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Wednesday, 4 August, 1999, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Reaction to the US handgun issue: The right to bear arms
The right to bear arms is a constitutional right in which Americans believe very strongly.

I viewed with some amazement a speech made by President Clinton following the tragic Arkansas shooting when he said that there had been three similar gun attacks in schools in the past few months. He then went on to say that he would have to set up a team to find out what connected the incidents. I shouted at the TV set "GUNS, are you stupid!", but then I thought about it a bit more, and that is why I have voted against a ban.
As I understand it, the second amendment was placed in the Constitution to allow militia units the right to bear arms for the defence of the country, but that is not the point. It is part of the culture. What Clinton said was as natural for an American as it is for me to breathe air. It is certainly not for anyone in the UK or anywhere else in the world to tell Americans what to do in America. I do however support the call to make guns 'safer' by fitting locks so that kids cannot use them unsupervised.
A Stacy, UK

When the Constitution gave citizens the right to bear arms, it was referring to the formation of a militia, and the 'arms' were muskets! Guns are intended for violence, and only perpetuate it. Ten children a day die from handgun accidents; that is ten deaths too many that could be prevented if people would stop keeping guns in their home. There is no excuse for keeping a gun in your home in this day and age.
Jen Heidingsfelder, USA

In a word; NO. The question is, in fact, equivalent to "Should America Ban Breathing?". The most fundamental right of any organism is to protect and maintain its existence. For human beings, so long as one does not initiate force, no tool towards that end may be barred from one's use. Indeed, within the context of a Free People and a Just Government, I refer you to the following quote from an obscure English anti-government wacko: "The right of self-defence is the first law of nature; in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and when the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction." Henry St. George Tucker, in Blackstone's 1768 "Commentaries on the Laws of England."
James Eric Andreasen, Tempe, AZ, USA

Let's see. Some other countries that ban/restrict private ownership of guns.....North Korea, China, Taiwan, Bosnia, Haiti....let freedom ring!
Why is it that the US and British governments both want to ban private ownership of weapons while selling massive weapons of death, including REAL assault weapons to third world countries? Why...to fight their legal governments, revolution, freedom?
David Childers, USA

Unfortunately (or fortunately), there are risks associated with living in a democracy. This is one of them.
Kenneth Barten, US

I don't know about Europe, but the easy availability of handguns in the USA scares me. They are prevalent here despite the fact that concealed weapons are banned. The propaganda put forward by the American Rifle Association is an unbelievable mess of jingoism and deliberate avoidance of the truth. The two children who shot their schoolmates in Arkansas are being dismissed as a pair of pranksters. The fact that they were allowed easy access to weapons is dismissed as their family 'rights'. Thank goodness I live in a fairly isolated town.
Robert Stone, Canada

I stood by my country during the Vietnam War. My country then trusted me to be armed and trained in the use of arms. I later became a Police Officer and again was trusted to be armed. However today I am retired. Am I to be no longer trusted, to defend my own home as I was trusted to defend my country and society? If my government can no longer trust me, then I can no longer trust my government.
Erwin Splittgerber, USA

The constitutional right to bear arms is an historical irrelevance, as many legal things are once two centuries old. There is still an active law here banning Welsh people from the town of Chester (an English town near the Welsh border) after night fall. No-one would exercise this law now, because it is irrelevant and its use would look foolish. It tells us something about the nature of life back then, but tells us nothing about what life is like today.
Pro-arms lobbyists in the US have a paranoid belief that they need to protect themselves from some perceived threat. In fact, experience has shown that gun owners are too busy shooting their friends and relatives to find time to take a pop at criminals or representatives of "World Government".
Martyn Davies, UK

How dare you question our rights to own handguns! Freedom, baby, freedom!! "He who gives up his liberties for the sake of security deserves neither". My government will never kick my butt! Can you say the same...I think not! I will never give up my 2nd amendment rights without a fight. Don't be misled by the liberal media. Americans in the Heartland are not even debating this issue...it is dead in the water. I could go on forever, but I only get madder and madder thinking about it. So take care of your own and we will do the same.
Ed Issertell, USA

