I don’t own a gun. I have never fired a gun. That means that my safety, the safety of my family, and the security of my country are dependent upon those who, unlike me, are able, trained, ready, and armed. Some of those people are the police and soldiers I pay for through my taxes —soldiers who include among their number my two adult children currently serving in the Israeli military. But some of them are my neighbors, who have armed and prepared themselves at their own time and expense.
Events like the mass killing in Las Vegas stimulate debates about gun rights. But properly speaking, these events should also stimulate debates about gun duties. It is the duty of every person to lend his or her force to the enforcement of the law as they are able and as is necessary. It is a bit late to start getting your head straight about right and wrong when you are sitting in the jury box. Similarly, when you are on the scene, and something horrendous or unjust is happening, you may be part of the problem unless you are willing and ready to respond as needed.
Mass shootings end when shooters are confronted. The faster the shooter is confronted, the fewer the casualties. The more people on the scene, armed and ready to respond, the faster the shooter will be confronted, the sooner he will be stopped. Adjusting for the tactical situation, this is as true in Las Vegas as it was in the Bataclan massacre in Paris or at the Burnet Chapel Church shooting in Tennessee. “When seconds count the police are just minutes away.” In Tennessee the shooting was stopped with one killed, when a church usher, Robert Engle, went back to his car to get the gun that, in retrospect, he probably wishes he had had on his person. If, as in Paris, where ninety died in the Bataclan Theater alone, the only people armed and ready are the police, the killing will continue until the police neutralize the shooter.
James Madison wrote the words: “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.” It is up to today’s Americans to live up to them. Who is the militia? In almost every state (though not Nevada) and under federal law, the militia is every able-bodied adult resident of military age. What does it mean for the militia to be “well-regulated”? It means that enough able-bodied adults have the weapons and the training to respond when their security or that of the community is threatened. Does this require fewer guns?
The evidence, in the United States, is that it requires more guns, because more guns means more guns in the right hands. Does this require stricter control of guns? Perhaps, but perhaps also in the sense that those of us who do not carry weapons need to pay a little more in taxes to subsidize the training and arming of our fellow citizens who do.
Yes, Las Vegas should make Americans think again about their gun laws. As with the attempted massacre of the Republican lawmakers in Virginia, it should make us think about laws that keep law-abiding citizens from bringing their guns with them when they travel out of state. It should make us think about laws and policies that create “gun-free zones” where nobody but the police are armed to confront a shooter. Americans should think about laws that make learning to shoot as a child, and arming yourself as an adult, more difficult, and replace them with laws that make it cheaper and easier to make citizens armed and ready to defend themselves and their communities. And we should all think about what we can do to ensure we remain the kind of spirited people who don’t cower in fear in the face of a threat like this. We should recall the Black Americans who, during the civil rights era armed themselves and risked their lives for equality and remember that bearing arms is not just a right or a privilege but sometimes also a duty of citizenship. It is a duty more of us need to take seriously and do our best to fulfill, both as individuals and as voters.