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Clippings: Consider my right to not bear arms

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Posted on August 4, 2016 |
By Emma Cotton



In June, a stranger handed Seven Days reporter Paul Heintz an AR-15 military-style rifle in exchange for a $500 wad of cash.

Though the two had never met before, though there was no background check performed and no photo ID presented, though the gun was handed over in the parking lot of a busy shopping center, the entire exchange was legal.

Heintz bought the gun to show how easily anyone could obtain an assault weapon in Vermont, but his message extends further. Most of the largest mass shootings in our country’s history have been made possible by legally purchased guns.

Gun rights activists might not see much wrong with the exchange that occurred between Heintz and the gun supplier. With the pro-gun argument resting chiefly in the hands of the Second Amendment, “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” proponents might suggest that you shouldn’t have to divulge your intentions or your personal information in order to buy a gun.

Using this logic, gun owners have the right to privacy, they have the right to protect themselves, and they have the right to bear arms.

But what about the rest of us?

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever own a gun. I have my reasons — mainly surrounding a fear that a self-defense weapon will more likely be used against me — but personal rationale aside, I am part of a larger group of people who do not wish to bear arms, even though we might have the right to do so.

So, yes — the Constitution says we all have the right to own a gun, but if we go back even further, the Declaration of Independence provides a broader, umbrella explanation of our basic rights:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Perhaps the right to bear arms could be categorized under our basic right to life — citizens should have the right to defend themselves in life-threatening situations.

But for many of us, the right to life simply means walking down the street, attending church or going out to a nightclub without fear that an unstable person could swiftly brandish a deadly weapon.

It is important to honor the Constitution, and it is important to allow everyone to defend themselves, but it is also important to protect the lives of those who do not own weapons.

Omar Mateen’s right to bear arms was honored. Though suspected of having terrorist ties, Mateen legally bought two guns days before killing 49 people in Orlando, Fla., on June 12.

But Eddie Justice’s right to live was denied. Justice, 30, was shot dead in the bathroom of Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

And what about Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18, who was shot by Christopher Harper-Mercer at Umpqua Community College in Oregon? Harper-Mercer was carrying six firearms that were legally obtained through a licensed firearms dealer when he killed nine of his fellow students on Oct. 1, 2015.

What about six-year-old Olivia Engel, who was robbed of her life at age 6 when Adam Lanza killed her, along with 26 of her classmates and teachers, at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Lanza was carrying two rifles that he picked from his mother’s legally bought gun collection.

In these cases, shouldn’t the victims’ right to live overpower the shooters’ right to bear arms?

Government officials need to consider the protection of those who choose to own guns and those who do not. Free-range buying and selling of firearms — without reliable background checks and training — threatens the lives of every unarmed and armed citizen, and thereby violates all of our “certain unalienable rights.”

In a country with a grand total of 1,516,863 gun deaths that have occurred since 1968 — more than the total number of American deaths that have ever occurred in warfare — I feel that my right to not bear arms has yet to be considered. 

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