It's because I own and carry a handgun that I am still here to write this. I was attacked by two people. One was armed with a knife, the other with a pipe. When I pulled my .45 and aimed it at the centre of the person with the knife, the attack stopped. If I was unarmed, I would be dead now and my two children would be fatherless. It is our right to keep and bear arms in the United States. It's that right which keeps our Constitution in place. It is the arms in private citizens' hands that keep us free from government oppression.
How many rights have the British people lost because of a Government whim? How many people throughout the world have lost their rights as well as lives to an oppressive government because they were unarmed? Monsters like Hitler, Stalin, Amin, Tse Tung, Pol Pot, etc. have slaughtered millions upon millions of unarmed citizens. I find it an insult that some British citizens feel that my rights should be taken away. Many of you owe millions of US citizens an apology.
Robert McArthur, USA

Have we lost sight of the fact that "rights" can be negative to society? I am not a pacifist, but who of sound mind can go on defending the right of people to carry "equipment" designed for no other purpose than to injure & kill. Would anyone seriously suggest that we allow a person to pollute the atmosphere simply because he has the "right" to like black smoke?
Pieter de Vos, Canada

Hitler first disarmed the people then he built the concentration camps. In 1942 the US government also built concentration camps. Consider also the genocide against the Native Americans. George Washington said that no government can be trusted. Besides all that, our people had a right to bear arms before this government existed- we aim to keep that right at any cost.
Bill Hamblin, USA

It may sound a little paranoid but it is the ultimate freedom to know that the government is beholden to its people because they have the ability of armed insurrection. I am quite sure that Americans have enjoyed greater freedoms because of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.
John S USA

The ban of hand guns is yet another step down the road to serfdom. We will give up our every right for the promise of a safer tomorrow. And that promise is always fraudulent.
Robert Bradley, USA

America cannot legally ban the handgun unless and until congress and the nation vote to change the Bill of Rights, where the second amendment ... A WELL REGULATED (armed) MILITIA (citizen army) BEING NECESSARY TO THE SECURITY OF A FREE STATE, THE RIGHT TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED ... is the guarantor of the rest of the constitution. In fact, it was the only amendment where the approval was unanimous. Think about it, what enemy foreign or domestic would be foolhardy enough to launch a frontal assault on a well armed citizenry? The criminal element lies not in firearms, but rather in the removal of personal responsibility for one's actions and from the removal of God from our classrooms, government and society.
John Harder Jnr, USA

The right to bear arms is our constitutional right. The need to bear arms is a national and international disgrace.
Bruce Graham, USA

When this country is run by fascists we'll be wishing we hadn't given up our personal defence. We've had it easy for a long time. But we cannot assume that our country is immune from being oppressed by a government, members of whom are the only ones allowed to carry firearms. If you outlaw firearms, only outlaws (and the government) will have firearms. I'd rather defend myself than take my chances with statistics.
C Bartlett, UK

A country often has the government and laws it deserves. Since a majority of Americans apparently believe that an archaic constitutional right to bear muskets implies the right to almost unrestricted firearm ownership, I'm going to sit back, laugh and enjoy watching the macabre spectacle in the south unfold. Against stupidity, even the gods struggle in vain.
Luke, Canada

Despite lawyerish weasel arguments to the contrary, the Constitution guarantees a pre-existing right to bear firearms. The question of a ban is therefore moot. The threat to the freedom of law-abiding residents in the US comes from an insidious imposition of arbitrary administrative restrictions. Such a process is both undemocratic and a contemptuous insult to the people. Personal protection of oneself and one's family is the responsibility of the individual alone. The police are neither capable nor mandated to provide individual protection. Responsible gun ownership provides the individual, if he or she so chooses, with the only truly effective counter to the very real and potentially devastating personal effects of an encounter with the predatory and often evil criminal elements in society. The entire issue is too serious to be compared to the actions of children in Arkansas. The guns are not the problem it is the human beings. Jamie Bulger was beaten to death by children using blocks of concrete. Should building materials be banned?
Tim Edwards, USA/England

Although I advocate the banning of handguns in the USA I don't believe that there is enough political will by either party to pursue it. They would lose too much of their grass roots support because most Americans use the Constitution as a basis for their rights. Taking away the right to bear arms knock on government control and anti-freedom.
Ergin Salih, USA

Current gun laws in the USA are stricter than they were 30 or 40 years ago. It was possible at one time to purchase a gun through the mail. Of course then there was less crime but people took responsibility for themselves and their actions. The government didn't try to run everyone's life back then. And yes, in the bible Jesus tells a man to sell his cloak and buy a sword so that he may defend and protect his family. I also have one question for all you detractors, if the USA is such an uncivilised, dangerous and backward country why do millions of people from every country in the world want to live here?
Daniel Sawinski, USA

