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


Gun Control: How To Think Like The Founding Fathers

After writing Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers, I received a number of comments on the blog, by Facebook,  Twitter, and  email.  While the comments varied, the majority of questions could be summarized as follows:

“Yes, I like the Founding Fathers too, but they wrote 200 years ago and times have changed. Don’t just tell us that the problem lies in the heart of man.We want a solution.”

So, here I would like to discuss solutions, but I would like to do so within the Founders’ framework.   Please allow me set up the discussion with a few of their own words:


Ben Franklin

“They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

John Adams

John Adams

“We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Robert Winthrop (Patron of Winthrop University)

Robert_Charles_Winthrop“All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. It may do for other countries and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State.”

Winthrop was not a “Founding Father” but a member of the next generation. I included his statement because it summarized the type of thinking I have been talking about. If we are internally controlled, we do not need external control. If, on the other hand, we do not control ourselves, we will lose liberty and demand that the government control us.

James Madison ThumbnailOn the floor of the Virginia Ratification Convention, James Madison asked:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure.”


Let’s begin with suggestions that would not work (or are 180 degrees from the thinking of the Founders). These include:

  • Gun-free school zones (Sandy Hook Elementary was already a gun-free school zone. Criminals tend not to follow the rules).
  • Expand gun-free areas to all public spaces (see comments above).
  • Additional gun control legislation (20 or more laws were broken at Colombine. It is yet to be determined how many laws were broken in Newtown, CT, but let’s assume criminals have little respect for the law. Do we believe that another law will help or is this an effort to feel like we have done something?)

Here are the most workable solutions I have heard:

  • Moral and religious revival (a bit difficult to implement, admittedly).
  • Cultural shift that does not glorify guns and violence (unlikely while Hollywood and Rappers exist).
  • Focus on moral and ethical training of our children (which will be difficult in a society that can no longer agree on what is right and what is wrong).
  • “Resource officers” – More police stationed at schools (please reread the Winthrop quote above).
  • We have Air Marshals–why not have School Marshals too? (or armed administrators).
  • More armed auxiliary police (e.g. deputized civilians who can be called on in crises–expanding this number is cost-effective compared to the other models. We have a lot of vets who already have training).
  • Adopt a Swiss Model (There is a reason the Nazis did not invade Switzerland–they realized it would be too costly).

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityThe first two suggestions are internal. The latter are external and somewhat expensive, but if we are unwilling to do the real work of dealing with the root of the matter (the heart), we will be required to vigilantly monitor an ever-growing number of bad guy.

A colleague that I deeply respect emailed and privately wrote this about the Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers article :

“I’m not sure how to improve [your argument]. Fact is, there is no way to remove all exigencies. Liberty requires character because it means taking responsibility for your own actions. Unfortunately, it also means bearing the cost of others misusing it.”

President Obama described the school shooting as his “compass moment.” If it is, this may be the political leadership issue of our time. I am convinced  that a departure from the Founders’ thinking will not lead us to the promised peace and security that we crave.

What Are Your Suggestions? I’ll add them to the list.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

December 18, 2012


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 (Part II – Solutions).

  1. Pingback: Gun Control: How to Think Like the Founding Fathers. | The Professor's Analysis

  2. Adam

    I want to share an amazing short film called “A Perfect Day” about a potential mass shooter on the morning of, and an unsuspecting stranger who opens the shooter’s eyes to the implications of what he’s about to do. Powerful stuff!

  3. Dave Mackinson

    I say take all the Unemployed Troops and give them all a new Job at every School door to protect the kids!

    • daringerdes

      Seems like a reasonable alternative to unemployment benefits. We have done worse things with stimulus dollars (and for my money, I would be willing to bet we will continue to do worse).

  4. My main concern with this is that it presupposes two main things: 1) that the founding fathers were necessarily right, and 2) that their words, regardless of whether they are true, are timeless. Just because it’s older (or written by a founder) doesn’t mean it’s the best. That’s something we’d talked about in class years and years ago.

    Regardless though, just looking at the quotes by Adams and Winthrop, we’re faced with an important question. Can it be said that we are a “moral and religious people” here in the United States? Are the people being controlled by a “power within them… the word of God… the Bible”? If so, then we can continue on our way. If not, however, the it could be argued from the founders’ words that our Constitution is “wholly inadequate” to the governance of the country in its current state and that we may be at a point which requires governance by “a power without [us]”. Now, whether we are moral and religious and self-governed is something that’s up for debate, I suppose, but just from what you’ve posted, if we have ceased to be able to act in an appropriate way, we need some external intervention.

