The interesting thing about the Second Amendment is the moral weight it gives to gun ownership. By listing it alongside freedom of speech and religion, security against abuse of power by the government, and other protections for the individual, guns are elevated from being a simple tool to being a representative agent for those protections. It therefore has the same moral weight as religion or speech, and is embedded the same way in people’s personal sense of identity, both as individuals, and as Americans.
Some interesting questions: what if the Second Amendment instead protected a person’s right to protect himself and his home by not unreasonably restricting his actions or methods? That is, what if the need for a militia and for personal security was guaranteed without specific mention of firearms? The first amendment ensures freedom of “the press” and we assume this means the institution of journalism, not the physical ownership of a printing press. Freedom of speech has not suffered from this. Would gun ownership culture have evolved differently?
Guns are tools; physical devices designed to perform a function when operated by the user. Some are designed for killing animals. Most are designed for injuring or killing people. By stating one’s right to own a gun, one is essentially asserting one’s right to have the ability to injure or kill a person.
It is worth examining this at both a collective and individual level. Collectively, why do we acknowledge and defend that right? Because the right to kill is as inalienable as the right to the pursuit of happiness. We are never far from the law of the jungle. A well-ordered society offers institutional protections for the weak against the powerful, but societies face threats to order from within and from without. The demonstrated support of the right to kill is in place partly as a deterrent against these threats, and partly as a defense against society’s collapse, whether at a local or global scale.
Individually, the question is much more subtle, and there can be no one answer. Each person - gun owner or no - should carefully examine his or her position, and reasons for their choice to own or not to own. But hardly anyone will. People don’t. The gun is such a potent symbol of individual and collective power in America that most people on all sides of the question cling to their position on the issue as a proxy for the gun itself, which is in turn a fetish for the phallic power they crave. That is to say, “My identity as a gun-owner/non-owner is my badge of power that represents my connection to the symbol of power with which I have aligned myself.”
But where is the real power in this dynamic? To find the power, follow the path of who gets what they want. Does your individual gun-ownership status get you what you want? If so, then the power is yours. Do you perceive threats to your power? From where do those threats come?
We can discuss the gun as the symbol of American phallic power at another time. If the gun is that symbol in America, what fills that niche in other places?