Since there is no gun violence problem, I would invite Mr Ratner to visit any one of our many inner-city areas, where he will not have to fear for his life. Seriously, though, the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States states, as its raison d'etre, the establishment and maintenance of local militia. Isn't this already filled by the state National Guard units?
Jim Redmond, USA

The right to bear arms is a Revolutionary War-era law which has been a disaster in modern times. Our forefathers never envisioned that it would lead to children killing children.
Evan Salomon, USA

I have felt for many a year that the second amendment to the US constitution should be repealed, and the recent events in Arkansas have done nothing to dissuade me of that belief. The current state of affairs is not what the founding fathers of the United States had in mind. The second amendment grants Americans the right to bear arms "in order to maintain a well regulated militia." A militia force was of paramount importance during the birth of the nation, but it is a role more or less filled in these times by the National Guard, a reserve military unit called into active duty when and if situations warrant.
Americans were not granted the right to bear arms to enjoy hunting with automatic weapons, or to build up an arsenal worthy of some third world countries for pleasure, as is the case with some people in my country. Gun owners in the US are quick to invoke the second amendment, but very rarely do they seem to remember the original context.
Darryl Gillikin, USA

With 230,000,000 hand guns in America, it would be impossible to confiscate them all without a house-to-house search. I, for one, would never give them (plural) up. Like most Texans, owning guns is a part of the Sacred Honour of being an American. My children and their children do not have access to my arsenal. Only by force would I give up my guns. AMEN.
Bob Limbaugh, Texas

God-given right? Since when is it Christian to kill?
Scott Clarke, Sweden

Here in Boston, we have constant reminders of the tyranny that was once imposed upon us by your country. It was that tyranny that gave rise to our revolution and ultimately our Constitution with its Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment of our Constitution gives every citizen of our nation the right to bear arms. An armed citizenry is our check against tyranny.
The children in Arkansas killed their classmates and teachers with hunting rifles. They stole these rifles and committed acts of premeditated murder. Many writers here seem to suggest that banning all firearms (or "the handgun" as your talking point asks) would be a viable solution to what was committed by two very sick young people with no sense of morality.
I would argue that education is necessary here, both to children and parents on gun safety and to the Americans, Brits and others who are clamouring for gun control, to learn some of our American history and to see that our ideals are what has allowed our country to prosper and defeat the evil opponents of democracy for over 200 years.
John Pappas, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

I am appalled at the thought that people feel that it is a part of their "freedom" to carry a gun and own one. Here in Australia we know only too well the consequences of that form of thinking.
Jack Timmins, Australia

NO, handguns should NOT be banned in the US (or anywhere). They will always exist. Even a complete ban puts them only in the hands of criminals. We are supposedly at war against drugs. Look how many are still made here as well as imported. Did anyone learn anything from Prohibition?
A recent study-"Guns in America: National Survey of Private Ownership and Use of Firearms" (NSPOF) -- was undertaken by the (anti-gun) Police Foundation in 1994. Conclusion: "Guns are used far more often to defend against crime than to perpetrate crime." This is one of fifteen, all of which came to the same result.
Although the perpetrators of the Jonesboro Massacre had "assault" weapons (a ridiculous term) with them, they committed this horrible act with .30-06 deer-hunting rifles. No current ban would have stopped them. Those (anti-gun) alarmists who tell us time and time again about handgun accidents are the same who criticise EDUCATIONAL programs such as the NRA's Eddie the Eagle.
I will end with a quote from the great Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would sacrifice freedom for a little temporary safety deserve neither freedom nor safety."
Alan Viarengo, California, USA

No. It was interesting, when we visited the UK last year, to see your Eye-Spy programme, with all those poor shopkeepers outgunned by robbers-but it's not a situation I would care to replicate in my country, thank you. I'll keep my handgun-and I'll train my children properly.
Cynthia Walker, mother of three, USA

Contrary to common belief, the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to bear arms. The amendment refers to "a well-regulated militia" (too many people neglect to read the first clause), and therefore guarantees a corporate or collective right, rather than an individual right. This is an opinion that has been upheld by the Supreme Court in numerous cases.
The only reason that Americans have a right to bear arms is because the state and federal governments largely abstain from introducing any gun control measures, not because the Constitution guarantees any such right. It is odd that many Americans are so fearful that they will be killed by their own government that they prefer instead to be killed in their thousands by criminals. Self-defence is all very well, but you can't defend yourself when someone has already put a bullet through your chest. Is that the price of democracy? Would American politicians really turn into tyrants the moment the people were disarmed? If so, then remember: you voted for them. Democracy is the best remedy against bad government, not anarchy and violence.
Matthew Burchell, UK