    While it may be true that “[t]hey that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”, it could also be noted that “liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty” (James Madison). If we abuse the liberties that are afforded us, we run the risk of losing those liberties. I don’t think that we’re at a point where we need to entirely dismantle our liberties, but it may be time to consider reforming them. The founding fathers themselves realized that one day the government that they set up may no longer be the best way to govern the nation. For that reason, Jefferson admitted that it was our right to change our Constitution and form of government at will.

    Biblically speaking, if our liberties become a stumbling block to those who are weak, we should refrain from exercising those liberties. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that “if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” I don’t think we have to necessarily limit ourselves to analogies of food with this passage. If we do something that is not sinful (such as eating meat or owning a gun), but it causes another to stumble, it is better that we refrain from engaging in that thing to begin with.

  5. daringerdes

    On balance, you are right on the money, Mr. Walton (Last paragraph excepted) . Either we reform internally and learn to again govern ourselves and enjoy liberty, or we will slowly devolve into a police state. It may be slow or it may be gradual, but all historical evidence points to this conclusion.

    As for the Founders being right, I would put my money on the dozen Framers of the Constitution with the weakest intellects over a dozen of today’s best and brightest. I read the Constitutional Convention and Ratification debates. They had a deep understanding of human nature.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Dan Griffith Venice, Florida

    We need to educate parents, teachers, and others on the many signs of the mentally unstable potential people who may perpetrate these heinous acts. Then address those individuals with a mental health response that will be effective in protecting society. Until we can do that, a more immediate solution is needed. School systems are responsible for the safety of our children when they are in school. Willing administrators and teachers, should be taught how to use a weapon, be certified and trained on how to address a violent situation, and be allowed to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds.

  7. I would commend to the readers an old book, “Thomas Jefferson on Democracy”, edited by Saul Padover, an issue/topical assemblage of the writings and statements (verified and sourced) of Jefferson on these ideas of Citizenship, Liberty and Freedom. I would agree that education of the populace in civility and ethics is crucial for the continuing vitality of our Constitutional Republic, the last best hope for humankind. The Constitution is timeless and not an anachronism. It must be taught as such. In 1795 Jefferson wrote: “…It is unfortunate, that the efforts of mankind to recover the freedom of which they have been so long deprived, will be accompanied with violence, with errors, and even with crimes. But while we weep over the means, we must pray for the end.” We weep over Newtown, but we pray for the Republic, the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

    He also said this: “Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.”

    The Founders and Framers were keenly aware of the issues and the future play – it was not as if they were unaware of inventions and technological advances. I believe the Framers would say today: NO ASSAULT STYLE WEAPONS BAN, NO AMMUNITION BAN, NO MAGAZINE SIZE BAN. The Second Amendment was stated as a guarantee to the People that WE would have a means of taking out a repressive government or a means of defense – individually and for the greater good. The Second Amendment Foundation has excellent scholarly works on these most pressing issues.

    I would think the Framers and Founders would surely be surprised at the extent of the death of ethics and morals in this great land – the root cause of all this crap. THAT is where the attention should be turned to. I am a gun owner, I have a permit for pistols, I was on my high school rifle team, I taught my kids about weapons and we all have a healthy respect for guns and the damage they can do. We believe in Freedom and Liberty and would not take actions to ruin that. Hopefully others will do the same with theirs – that’s about the best we can hope for. Education, training, ethics and morals – makes for a good society (bell curve anyway).

    Happy New Year.

    • First, in what ways would you consider the Constitution to be timeless and non-anachronistic? In what ways are those words such that there could never be a time in which the method by which a people might need to be ruled could never change?

      Second, if the Second Amendment was a guarantee that we would be able to stand against an oppressive government, we should probably start investing in civilian nukes, rockets, tanks, planes, fully automatic weapons, and drones (among other things) — would you agree? With the weapons that we have access to, we would never be able to hold our own against the government if the situation arose. Surely access to those weapons would never make us less safe.

      Lastly, you seem to place a lot of value on freedom and liberty (judging by the capitalization of each word and the way that you’ve discussed them). At what point do we get to decide that our freedom and liberty are worth millions of other people’s deaths? When did our preferences become supreme over the value human life?

    • daringerdes

      Thanks for sharing. I think you are largely on the same page as the Founders. You might also like this:

  8. gp3

    “The People” are continuing to move to an “Enlightened” phase in which a more secular populace move away from Religion and place more faith in themselves, and ultimately in a Government that they empower to do more things on their behalf. There is a huge risk in this as seen by the Founders who were prescient but not omniscient.

