Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers.

The school shooting in Newtown, CT was a terrible tragedy. The loss of innocent life is simply heartrending.  With what seems like a rash of mass shootings, politicians and political pundits have been asking whether meaningful gun control legislation is not overdue. Even President Obama has pledged to “use whatever power this office holds…in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because, what choice do we have?”


Sweedish sculpture of Non-Violence by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd

What Choices Do We Have?

Let’s begin with Michael Moore, the maker of Bowling for Columbine.  The day of the memorial service, he tweeted the following:

Michael Moore

This is simply illogical. Moore is equating legal ownership of guns and rape. But let’s be clear: Rape is a crime. Murder is also a crime.

According to the National Criminal Justice Reporting Services, in the last year for which we have data, “victims age 12 or older experienced a total of 188,380 rapes or sexual assaults” in the United States.

Now, this is 188,380 too many, but let’s apply his reasoning to rape and his tweet might read: “The debate is over! Rape has to stop now. We need universal male castration!” To borrow from Madison, the cure is worse than the disease.

Thinking Like the Founding Fathers

Placing this discussion in context is important. I will not here rehash the common arguments from either side of the gun-control debate (e.g. Gun don’t kill people; people kill people or “Fewer people would be killed if guns were illegal.”) I want to focus here on the way that the Founding Fathers thought through such issues.

I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the way the Founding Fathers thought and reasoned during the Constitutional Convention and ratification debates. You may never have heard of me, but I know what I am talking about here. I borrowed Madison’s language from Federalist 10 because it is one of the clearest expositions of the Founders’ thinking about important political issues.

In Federalist 10, Madison was specifically was talking about factions (or what we call partisan politics). We don’t tend to like the bickering that goes on in Congress, but have you ever noticed that in countries where the lawmakers all have the same opinion, there is not a lot of freedom?  When we consider the alternative, Congress does not look so bad.

Let’s examine how the Founding Fathers thought. Madison wrote:

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.

James Madison

James Madison – Chief Architect of the Constitution

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. (Federalist 10)

Let me recap.

Madison reasoned that you only have two choices: remove the causes or control its effects. If we try to remove the cause, we destroy our own liberty. The only viable solution is to control the effects.

 The First Amendment Has A Dark Side Too

In the wake of this tragedy, the Westboro Family Cult (I refuse to dignify them with the term “Baptist Church” as this is an insult to Baptists everywhere) announced that it was going to protest at the funerals in Connecticut.

They protest against America, reveling in God’s judgement. They disrupt funerals of fallen soldiers and other solemn venues (e.g. the Holocaust museum as pictured below) in order to gain publicity and attract lawsuits when their rights are violated. It is a shakedown operation using protected non-profit “church” status and the First Amendment as foils for the venom that they inject into society.

WestBoro Baptist Church

Condemn them, ignore them, or  encircle them with bikers as Patriot Guard Riders have done at funerals (in order to drown out their protests). But, do not compound the evil by attempting to remove the cause. As horrific as the the Westboro Family Cult is, it would be a far greater tragedy for the government to remove non-profit status for churches or restrict 1st Amendment religion or speech rights because of their abuses of the system.

The Solution

Madison concluded, “that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.” Why? Because the “causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.”

Now this is point. If the problem is internal (e.g. the heart of man), external solutions will not work.

The Second Amendment

We think of guns as a useful means to ward off criminals. It is, but it is more than that. It is also a preventative measure to thwart future tyranny.

In its historical context, the Founders reasoned that the people would never be subdued by an oppressive government (theirs or another) as long as the people were armed and free.

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityLiberals who rabidly defend the first amendment should apply the same logic to the second. We can destroy the liberty of citizens by removing firearms, but if the problem is the heart of man, strict controls on firearms will not cure what ails us and we will lose liberty in the process.

Guns in Newton, CT; machetes in Rwanda; improvised explosive devices (IED) in Iraq. What’s the common denominator? Evil in the Heart of man (not guns). Unless you can change the heart, your only remedy is to control the effects.

