A Modest Firearms Proposal


Since the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has worked very hard to counter gun control movements by advocating for a stronger gun presence throughout the land and its institutions, like schools. Among their brilliant ideas is that the way to fight gun violence is to bring gun-bearing guards to our public educational facilities. I suppose the idea is born of a flinty, Wild West, “fight gunfire with gunfire” attitude, which in my experience is not an atypical posture for zealous gun rights Americans and the NRA. But such a proposal coming from the premier gunslingers’ club to bring in more armed guards is pretty ridiculous and insensitive during what is now an era of national, local, and familial chronic crisis and mourning as the mass murder of so many school children and other citizens continues unchecked and unabated. Even with so many lives lost due to gun use, the NRA has been able to think only of itself and its rights. So I have grown to realize that I should never, ever expect a socially decent and morally sound response or action from the NRA. Its purpose, it seems, is to back, with no small amount of political power, violence in the United States—entirely unnecessary violence through firearms. The NRA works without apology to maintain the legality of as many different kinds of firearms as profit-seeking corporations are willing to produce so that its membership’s manly gun collections stay safe, warm, and street legal.

The NRA has been a central voice in the gun rights debate for some time. It is positioned as the main organizational representative of American citizens who truly believe in their right to bear arms—citizens who fancy themselves real American Patriots. Let us here call all such people Toters, short for Gun Toters. Citing Amendment 2 of the US Constitution, Toters and the NRA feel strongly that our federal government (and state and local governments for that matter) must not stand in the way of American citizens carrying, owning, and possessing firearms. Perhaps it would be worth a moment to cite Amendment 2 in full:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Beyond Amendment 2, the Toters and NRA consistently reference Amendment 4 of the US Constitution and the right to self-protection. Here is the relevant first half of Amendment 4:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

And that really is it. Those two Amendments stand as the hallowed ground of the great American social contract through which Toters and the NRA justify their notoriously irrational positions on gun rights and gun control. In those constitutional words lies the basis of a profound antagonism that has gripped many people across the US and across many generations. Opposite the NRA and Toters is the sizable number of US citizens who support various levels of gun control; let us call them Controllers. Unfortunately, Controllers have thus far found little grounding in the vaunted Constitution.

As a result, the Controller side of the antagonism has generally provided relatively weak arguments for Controllers typically anchor their arguments and positions on statistics of violence with guns (statistics are regularly massaged and alternatively interpreted by opposing sides of any debate), through appeals to their own common sense (which is not everyone’s common sense, obviously), and through the use of case studies of murder and violence through guns—each argument dismissed by Toters through such profoundly ill-conceived, kindergarten-level observations like, “Its people using guns that kill others, not the guns themselves.” On occasion, appeals to the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence are made from this side, but alas, they do usually fall flat. This is because there is not a statement in the sacred documents of these United States that directly indicates that gun possession is not a right for each citizen. When compared to the Constitution-referring Toter argument, Controllers seem to occupy much less impactful and substantial ground—and thus, legislation that impacts firearms in the US stalls indefinitely.

The Toters and NRA have wrapped themselves up in the rhetoric of patriotic fervor, the American flag, and the Constitution while the Controllers present blurry, often emotionally and statistically charged, images of a violent society and nation overflowing with semi-automatic rifles. But this impasse in our volatile national discourse about firearms is actually unnecessary.

I suggest that there may be a way out of this polarizing and tempestuous debate, one that does not infringe on an individual citizen’s rights to bear arms but does eliminate nearly all firearms currently held among the citizenry in the US. Though what I propose in the following may describe what will seem a remarkably improbable American future, it is, in fact, achievable and will allow us to side-step this significant mess we have made of society. My proposal is grounded in two main points.

Point One: The citizenry of the US does not have the constitutional right to a free market in which mass-manufactured firearms are available for their purchase (or acquisition) and subsequent possession.

Toters seem to think that Amendment 2 grants citizens the right to possess and own firearms, which is in point of fact a dubious translation of the phrase “keep and bear arms.” For example, if the word “keep” is understood as meaning “to be in charge of” or “to house,” then that phrase in Amendment 2 could easily be interpreted as meaning that citizens can borrow firearms from the federal government when they are part of militias but that they cannot own and perpetually possess them as non–militia citizens. Nonetheless, despite its ambiguous nature, let us assume, for our purposes, that the Toter translation of Amendment 2 is an accurate one. In short, let us concede that each American citizen has the right to possess and own firearms.

