I've never really understood the whole Second Amendment obsession. It seems to me that one can cover the whole "well-maintained militia" thing--if anybody really takes that seriously anymore--by issuing every military-age person a non-automatic rifle and then banning literally everything else. Because, as my friend Paul Halsall of English Eclectic points out in a recent post, while it is true that not all gun possessors are criminals, it is true that all those who commit crimes with guns are gun possessors. As someone who teaches a fair amount of logic, I have to say I'm rather impressed with that little bit of it, though the issue is much more complex than this. On a day like today, however, when we are hearing reports of the third school-shooting in the course of a week, it's tempting to look for ways to simplify.
The standard lines on the pro-gun side are fairly well drawn. If you make gun possession illegal, they say, all you do is take guns out of the hands of otherwise law-abiding citizens--there will be no effect on the criminal element because they don't obey the law anyway. Or else you make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding folk by forcing them to hide their guns. Of course, when an otherwise law-abiding citizen decides to actually use his gun for self-defense, he stands a good chance of making a criminal out of himself anyway, if he should happen to kill someone, since that would be to make an illicit private decision about the proper course of action to take in the defense of the common good.
The use of a firearm to kill in self-defense cannot properly be described as a defense of the common good--it is sheer self-preservation, and while we have a limited right to self-preservation, we do not have an inalienable right to self-preservation at literally any cost, in particular, we may not intentionally kill another in self-defense. We may apply deadly force, and the use of that force that results in unintentional death is licit, but this is rarely--if ever--what defenders of the Second Amendment have in mind. But those who construe the Second Amendment as having to do with individual rights of this kind are mistaken from the get-go: the Second Amendment does not so much guarantee a right to own firearms as it establishes a civic guarantee that citizens will be prepared to fulfill their duty to their fellow citizens in times of need. That is, the right to keep and bear arms is merely an instrumental right that is valid only in pursuit of the greater duty to maintain a militia for the defense of the common good. It is not at all clear that the unrestricted stockpiling of weapons of all types is in any way consistent with what the Second Amendment demands of us as citizens.
The positive law does not always track the moral law, however. Interpretation of the Second Amendment takes place within the context of the former, not the latter, and it responds to political pressure from all sides. What we wind up with is often not merely far from what the Framers intended, but also far from what is morally licit. This is most evidently true in the case of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was manifestly intended to free the slaves but now serves to justify the slaughter of unborn children. What was originally intended as a defense of the morally licit--and necessary--obligation to take up arms against unjust aggressors in defense of the common good is now used to justify the collection of all manner of weaponry for such trifles as killing other animals or such outrages as shooting trespassers, as if the right to private property were somehow higher on the scale of proper values than the right to life. The use of our Constitution in the defense of such practices is not without its costs, however, as we are now seeing in our schools. Are we willing to pay this cost rather than sacrifice a non-existent right to keep and bear arms for whatever reason we happen to think justifies our ownership and use of such things?