COUNTERPOINT: Gun Control and the Second Amendment

Psychiatric TimesPsychiatric Times Vol 29 No 10
Volume 29
Issue 10

We are told that we must allow the massacre of innocent Americans--including children--with easily obtained firearms because "it is the price we must pay for freedom."

Gun violence continues to destroy families and communities in the US on a daily basis.

Dr Robertson offers the same Faustian bargain the National Rifle Association does. We are told that we must allow the massacre of innocent Americans-including children-with easily obtained firearms because “it is the price we must pay for freedom.” All those who have sworn the Hippocratic Oath to protect their patients should stand resolute against this radical and morally bankrupt idea.

The insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment dominates the modern pro-gun movement. This view posits that individuals should be allowed to prepare for war with their government as a counterbalance should it one day become “tyrannical.” Citizens who care about our Constitution and the vast array of rights it affords us might think twice before adopting this flawed and treasonous interpretation as their own.

There is not one shred of evidence to suggest that the Second Amendment’s purpose was to safeguard an individual right of insurrection. The amendment’s author, Federalist James Madison, articulated that its purpose was to split the military power of the new nation between the states and the federal government. But he also made it clear that any opposition to federal tyranny would come from state militia forces “conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence.”

Our Founders saw what insurrection looked like during acts of armed mob violence such as Shays’ Rebellion. It horrified them and was one of the chief reasons they gathered in Philadelphia to create a new system of government with a stronger, more capable federal government. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution makes it clear that the purpose of the militia is to “suppress insurrections,” not to foment them. Remember, what looks like “tyranny” to one man might look like “health care reform” to another.

The comparison of contemporary Americans to the Nazis is not valid. The experience in Germany before World War II, far from providing validation to the insurrectionist argument, instead shows the danger of allowing political violence to influence the political process. Before Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the Nazi party had a larger body of men under arms than the German military itself, and frequently used violence to intimidate and kill its political opponents. The Weimar Republic taught us that if a government cannot maintain its monopoly on the use of force, then individual rights can be neither protected nor vindicated.

The claim that governments with strong restrictions on firearms put citizens at risk for government genocide is entirely without basis. Dictators and strongmen kill their citizens. Democracies do not-regardless of their gun laws. A study by Davenport and Armstrong 1 found that “democratic political systems have been found to decrease political bans, censorship, torture, disappearances, and mass killing, doing so in a linear fashion across diverse measurements, methodologies, time periods, countries, and contexts.” Well-developed democracies remain the most effective means of preventing public and private violence.

Allowing individuals to arm for a potential war against our government serves only to increase the risk of civil war and diminish our cherished democratic institutions and rights as defined in the Constitution. Meanwhile, weak gun laws drafted and supported by insurrectionists are taking an enormous human toll, with more than 80 Americans dying daily from gunfire and another 200 suffering injuries. There is no other democracy on the face of earth that experiences this type of gun violence. We are the only free society that has yet to address this problem.

A number of studies have demonstrated that gun ownership makes an individual and his loved ones far more likely to be victims of gun-related homicides, suicides and accidental deaths. The data also show that states with comprehensive firearms regulations have consistently lower rates of gun death.

Psychiatrists need to ask themselves this important question: Does it benefit their patients’ health and safety to give them-or anybody else for that matter-easy access to all the firearms they want with few (if any) questions asked, or would they benefit from laws that require universal, thorough background checks and restrictions on military-style firepower?

In contemporary society-where grotesque shootings are a daily feature of American life-the answer is a matter of life and death.

[For the "Point" to this debate, please click here]



1. Davenport C, Armstrong DA II. Democracy and the violation of human rights: a statistical analysis from 1976 to 1996. Am J Polit Sci. 2004;48:538-554. Accessed September 21, 2012.

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