With the typical Toter interpretation granted, we must recognize that the hallowed Constitution does not grant a right regarding the means by which a citizen comes to possess and own firearms. Such means of acquisition and ownership are in absolutely no way granted by our Constitution. The central means by which US citizens come to possess and own firearms is through the so-called free market—that system through which Bushmaster, Winchester, and all the gun producers peddle their explosive and violent weapons of localized destruction to the consumer. That is, a weapon is mass manufactured, offered in the open market, and acquired by the US citizen usually through purchase (at least originally). Nearly all firearms in the US today originated through manufacturing concerns (e.g., corporations and companies). Such corporations were not compelled to produce guns through the desire to bask in Amendment 2 rights. Rather, they were compelled by profit motives. Their wealth comes from American consumers who desire to bask in Amendment 2 rights.

At this point, perhaps the reader can see here a rather prominent fault line running through the heart of the gun-rights argument. Indeed, as we have granted, the US citizen does have the right to possess and own firearms. But equally as obvious, the Constitution does not grant the US citizen the right of access, much less perpetual access, to a market through which they can come to possess and own those firearms. The difference between “right to individual possession” and the “right to a societal means to possession” are striking and fundamental.

Point Two: The products manufactured by corporations and companies are subject to federal control and oversight.

Profit-loving corporations cannot manufacture and sell just any old commodity that they want to on the open market. In fact, our government regularly forbids (or prevents) would-be manufacturers and retailers from producing, selling, and profiting from a variety of items on the open market that are determined to be unsafe for the commonwealth, such as nuclear weapons, many kinds of drugs, and many dangerous chemicals. The citizenry and US Supreme Court tend to see the constitutional basis for such government decisions to forbid, prevent, or drastically curtail production and market availability of many different kinds of socially and individually dangerous materials, products, and substances.

As a result of this simple observation, we can solidly say that manufacturers are at present allowed, but not granted a sovereign right by the federal government to produce such socially volatile artifacts as firearms for market exchange and profit—in case this is somehow in doubt, there is the  unambiguous language in Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution that succinctly states that the US Congress is in charge of regulating “commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” As the production and sale of goods are core aspects of commerce by any definition, and it is worth adding that purchase and acquisition is a key aspect of selling, it would seem that the federal government does in fact have a constitutional mandate to oversee and control the production of firearms and perhaps the purchase of the same.

Points 1 and 2 are unassailable. And taken at face value, they would provide the means for the US government to outlaw all for-profit and surplus production of firearm and ammunition—and thus prevent their acquisition by any US citizen. This would be entirely constitutional and would make it illegal for corporations to manufacture guns and for citizens to possess firearms acquired on the open market. But this would make the NRA and the Toters very unhappy—naturally. And I don’t think anyone in Congress wants to see them, of all constituencies in the US, unhappy. So I now turn to my proposal. It is a simple idea that I am very much surprised has not already come to pass because it should please the Toters, NRA, and the Controllers while also being entirely constitutional.

First, the federal government should absolutely, and without any ambiguity or loopholes, prohibit the mass production of firearms and ammunition for sale to the citizen through the free and legal market. It should be illegal for an individual or corporation to produce firearms and ammunition in order to make profit, in any form, from their sale to citizens. Were this first part of the proposal to happen, we would soon live in an America where there would be no mass production and profiting from the sale of firearms by corporations or companies.

Second, upon halting the production of firearms by corporations, the federal government should require all citizens to relinquish all mass-produced firearms that they have in their possession. Also, all corporations should have to relinquish to the federal government their surplus firearms and ammunition that await market distribution—i.e., empty the warehouses. Now, I can hear the Toters gnashing their teeth, beating their chests, and screaming “Traitor! Traitor!” While such a response may be predictable, it would be ultimately premature. Here’s why:

The elimination of mass production or manufacture of firearms and ammunition does not prevent private citizens from manufacturing their own firearms and ammunition for personal consumption and use.

So yes, the American Toter and NRA member could no longer go out and conveniently purchase a Smith and Wesson from Bass Pro or some such merchant. However, the right to bear arms is not in any way affected through this proposal, and this is not a proposal for prohibition of firearms as such. US citizens would still have every right to bear and possess firearms. They could defend themselves all they want from government and social tyrannies with their guns. They could enjoy the company of their firearms while they wander the woods, mountains, and prairies of America in their heroic (and camouflaged) search for some creature to murder so as to convene with nature and their primal selves while drinking a few cans of Bud. Heck, they could mount their guns on their living room wall and bask in the simple but well-earned glory of having the right to possess it. Toter bliss could still be very much achieved under this proposal. It’s just that in order to exercise their constitutional right to bear and possess arms, each Toter would have to manufacture, by their own hands and through their own labor, the weapon they possess. And it is a lovely thought that each gun they produce would be as explosive and violent as their knowledge of production would allow.