    Respectfully I’ll disagree a bit with Walton who asserts that the premise is that the Founders were right and timeless. The focus is on what their motivation was for framing their decisions in the way that they did. I would submit that they understood man was fallible, that Government ultimately corrupt and that some moral essence was required to maintain the effort not to get ‘bored’ with the difficulties in restraining man’s natural impulses.

    With respect to “gun control” there are already significant local, municipal, state and federal prohibitions and restrictions on weapons in general. It is interesting to note that the opposite is true of criminal use of weapons or the restraint of the mentally ill.

    With firearms specifically “only” (and I use that term loosely) .004% of the US population will be killed in firearm related homicides. Criminals, who commit the overwhelming number of these crimes will be incarcerated less than 1/3 of the time. Nearly 100% of the mentally ill in this country are subject to self-management and ‘community mental healthcare’.

    Fearing the International stigma of high rates of incarceration, internal pressures of prison overcrowding and costs cities release criminals back on to the streets in a fashion that relegates weapons and weapons related offenses to little more than the cost of doing business.

    The ACLU and other groups have ensured that although mental illness is a disease its treatment is largely diffused, Federal Law supports those efforts and maintain a constant limbo of free people who are barely able to support themselves in communities who rarely acknowledge their existence – until tragedy strikes.

    So in response to Walton and others let me say this – are we not abusing liberty to the determent of our society not where the rights of legal gun owners are concerned – they are well restricted unlike any other Constitutionally protected right – but appear to be abusing liberty where the rights of the criminal and the violently mentally ill are concerned.

    The common element in each massacre is not the gun. It is the violently mentally ill having motive, access and ability to commit their heinous crimes. In nearly every case in an area where the free exercise of our established rights had been suppressed.

    If that is the case then your discussion, which is not specific, if focused on the 2nd Amendment needing to be reformed, not be proper or timeless I would disagree and say that we must look elsewhere to the real issue at hand, not the .004%.

    In this Winthrop was correct – in the face of Newtown “we” are demanding action from the Government.

    As for suggestions for Dr. Gerdes I would submit that the Founders understood cautious action in the face of difficult challenges and that they would also, in this case, review the preparation of the People in response to the threats to their liberty, property and lives. They understood they needed to be capable of protecting themselves.

    To that end I would point out that our schools today, a direct result of “Government” are ill suited to mitigate the risks they have and will face. Open floor plans, accessible ground floor entry points, lack of barriers to mitigate the extent of a breach, the retreat of victims into rooms with no means of escape, lack of strong doors able to withstand attack, inability of schools to ‘centrally lock’ doors (lock down drills being the ‘duck and cover’ of the decade) and an overall poor tactical situation in general do not protect our children from harm.

    Sandy Hook had sent a letter to parents generated 8.2011 in which is stated that the security system of the school required a person presenting themselves at the front door for visual inspection (camera & doorbell). Given the fact, they said, that they were busy, had hundreds of parents and a thousand students that parents, once allowed entry to the building, may have to go to the office to present ID.

    This is a fatal flaw and one, that I believe, Franklin clearly saw. Transferring responsibility and common sense to an entity and away from the Individual neither makes us safe, nor free. It merely leaves us dependent and vulnerable.

    • gp3:
      “Nearly 100% of the mentally ill in this country are subject to self-management and ‘community mental healthcare’.”

      Do you have any sources for that? Considering that approximately 1 in 5 persons in the US can be considered mentally ill at any given time, and that 1 in 2 persons will be during their lifetime, I find this somewhat hard to believe.

      Also, let’s say the common factor in these shooting massacres isn’t the gun, but is having motive, access, and ability as you said. Without guns, what type of access and ability exists to go on shooting sprees?

      • daringerdes

        I do not know the mental health statistics, but I would guess that this would be more fruitful to curb Newtown-like tragedies like this than any gun control measure. It is closer to addressing the internal issue.

  9. Don Olmstead

    These thoughts are mostly for Chris Walton. Do you consider the writings of Shakespeare to be timeless? Or Aristotle? Or Plato? How about the sculptures of Michelangelo? What about St. Peter’s Basilica, which was finished in 1626? In my mind there is no way that St. Peter’s could be improved on today. Just because something is newer does not make it better. What the founders created in the Constitution falls into this category.

    As for solutions, the one with the best chance of success is to put armed guards at every school. Most every airline flight today has an armed pilot, and that seems to work pretty well. I see no reason why doing the same at schools wouldn’t work, especially once people (and criminals) got used to the concept. I also think we have to try, no matter how hard, to restore the moral underpinnings of our society. The founders felt that a healthy family unit and strong moral character in our citizenry were essential to liberty, and I believe they were right. Recent events seem to back that up.

