow, someday in the future.

        And as far as I know, even people with DUI convictions and a revoked license are still free to own a vehicle and operate it on their private property, ranch, farm etc.–even if they are drunk while doing so.

        1. Regarding your last paragraph, this is certainly not true in all states (if in any). In my state, being intoxicated while driving a ride-on lawn mower inside your own basement would constitute exactly the same crime as if you were intoxicated and driving a car on a public road.

          1. Which state do you live in? I’ve never heard of a person with DUI convictions or intoxicated on their own property being arrested for mowing their lawn.

  3. Even given a 100% perfect process to separate the ‘willfully negligent’ from the ‘reasonable and safe,’ I don’t think that I’d support banning guns from the former, for three main reasons:

    First, there really aren’t all that many gun-related accidents. It’s not a problem worth exerting a lot of effort on.

    Second, you run into a definitions problem with terms like ‘willfully negligent.’ There are plenty of behaviors that I consider unsafe, that other gun owners consider a day at the sporting clays range, and vise versa. Now perhaps your magical 100%-Accurate Responsible Gun Owner Sorting Hat has a perfect and universally accepted definition for the ‘responsible/negligent’ pairing. That’s fine, the Sorting Hat is an impossible fantasy anyway, so why not make it omniscient? 😀

    Third, and most important. One of the important concepts in American jurisprudence is that you cannot convict a person of ‘being a criminal’; rather, you have to convict them of committing a specific crime. I think that this applies to your thought experiment as well – you can’t punish some dude for being an idiot, only for doing something idiotic. This distinction is important to me.

    Anyway, since we live in the real world, where the government is stunningly corrupt in the few instances where it’s not hopelessly incompetent, I’d give the whole plan a miss.

    1. This is the most intelligent thing I have read on the internet in months….
      Thank you.

  4. I’ve read somewhere that any basically stated, any time you try to “idiot proof” something, they build a better idiot.

    To that end, I tend to agree with the stance of someone like Michael Z. Williamson, in being that Darwinism provides us with evolutionary change, albeit on a smaller scale, when an idiot does an idiotic thing.

  5. A no vote here, due to all the reasons above.

    How about this, we have to take tests, pay fees, and fill out forms for all sorts of things. So how about we make people take a test or pass an interview to have a kid. Basically don’t let dumb people breed. I say this as a joke, but…

    As far as the gun grabbers arguments concerning gun deaths, most are gang/drug related if what I read is true. If they cared about these people they would be hammering on those issues in those heavily affected areas. We can dream.

  6. Caleb,
    A few things I want to point out. I do not believe there has ever been any “accidental shootings”. Someone has done something they should not have done and that caused a Negligent Discharge. It maybe unintentional, but it is sort of like a “Accidental Pregnancy” It’s not like you are walking across the dance floor, tripped and stuck your penis in a stranger, Opps sorry lady, it appears we had accidental coitus please forgive the accidental pregnancy.

    Now on to your point, if we could 100% guarantee no reasonably intelligent , moderately sane, careful, good citizen was ever restricted in anyway, should we remove their ability to posses a firearm? That is a fascinating idea.

    If that happened we would never see pictures of parents crying on TV after and catastrophic event ,many LEOs and Kitten Rescuers would be bored at work and we would need a lot less insurance agents,.

    The Libertarian in me that says Stupid people should be free to commit stupid acts and then be punished for the act. The parent in me wants to protect my children. I see both sides, the risk of violating civil rights out weights the small percentage of negligent shooting deaths.

  7. Honestly I’m stuck in the middle here.

    On the one hand I absolutely do not trust this (or for that matter any… But particularly this one) government to wield that power! There is no way even if it could be protected from abuse… And our current system does an adequate job of making sure idiots who do survive can’t do it again.

    On the other hand are their people who through mental or physical infirmity just shouldn’t own guns? Yeah there are. Do some of them own guns? Yes they do. So at that point how do we hold them in check? Well a lot of them are held in check like my grandpa was… One day he decided he just wasn’t up to it anymore (getting old sucks). Now to take that one step further… Maybe it’s like having the depends talk with older people, when it’s time you’ll know!