When are Europeans going to get it through their heads that this issue goes deeper than being able to own a gun. It's about rights!! I don't own a gun and personally I have no desire to run out and buy one. That is my decision. Take away the right of a law-abiding citizen to own a gun and pretty soon the government will be looking for something else to take away until we are left with nothing.
The US Constitution is also one of the three documents known as "Articles of Freedom". In it is stated what rights are guaranteed to a citizen of the US. It is one of the most flexible documents ever written and just as meaningful now as it was over two hundred years ago. Those who think otherwise obviously don't understand constitutional government.
For a people who constantly complain about American interference you certainly seem to be doing enough of that yourselves in regards to American concerns. Why don't you please follow your own advice? In closing, however, I want to ask the British when they are planning to ban soccer matches following the murder of a young soccer fan over the weekend.
Anne Marie, USA

For many Americans gun violence is considered a social problem. Like many social ills the problem lies with someone else and not with ourselves. "It's the pistol in the hands of a criminal and not the handgun in our closet that's the problem.", we say to ourselves. I, like many Americans own rifles and handguns but often one weapon out of millions falls into the wrong hands and tragedy results. Perhaps we consider the violence that occurs as acceptable casualties for our Constitutional rights. The American tradition of gun ownership and gun violence can perhaps only be understood by Americans. For the United States guns are one of our few lasting traditions and for better or for worse help define our national character.
David Rout, USA

First of all, I have to laugh at the nonsensical debate of other countries over US law. If you don't like our laws, so be it. I understand enough about some of your laws to really not care about non-American opinion regarding internal US policy. And if you want to worship/follow a system of government based on thousand-year old notions of inherited domain, so be it. My ancestors didn't like it, neither would I. Similarly, you don't live here, and I for one thank God for it. We Americans have enough nit-wit wanna-be socialists that want to run everyone else's lives for them. They all have short memories and forget too easily what freedom is about, and how much they have benefited by the firearms we possess and the other freedoms those firearms have protected over the years. But America's "Gun Culture" sure as hell helped the Brits and Western Europe out only 50 years ago, remember Dunkirk? All the donated firearms from US households that helped prevent the UK from celebrating Oktoberfest today? I don't mean to dwell on the past, but come off it.
The reason Europeans don't understand gun laws is because you have never experienced the freedoms that we in the US have. Gun ownership is a complex thing to explain, and I feel like I am trying to describe colour to the blind. Guns are owned by civilians only in countries where the populace will not tolerate oppression. The concept of guns causing crime is rubbish. It is promulgated by politicians and other simpletons that have the most rudimentary ability to correlate cause and effect without the hindrance of common sense or facts. You want facts, come check out some of the pro-gun web-sites, and LEARN. Learn what Americans figured out over 200 years ago. Freedom is too valuable to give away because some bag of dirt misuses it.
Windsor D, USA

Guns in America save far more than they kill and anyone who makes an honest effort to study the issue knows this.
Dave Knox, USA

As always, the problem is with the user and not the tool. Are we going to ban 'straight-razors' because 'Sweeney Todd' was not in control of all of his faculties?
My ancestors arrived on these hallowed shores over 200 years ago. I hold dear their desire to be free of the chains of social, religious, economic, and political oppression. Whilst the Constitution of the United States of America is far from perfect, the first ten amendments to this document clearly show the concern that the founders had with protecting individual liberties. These amendments engender the simple desire that a society, a nation, can be founded, forged, and tempered with the goal that individual rights are paramount, and not the rights of the group. Ultimately, it is the individual that is responsible for his/her actions, both good and bad; not the tool, and not society. Without digressing into polemics, it is unfortunate that the United Kingdom continues to exhibit the same characteristics that have caused so many of its former countrymen to leave for 'less-restricting' shores.
A W Lugg, USA

Approximately 20,000 Americans a year are murdered. The figure for Great Britain is less than 1,000. America has roughly five times the population of Britain. Americans are not more violent than the British, yet when they commit acts of violence the results are usually far more definitive due to the widespread availability of firearms. The notion that the Constitution guarantees the right to carry arms ignores the fact that today the government is armed with more than muskets. They will always have the greater fire power. But the profusion of hand guns certainly does not make the USA a safer place. It makes it more violent and easier for the young, the criminal and the insane to indulge in more dangerous acts of violence. Maybe it is time to amend the Constitution.
George Warner, USA