Now, most good American patriots, like Toters, would agree that few things are more ideally American than making one’s own stuff—things like clothes, canned foods for the long cold winter, and cigarettes, when made by hand, are all really nifty examples of rugged individualism. Well, Toters have to believe, then, that making their own firearms and ammunition (and not having other poorly-paid and exploited people do it for them) is the apex of self-reliance. For Toters, their firearms are great symbols of American Freedom and their personal place under the Flag. Under this proposal, they would have the deep and stirring experience of laboring on their own to make that which they hold so dear! Who could ask for more? (In fact, I would think most Toters would have been feeling mighty guilty and pathetic knowing that their precious and cherished firearms were made by others and provided to them at the whims of companies more or less simply out to make a profit). Under this proposal, in short, the right to bear arms would stand, perhaps in its purist form to date, and be exercisable by anyone who, in fact, wishes to bear arms.

Should this transpire, most would-be gun-bearing citizens will have to undertake extensive and possibly expensive learning and training in order to manufacture effective weapons and ammunition. But a lifetime of buying guns and ammunition isn’t cheap either. Nonetheless, in order to exercise such a ballyhooed and vaunted right as the one to bear arms, Toters who are willing to truly back their principals with action will find the time and means to learn and labor to produce their own sacred weapons. In fact, rather than spend its time coercing and power handling all levels of government and imposing its minority will on all of America’s citizens, the NRA could more patriotically spend its time sponsoring fun and engaging weapons manufacturing workshops, supporting enlightening classes on ammunition production, and holding thrilling iron foundry demonstrations—an accredited NRA technical manufacturing college can even be imagined! It would seem that such a new system would be a little slice of heaven here on Earth for the Toter and the NRA—at least for the ones among them willing to go through the necessary steps to exercise their rights.

Of course, the proposal also recognizes that federal and state governments will be obligated to regulate the kinds and quantities of firearms and ammunition that could legally be produced by citizens for personal use (e.g., 2 pistols—yes, 20 AK-47s—no), enforce permitting, monitor proofs of owner production and use, and maintain a firearms registry. Also, corporations will not be allowed to provide citizens access to their firearms manufacturing equipment, and they would not be allowed to market gun parts (e.g., gun kits). Thus, Toters will have to learn how to build whatever equipment and machines they need to make their own personal firearms, and they will not be able to work around this by assembling prefabricated parts into a working firearm. Again, if one wants something bad enough, they will do it—isn’t that the American ideal? Finally—lest this proposal be dismissed outright by those thinking of military protection—federal and state governments would still manufacture their own firearms and ammunition for military and police use only.

Something tells me though that there would be some among the Toters and firearms manufacturers who would be displeased with this change of course in American life and marketplace. I have a hard time really imagining why this would be, but that is my gut instinct at the moment. But those Toters that would complain are simply citizens who will not want to spend the time and money to learn gun-manufacturing skills—i.e., a form of laziness. Also, weapons manufacturing companies might not wish to reorganize and reinvest capital to produce other profitable commodities—i.e., another form of laziness, we can be reasonably sure. But I think they could manage it, even if grudgingly. Other than these naysayers, it can be confidently predicted that the rest of the American citizenry, including Controllers, would be just fine with this change.

It is more than fair to ask at this point if there is any good reason not to accept this proposal as a means to circumvent the generations-old national debate on gun rights and gun control while also avoiding an America entirely devoid of legal firearms? The answer must be no.

So, were the NRA and Toters to resist this reasonable proposition, well that would be okay. But it must also be clear that such resistance to this proposal would betray the fact that the true basis of the gun rights argument is not the Constitution because the right to bear arms and to self-protection will still be exercisable through hard work and attention to self-education. Rather, such resistance will highlight a strange and silly belief among Toters in their right to simple market convenience—“I have the constitutional right to a marketplace through which I can come to possess firearms and ammunition made by other human hands and labor.” Again, to be certain, there is absolutely no constitutional basis for thinking we have a right to market convenience or anything we want through that market in unregulated fashion. And in essence, the NRA and Toter argument, whether they are aware of it or not, is based on their desire to be lazy—i.e., not be inconvenienced by actually having to work hard to create (not buy) what they love so dearly.