  8. No, I wouldn’t push the magic red button…but I’d push the blue one banning anti-gun actors from using guns in their movies.

  9. As the burden of proof stands, no. First the method of judgement has to be determined.

  10. The only argument for this is to “Clean up our Ranks” and that’s an argument for colectivist ideals vs the ideals of a free individual. That puts the stake in it for me.

    We don’t have ranks. We are all individuals. We start down that path and we end up with only pigs being allowed to walk on two legs.

  11. I reject the premise of your argument. It is not possible to restrict the rights of stupid, irresponsible people without giving power to the likes of Rahm Emmanuel and Sarah Brady to take away the rights of larger swaths of people. The basic foundation of the Constitution was to create a limited government with checks and balances to prevent the government from infringing on the rights of individuals. Adding more power to the government is not the way to solve any gun-related issue.

  12. Classifying people as “stupid” is completely arbitrary and realistically, up to the status quo. What if the people enforcing the “stupid” law thought Libertarians or any shade of conservative was a danger to themselves and the public at large? That’s why, as someone stated before, the individual and not the labeled group must be held accountable.

    Replace “stupid” with “terrorist” and it becomes the same argument, and we already know how DHS categorizes us. Those Constitutional rights belong to the individual unless s/he’s proven to be unworthy of them (convicted felons).

  13. No.

    Whenever men are put in a position of power over other men, it is a given abuse and corruption will not long follow. Determining who can legally carry in society means appointing people to enforce those rules:and who can watch the watchers?

  14. The biggest issue I have with all arguments for restricting ownership is that it takes away the best way for someone to defend themselves. That goes for a mentally ill person or anyone who “Somebody” thinks shouldn’t own a gun.

  15. No.

    There are a few reasons why not. First, it would create the framework in which some would determine whether others, proactively, could retain their rights. We can and do already take away the rights of an individual who has broken the law. But taking them away because he is irresponsible and will likely do something stupid is too proactive and creates a vehicle for very bad things.

    Second, there will be no utopia, no immanentizing the eschaton. Libs point to the UK, France, Norway, and Sweden as utopias and say that us backwoods colonists had it all wrong over here. (Dumber liberals used to point to Cuba and to the Soviet Union. “I have seen the future, and it works,” Lincoln Steffens, around 1930). Well, the UK has had their riots (tuitions, death of minorities at hands of police). France has their car burnings so frequently that they aren’t even newsworthy anymore. Norway had their terrorism. Now even Sweden has had riots (2013 Stockholm riots). Time for everyone to get it. As long as humans are imperfect (which is pretty much forever), there will be no utopia on Earth. It’s the way it is.

  16. Problem that I have with one of the comments is removal of rights by law. The only crime listed in the Constitution that you loose your rights on is Treason. The only one listed period.

  17. Anyone who leaves a gun accessible to a kid who then shoots himself or anyone else shouldn’t be denied their right to a gun…as long as they go to the garage and use it on themselves.

  18. Stupid isn’t a yes/no equation, it is a matter of degrees, or a spectrum. At what point do we decide that someone who is stupid, is too stupid? This would cause more problems than it would solve because we would forever be trying to define what “stupid” actually means.

  19. I’ve thought about it and my answer is no… All men are free, even the stupid ones…

  20. Nope! Notta chance! Doctors kill more people carelessly than gun owners, but alas, we still need them. Idiot drivers are more dangerous than idiot gun owners. Stupid people own knives, chainsaws, ninja swords, and sharp scizzors. Doesn’t mean we should take them away.

    First – It’s the Darwin Rule. Eventually stupid people eliminate themselves.
    Second – Sometimes stupid people eliminate non-stupid people that we didn’t really like anyway.\
    Third – Removal would greatly degrade the amount of humorous conversation at, with, and about idiots!

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