Here we go again. The United States has been rattled to the core by an unspeakable act of evil perpetrated by a hater of humanity. A quiet, wealthy loner rented a hotel suite in Las Vegas, armed it with shooting platforms and automatic weapons, knocked out two of the windows, and shot at innocents 32 floors below. Fifty-nine people were murdered, and 527 were injured.
The killer used rifles that he purchased legally and altered illegally. He effectively transformed several rifles that emit one round per trigger pull and present the next round in the barrel for immediate use (semiautomatics) into rifles that emit rounds continuously when the trigger is pulled — hundreds of rounds per minute (automatics). Though some automatic rifles that were manufactured before 1986 can lawfully be purchased today with an onerous federal permit, automatic weapons generally have been unlawful in the United States since 1934. Even the police and the military are not permitted to use them here.
I present this brief summary of the recent tragedy and the implicated gun laws to address the issue of whether the government can keep us safe.
Those who fought the Revolution and wrote the Constitution knew that the government cannot keep us safe. Because they used violence against the king and his soldiers to secede from Great Britain, they recognized that all people have a natural right to use a weapon of contemporary technological capabilities to protect themselves and their liberty and property. They sought to assure the exercise of this right by enacting the now well-known Second Amendment, which prohibits the government from infringing upon the right to keep and bear arms.
When the Supreme Court interpreted this right in 2008 and 2010, it referred to the right to keep and bear arms as pre-political. "Pre-political" means that the right pre-existed the government. It is a secular term for a fundamental, or natural, right. A natural right is one that stems from our humanity — such as freedom of thought, speech, religion, self-defense, privacy, travel, etc. It does not come from the government, and it exists in the absence of government.
The recognition of a right as fundamental or natural or pre-political is not a mere academic exercise. This is so because rights in this category cannot be abrogated by the popular will. Stated differently, just as your right to think as you wish and say what you think cannot be interfered with or taken away in America by legislation, so, too, your right to own, carry and use arms of the same sophistication as are generally available to bad guys and to government officials cannot be interfered with or taken away by legislation. That is at least the modern theory of the Second Amendment.