The Second Amendment, originally published in 1791, was re-issued in a heavily redacted version in 2008.
Of 27 words in the original, the first 13 were discarded by the Supreme Court in the case of District of Columbia v Heller. By a 5-4 vote, the part about a “well regulated militia” and “the security of a free state” was consigned to judicial oblivion: henceforth, Americans’ right to firearms is personal and individual. We don’t need no stinking militia!
This was a devastating legal setback to all of the people who want to show up at your house and take your guns away. For non-imaginary people who care about gun control, the decision should have been irrelevant: the right can be individual, and we can still have, say, background checks and some limits on the combat-style firepower that people walk around with, can’t we?
Maybe not. As judicial time goes on, it begins to seem as if the right to have guns is not just individual but also sacrosanct. The gun lobby’s reaction to any specific gun-control measure is as before: we can’t allow this because then they’ll show up at your house and take your guns away.
But in our weapons jurisprudence, there’s now a “How dare you?” factor. It isn’t just SCOTUS that got the Trump/McConnell treatment; it’s the whole federal bench. The right to own guns is treated as fundamental in the sense that, increasingly in the new judicial world, any limitation on it is seen as constitutionally questionable.
The new sense of the urgency about the right to keep guns is nicely articulated by the new court’s decision in NYSRPA v Bruen, in which Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito et. al. struck down New York State’s concealed-carry law. Lawmakers in Albany had decided that a person should have a particular reason why they should be allowed to have a concealed gun with them while they go to the deli or the movies or the office; apparently, they were out of line.
In the constitutional strike zone as redefined by the Trump court, that was a wild pitch. How could the state possibly curtail essential individual liberties in this wholesale way, merely to keep some guns off the streets and out of public places? How dare they?
Not so long ago, the individual right to a gun was largely home-based: neither jurists nor legislators loved the idea of lots of guns all over the place, so they focused on the right to defend one’s domicile. Now that sort of carefulness is out the window. “Stand your ground” laws, popular in red states, are there to reassure you that you can start shooting anywhere you perceive a threat. (One wonders if these laws would remain popular if they led to people of color getting away with killing white people, but we’ll never know.)
Like laws limiting who you can marry, where you can go or what you can do for work, any limitation on the right to guns and ammo now arrives in court under a constitutional cloud. Even as the body count rises, the cloud darkens.
For the sake of argument, let’s go with the new flow for a minute. So: guns are essential to ordinary life in America. There are more guns than people in the country, and once the Bruen decision is applied in the states, basically everyone will have the right to pack heat basically everywhere. The unarmed will be sitting ducks.
This being the case, merely giving the unarmed the right to a gun isn’t enough. If they don’t happen to have the budget for a gun and ammunition, do we throw them to the wolves? It seems plain that the government (we can debate which level of government) has an affirmative duty to see to it that everybody in America has a gun, not just the right to a gun. In the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, you need one!
Like other government relief programs, we will not be aiming to supply the gunless with weapons that will make the neighbors jealous. Welfare guns should be like food stamps or public housing: enough to keep body and soul together. Just a simple pistol you can rely on for self-defense. Hey, we manufacture them right here in the USA!
As with government programs of any kind, there will be devilish details and gray areas. Just how broke does a person need to be to qualify for a government-issue handgun? How will we ascertain the aforesaid brokeness so as to prevent fraud and abuse? Public welfare programs are always a bear that way. So let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: America’s homeless.
These are people in dire need of personal protection on a day-to-day basis: they are exposed 24/7. They are unlikely to have spare cash for a gun and bullets, being the half-million most destitute Americans. If the Second Amendment applies to them, they need welfare guns. Let’s make it happen!
Seeing to it that the homeless are suitably armed would be a first step towards acknowledging that guns are indispensable in American life, and a good start down the long road to eliminating gunlessness in America.