Probably most important is the following: this proposal demonstrates that because the NRA and Toters own, possess, use, and cherish firearms that were mass produced and acquired through the free market, those weapons represent privileged possessions and not at all constitutionally-granted possessions. Today’s federal and state governments, and the rest of the non-Toter citizenry, grant them the privilege of possessing, bearing, and using mass-manufactured and market-acquired firearms. The Constitution has nothing to do with it as Points 1 and 2 show with absolute clarity. If Toters persist in trying to argue for their right to possess mass-marketed firearms made by someone else’s labor, they will have to recognize that their argument is not founded on the Constitution. Such resistance would reveal their own personal unwillingness to do what is necessary to exercise their rights—make those firearms themselves. Such a debate position for the Toters represents significantly less hallowed and sanctified ground from which to argue than is the Constitution upon which they have long thought they stood. In fact, arguing the constitutional right to have others labor and make things for you is in no way a legitimate conclusion and position.

Meanwhile, Controllers will be comforted by two main results of this proposed transformation. First, all presently existing, marketed and traded mass-produced guns and ammunition would be off the streets and out of schools, planes, offices, and homes. Second, more surprisingly, it may eventuate that most NRA members and Toter Americans will not actually go through the trouble of learning how to make their own guns, ammunition, and manufacturing equipment. But even if they all did begin to make their own weapons and such, this proposal eliminates the millions upon millions of surplus firearms currently coursing through the towns, cities, shops, schools, woods, and prairies of the US. This would drastically decrease the levels and kinds of violence across the American landscape.

The United States is a nation of at least 325 million people. If anyone doubted the power of the Toters in the US, events in recent years—such as those surrounding the initiatives of President Obama and Vice President Biden to change national gun laws after Newtown—should eliminate those doubts. Some of our highest-elected officials who try to make the nation safer, in the wake of Newtown and the many subsequent gun-centered episodes, are compelled to meet with the NRA to discuss gun control. And the NRA, as high horsed as ever, emerges time and time again from such meetings showing no humility whatsoever about the fact that it was provided a hearing with the highest political leaders, such as the President and Vice President of their own country. The NRA represents a mere 5 million people, or far less than 1% of all census-recorded US citizens and it has such ill-gained power. It continues to trot out the usual rhetoric about Amendment 2 as it champions the armed-guard approach to resolving school gun violence and other preposterosities (I’m coining a word here because any discussion of the NRA’s warped sense of social ethics compels it).

That the NRA and Toters have amassed such political power is apparently perfectly normal to most Americans. Who really thought twice about the fact that the NRA met with President Obama and others during a time of much-needed governance and change in national firearms laws after Newtown? Or that the NRA would actually be approached by the media to offer opinions on whether the measures the Executive Office had prepared to combat out-of-control gun violence would pass through Congress? The reality is that NRA’s constant presence and published rantings in this era of national trauma is actually quite bizarre—it is a pretty fringe organization, ultimately.

The NRA and the gun manufacturers for whom it lobbies, has long claimed that it stands for citizen rights as laid out in Amendment 2 of the Constitution. But it is wrong, as this proposal has shown.

Rather, the NRA stands for lazy firearms manufacturing, marketing, possession, and ownership—that is all it represents. The NRA and Toters should be thankful that we, the rest in the US, are not illegalizing all mass-manufactured firearms—because it could be done, and it would be entirely within the scope of the Constitution to do so. But when the nation does decide to eliminate market access to specific kinds of firearms, the Toters should take a breath and remember that We the People are allowing them, despite our best judgment, to own any mass-produced firearms at all. We the People could decide one day to ask those 5 million or so people to just make their own guns or go without. The Constitution would have our backs on that.


Daniel O. Sayers
Daniel O. Sayers, PhD, is an archaeologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington D.C. He focuses upon politically significant areas of U.S. and global history through study of material culture, artifacts, historical records, and landscape. His research on the Great Dismal Swamp and its pre-Civil War resistance communities, the Underground Railroad, animal rights and emancipation, the homeless and hobos of the Great Depression era, and rural America is well known. Sayers is the author of the book A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp. His research essays have been published in many academic venues. In addition to engaging people through opinion pieces, such as his comments recently published in the New Yorker and the Battle Creek Enquirer, Sayers and his work has been publicized through various media: National Public Radio, television (Mysteries of the Museum and Smithsonian Channel), magazines (Smithsonian Magazine and Archaeology), podcasts (99% Invisible), newspapers, and a variety of news programs. Dismal Swamp Maroons and his work are represented in a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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