The Founding Fathers weren’t protecting your right to an assault rife

Ysabela Golden

“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.”

It’s a simple line of legislation, at least from the standpoint of the men who ratified our Constitution’s Second Amendment almost 230 years ago. Armed civilians had just fought a war to drive out invaders who threatened the freedom of their home, and they had no reason to assume they would not have to do so again. At the time, “well regulated militias” truly were the best line of defense the United States had. 

Times have changed. Whatever your feelings on the size of the U.S. defense budget, you have to admit it provides better protection than a bunch of musket-toting farmers. And the unorganized militias that do still exist today are pretty clearly not the ones responsible for our security as a free state. As a result, our interpretation of the Second Amendment has mostly moved away from literal protection of militias to the facilitation of a citizen’s natural right to defend themselves.

In John Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime, a book that has become central to the country’s gun rights movement, Lott argues pretty much what is said on the cover: restricting gun ownership only hurts the good people who follow laws and has little-to-no effect on bad people who don’t because they’ll just buy guns illegally. From there, crime will increase because good people will be defenseless to stop them. The opposite, Lott argues, must also be true: the more legal gun owners there are, the more law-abiding citizens will have the ability to stop crimes as they occur.

This argument assumes that gun violence is inevitable, which is true, as long as you happen to live in the U.S. University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford found, in an analysis of 178 countries, that the U.S. does in fact have more guns but unfortunately not less crime. We dominate the world in both gun ownership and mass shootings: 88.8 firearms per 100 people and 90 shootings in the 46 years covered by the study. To compare, second place in those categories was Yemen with 54.8 per 100, and the Philippines with only 18.

Not to mention, the period studied ended in 2012. Since then, we’ve had 19 shootings where four or more people were killed—more than any of the other countries had in 46 years. The latest, occurring this Sunday, Oct. 1, was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with upwards of 59 dead and 500 wounded. 

The gunman had an excessive number of rifles with him in his hotel room, which, by the way, investigators believe were purchased legally. Authorities know at least one of those weapons was altered to function as an assault rifle. The devices that can make this alteration, like a Slide Fire stock, are a cheap and legal way to mimic full auto fire without having to go through the background checks required to buy an actual machine gun. As witnessed on Sunday, however, the results can be just as devastating as the real deal.

It should go without saying, but the men who ratified the Second Amendment were not including rifles capable of harming more than 559 people in an estimated one-and-a-half hours when they said Americans have the right “to keep and bear Arms.” It is ridiculous to hold our Founding Fathers accountable for weapons they could not have imagined existing. It is our responsibility as the people who created and mass-produced these weapons to keep them out of hands of anyone who would use them the way one was used Sunday night. 

And if that means keeping automatic weapons out of everyone’s hands, then yes, making it harder for me to purchase a device invented to mimic machine guns is well worth making it harder for an aspiring mass shooter to do so. That has nothing to do with my right to bear arms. That’s just common sense.