What do you think? I would like to know.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

December 17, 2012

UPDATE:  Looking for solutions? Have a solution? Read my next article:

Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers (Part II – Solutions)


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University



Filed under Current Events, Effectiveness, Leadership, Misc., Poltics

22 responses to “Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers.

  1. Jon Negroni

    Well you’re begging the question of how we can control the effects. How can we reverse the hearts of men? Love your analysis, but you need a follow-up soon! Be sure to check out my response too, it’s on the front page of

    • daringerdes

      I am not sure that you can completely control the effects (just as we have not completely controlled the effects of rape). I do know that castration or its moral equivalent is NOT the answer. Adams wrote that ”
      “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Unless we address the heart, no solution will work. We can mitigate (with an armed security presence in every school, for example) but this is only a short-term solution.

      • Education has to be a key player in this change. Heart change must occur, but there are practical social and cultural steps in a host of situations that can foster that change. I know it’s not the focus, but when it comes to rape and sexual assault, we too often tell women “don’t walk alone”, “don’t be out at night”, “don’t wear those clothes”, and essentially “don’t get raped”. This is an attempt at controlling the effects of an evil heart. If we focus only on the effects though without examining the causes and what can be done to remove some of those negative causes, how can we ever move from the type of situation where we tell women “don’t get raped” to a place where we tell our boys “don’t rape”. This won’t change the heart in itself, and it won’t happen overnight, but if we continue to not enforce consequences and do not put preventative measures in place, we can slowly start to change actions through what would essentially be classical conditioning. Short of human-sized Skinner boxes, I don’t really have any suggestions with ways to change things outright at the moment. What I do know though, is whether the issue is sexual assault or firearm violence, is that we cannot continue to sit back and say “guns aren’t the issue” or “a woman’s actions aren’t the issue” while we tote the “we have to change the heart” line. Unless of course, we intend to do something–actually, not intend, but do, as intention without action is meaningless–then we cannot idly sit back saying “the issue lies elsewhere” without trying to do something to address that issue. I see “we need gun control” and “we don’t need gun control” but I almost never see “these are steps we can take as a society to change the hearts of those who would commit these atrocious behaviors”.

  2. Anonymous

    Seeing as how we’ve been controlling the effects and the effects have only gotten worse for liberty and lives. How does one change the condition of the heart in a society that is rapidly rejecting religion?

    • daringerdes

      That is a great question–and I think we will flail around wildly looking for this solution or that rather than admit that the issue is the heart (and to a lesser degree culture) and God is the cure. I find it interesting that when a tragedy like this happens, we know where to go immediately–How many gatherings did we see in churches on the news. The day before atheists would have screamed “Separation of Church and State.”

  3. Also, that was my comment.

  4. John McCormick

    I am certainly not pro gun control. However, as a society, we have changed a lot in the past 200 years. Things were different when our Founders created the Constitution and our Government. Guns were not the same — automatic weapons did not exist. It would be pretty difficult to commit mass murder with a muzzle loader. Society was spread out — no malls, football stadiums or big schools. Transportation was limited – making it difficult to wreak havoc more than a couple miles from your home. Guns won’t protect us from tyrannical government anymore — not unless your gun is strapped to your own nuclear powered air craft carrier with your own personal feet of F/A-18s. Should our Constitution change with society? Would our Founders have drafted the 2nd Amendment differently if they knew about our modern technology? Is there a point where the “cause” is so out of control that we have no other option but to regulate it? I agree the remedy is internal – but I don’t see man’s heart changing until Jesus returns.

    • daringerdes

      Remember, it was not just defense against your own government but others. Against any tyranny–the great bulwark is an armed and educated free population. I would say your odds of long-term health go down (not up) when you reduce any part of the equation.

  5. It is the heart of the people that needs to be changed. Because as David Cameron said 12/17/11 “Moral neutrality and passive tolerance isn’t cutting it.” In any society I believe this begins with leadership by promoting values not by answering peoples wants/desires.

