The Second Amendment to the Constitution says “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.” The purpose of this amendment is to be sure that the people will always have the means to resist a tyrant.

At places in the Constitution, the “people” may be individuals or states, in contrast to the federal government. In this case, the first clause about a well-regulated militia indicates that states, not individuals, are intended.

In the wake of recent mass shootings, many advocate restrictions on assault rifles, since civilians do not need such weapons for legitimate purposes such as hunting, target shooting, and home defense. However, the framers intended the people to be armed sufficiently to give pause to tyrants, which at that time would have meant a sword or musket. Today, it means weapons with more firepower, such as an AR-15 or a Kalashnikov.

I think a contributing cause of mass shootings is the prevalence in popular culture of the idea that problems can be solved by shooting people. Movies and television programs show anti-heroes resolving a crisis by killing, even though they have to break the rules to do so. The advocates of unrestricted firearms ownership also contribute to this idea by suggesting that only the individual should decide when violence is justified.

Far more killings are carried out with handguns than with assault rifles, despite the prevalence of the latter in mass shootings. Handguns are used in premeditated crimes, crimes of passion, and suicides.

So we need to reduce the number of killings carried out with firearms, and return to a cultural norm that only the community should have the power to decide to resort to shooting to counter a threat.

First, we need to drastically restrict handgun possession. Only the police really need handguns. They need to be armed when they are on duty, and they have to get in and out of their cars while on patrol. No other civilians should have access to handguns.

Second, we need to bring back the draft. All able-bodied citizens should have to serve a short time in the military, to learn to use a military weapon in the context of a disciplined military unit. This would help to restore the cultural norm that only in such a context is it acceptable to shoot others. Only citizens on active duty or active in a state militia unit should have access to assault rifles. One might even require members of the militia to maintain their weapon in their possession at all times, to be ready for immediate deployment. The idea here is that the individual should not have the power to decide that shooting is justified. Only the community should be able to decide that.

Ordinary civilian long guns, such as rifles, shotguns, should be available to civilians, restricted only by age, criminal history, and the like. These are adequate for target shooting, hunting, and home defense.

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