Some of my fellow countrymen are exhibiting their usual muddled thinking and knee-jerk reactionary tendencies on this one.
First, their analogies of banning cars, food, etc, because they, too, are associated with deaths overlook the obvious fact that none of those things exist for the primary purpose of killing - firearms do.
Last, they fail to distinguish between liberty and freedom. Individual liberties may, and often do, result in compromising the freedoms of the larger community. I can truthfully say that, in these times, the liberty of individual citizens to keep and bear firearms has the effect of restricting some of the freedoms I consder esssential to a civilised existence including the freedom to move about and gather at public places without the fear of being shot by someone who decides to settle his or her grudges by taking innocent lives. I submit that the freedom from that kind of fear is more fundamental to a civilised society than the liberty to arm oneself.
R McNaughton Phillips, USA

It amuses me to know that more people died through gun violence in the last year in the States than have died in 25 years of "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. If people really believe that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" then what does that really say about the Americans as a people?
If you ask me, the strongest reason for there not being a European Constitution is the example given in the US. Lawyers have perverted the ideals of the Founding Fathers without any respect for the consequences. I often wonder what the original lawyer who won the first "gun rights" case thinks now (if they're still alive!) looking back on their historic victory.
Andrew Pellew, United Kingdom

It is bad policy to make law on extremely rare events. Like it or not, law-abiding citizens who legally obtain guns don't shoot people for kicks! And a law banning guns and rifles will not deter the criminal -- the overwhelming majority of whom obtain weapons illegally so that they don't register their name with the gun.
Making gun ownership illegal will not eradicate gun violence anymore than making cocaine illegal would eradicate drug abuse. Yes, there is a difference. While there's no civic value in illicit cocaine use, gun ownership is a much treasured constitutional right. We have the right to bear arms to protect family and property from those who would do us harm and from tyranny. It's in the Constitution! End of story. I don't own a gun, but I treasure my right to buy one.
Bob S, USA

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. - Thomas Jefferson
In this century over 130 million people have been murdered by their own governments. With each occurence the murders have been preceded by disarming the victims. The latest victims being approximately one million Christian Tutsis, disarmed and murdered by Muslim Hutus. The German Gun Control Act of 1928 resulted in the disarming of every Jew and political enemy of the Nazis in Germany. It next led to their deaths! A disarmed society is but one election away from genocide.
Edward Johnson, US

The US sees itself as leading the world into the new millenium. Its claim to do so is valid, given the amazing durability of its Constitution, and the equally amazing energy of its people. But it is completely ridiculous to believe that future generations will not look back and regard the freedom that Americans have to hold guns to kill each other as a wild anachronism. People will look at it as they now look back on slavery - a fundamental attack on human rights.
K Chomse, UK

Perhaps the country that gave the world Neville Chamberlain and later rejected Winston Churchill will never understand: The purpose of our Second Amendment is to make sure that we can defend ourselves against the abuses of OUR OWN GOVERNMENT! Anyone familiar with our current crop of politicians who is intelligent enough to walk and chew gum at the same time will have no trouble understanding my meaning.
William R Miller, USA-State of Arizona

Two of the main reasons (besides the grace of God) that I survived the "LA Riots" in 1992 without a scratch were two Browning 9mm pistols with 15-round magazines. The others were an SKS rifle and a 12 ga Remington 870 shotgun. All of them, "evil assault weapons". When rioters saw that my friend and I were armed and ready to use the guns if need be, they decided to find safer places to destroy. I never had to fire a shot, just their presence was enough of a deterrent. The police were nowhere to be seen. The mayor, governor and president did nothing to help until the trouble was over. Relying on "government" to protect you can get you killed. The Nazis had gun control. Need I say more?
Brian Welch, USA

Why do people harp on about their right to carry arms? Surely the US has a right to protect the public by removing these guns from circulation.
Peter Higginson, UK

History has shown that our 2nd Amendment keeps the USA free and prosperous. The USA has kept Europe and much of the rest of the world Free. How many of you outside the US really want a weakened demoralized and ineffectual America?
R. Witten, USA

I am genuinely appalled at the lack of constitutional knowledge of a minority of those who've replied to this question. There are those who decry our constitution and lament that we even have one. I'm glad you don't live here.
H Howard Lewis Bloom, USA

See also:

29 Mar 98 | Talking Point
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
30 Mar 98 | Talking Point
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
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