  6. Kevin O'Brien

    While most social and cultural problems lead back to a moral problem, as you highlighted here, I don’t think we can argue that the law cannot deter moral problems that afflict citizens of society(ex. hard drugs). I also understand the implications of controlling a liberty that was so close to the founding father’s cause. However, this isn’t the land of the founding fathers anymore. Time and technology changes. What was simple logic during colonial times has now become complex based on the pursuit of higher fire power and more capability. A revolutionary soldier could kill (with his musket) about 1 person every 4-6 minutes while taking into consideration loading and reloading. With a slightly modified Bushmaster you can kill dozens in that time frame. The cause and effects of gun control (or lack thereof) are no longer the same as the founding fathers framed the rights or ideals they represented. The limitation of liberty is the purpose of any civil government. If the remedy of reducing automatic weaponry causes gun enthusiasts or hobbyist to longer have their entertainment outlet and even remotely limits the possibility that a mental deranged individual has access to the weapons which could possible harm our families then I am all for it. Sure they will be traded in the black markets but it will be much easier for local authorities to seize on site.

    • Melanie

      Guns are not the only tools of a mass murderer, and as one article I read recently pointed out, they are not even the most efficient method. I think we make a mistake in thinking someone just snaps, picks up a gun and starts shooting. That is generally not the case with mass murderers, although when dealing with humans, there are not necessarily any hard and fast rules. But being interested in human motivations, I have been reading about mass murderers in light of all the hoopla. I was surprised that many of them plan their attacks, often for months. IF these same individuals don’t have access to guns, I’m not sure it’s necessarily going to get better. And I think it is incorrect to assume that an armed citizenry has no impact on tyranny even in this day and age. Nuking the citizenry would pretty much ruin the country and make it a rather moot point anyway. BTW, I think Kevin must mean semi-automatic weapons. One can legally obtain fully automatic weapons, but it has to be done at the federal level, and requires a bit of expense, licensing, federal background checks, and then only for guns made before 1986. I don’t totally know the answer, as evil exists. It just seems to me that whenever on aspect of evil subsides, other manifestations just seem to appear. I hate that these shootings take place, and I agree that you won’t just legislate them out of existence.

      • daringerdes

        Thanks for taking the time for the thoughtful reply. I did not know about the 1986 rule.

      • Many mass shootings/killings are often planned for a while, as you had mentioned. Fortunately, mass shootings are a small minority of gun-related deaths during the course of any year. Over half of gun-related deaths in the United States annually are suicides, and is the quickest growing method for them. Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for “protection” or “self defense,” 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Studies have suggested that guns in a home are more often likely to kill their owner than any kind of criminal intruder.

        These statistics can however, be significantly lowered by limiting access to guns. As one example, “In 2006, after years of suicides among young men in the Israel Defense Forces, authorities forbade the troops from bringing their rifles home on weekends. Suicides dropped by 40 percent, according to a 2010 study by psychiatrists with the IDF and the Sheba Medical Center. Those attempting suicide for the most part act on impulse, often after surprisingly brief periods of deliberation. But the impulse also passes.” (Nancy Montgomery, Contrary to what might be expected, the rate of suicides did NOT increase during the week due to limited access on the weekends. Impulse killings, whether suicide or homicide, can be avoided by limiting access to lethal methods (such as firearms). So while many mass shootings are planned out, the majority of firearm deaths could be considered impulsive. Planned killings are difficult to avoid. Impulse killings are easier to avoid if we limit access.

      • daringerdes

        So is the solution to disarm the home leading to violence at the hands of outsiders? That does not seem particularly exciting either. I poked around on the website for suicide prevention that you used. It also said: 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Shouldn’t we be aggressively targeting mental illness?

  7. Pingback: Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers (Part II – Solutions). | The Professor's Analysis

  8. daringerdes

    Just wrote a new post to address the comments I have received here and elsewhere. Check out:

  9. Pingback: America’s Distinct Worldviews: Sandy Hook Brings Them Out | Logic Puncture

  10. Pingback: Why Gun Control Won’t Work: The Economics of Human Behavior. | The Professor's Analysis

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  12. Pingback: Why Gun Control Won’t Work: The Economics of Human Behavior. | ProfessorThink:

  13. Pingback: Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers (Part II – Solutions). | ProfessorThink:

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