    • I don’t know that I would consider the timelessness issue with those things you mentioned as necessarily relevant. A painting or sculpture or play (entertainment, art), in my opinion, is categorically different than a legal document. And I think that we’ve seen time and time again that the US Constitution could be improved upon. We’ve seen it 27 times now (well, 26… the 18th one didn’t stand), and as recently as 20 years ago in Congress. The founding fathers proposed 12 of the amendments not even 2 years after the Constitution was adopted. 11 of those have since passed. Even they seemed to not put their full faith in the original document. And even with that,

      As for the stationing of security guards at every school, while it would take a while for many to become comfortable with it, it could be of some benefit. But if we do that at schools, should we not also do that in other public places to ensure further security? I saw something similar (shotgun armed guards at McDonald’s, for instance) in El Salvador.

      Admittedly, that last line was a bit of a prodding. But when I look at the four most discussed public mass shootings that have garnered media attention this year, only one was even at a school. The others were at a movie theater, a temple, and a mall. If we’re instituting measures like that at schools, how much of a stretch would it be to think that it wouldn’t extend to the general public arena? I’m not making any value judgment on what you said, as I think that there could be some benefits to higher security, but I just thought it may be worth bringing up.

  10. On another note, what do you think of this?

    The second amendment states “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.” For a long time, the interpretation of this by the United States government was that states had a right to a militia. When the idea of individual gun rights was brought up by the NRA in the late 1970’s, the conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger (who was responsible for fighting against many decisions of previous liberal courts) spoke of the idea of individual gun rights being provided for by the second amendment as “a fraud”. The United States did not officially have an interpretation of the second amendment as providing individual gun rights until the District of Columbia v Heller decision in 2008. And even that decision only mentioned handguns as an individual right. Legally, bans on any other type of weapons could hypothetically be enforced.

    I’m off to read your next article now :] Even though we disagree on what a solution might look like, we do agree on a lot of the underlying issues, I think. As much as I bring up dissenting points, these are still questions that I’m largely still working through as well.

    • daringerdes

      I have spent far too much time reading the words of the Founding Fathers to believe that this viewpoint is a product of the 1970s. It may have been revived, but it certainly did not start there.

  11. gp3

    NIMH puts the statistics at 7.5% of mental health patients are treated by inpatient means, 40% outpatient and over 52% by medication. The CDC shows that of the 1.6M visits for serious mental illness the average length of stay is 7.5 days. Also with 25% of prison and nearly 25% of jail inmates with serious mental issues they are not all permanent residents, are cyclical and are may be put back into society. According to the MHS there used to be around 500K beds which have been reduced to, including residential and VA, around 200K. There are 120M adults 18-65 in the US, +315M people total so even with 500K beds you are talking under 1% (.15%) of the population.

    So yes, the seriously mentally ill are walking among us – diagnosed or not – and we do not have a place to put them, the methods to identify or manage them proactively nor any solution to the problems they pose – potential or actual. Meanwhile some parents, relatives and neighbors will live in fear of their children and what they could become, simply reflect on it following a disaster. Having lived near these facilities and watching 3 of them burn to the ground the possibilities are breathtaking.

    There are 80M legal gun owners in the US. Statistically they are used so infrequently to kill – yet there is a ‘crisis’. Meanwhile driving is a privilege that most people abuse but the cost of policing means that most abuses are never mitigated. “Training” drivers is generally a means to getting them on the road in a way that limits initial liability with a basic level of competency. Leading cause of death in teens – automobiles – with (according to the CDC) 7 teens between the ages of 16-19 dying every day from injuries suffered in automobile accidents with young male drivers twice as likely to be killed as females.

    We have the technology to restrict all drivers to obey the speed limit, to ensure that they drive safely – and yet we mitigate the risks of their poor driving and the inevitable accident to limit personal injury at the expense of property (the auto). It is also a technology that is difficult to adapt to change. The intoxicated can still operate a motor vehicle and now distracted driving kills nearly as many people as are killed in all firearm homicides in a year.

    I use driving as an example of rationalized “acceptable loss” caused by simply by the behavior of licensed drivers yield 110 dead a day, +40K a year dead and over 500K maimed and injured a year with a lifetime cost for injuries of well in excess of $70 Billion dollars. All for the privilege of conveyance of the self managing, self reporting and almost zero policing regardless of the many laws on the books.

    Additionally automobiles are used in the commission of crime, to transport criminals as well as instruments of crime, they are used as instruments of crime and to transport the ill gotten gains of criminals including not only material goods but also human traffic – women, children and the defenseless. And yet the Founders did not see fit to regulate carriages via the Constitution and you have no right to drive we don’t bemoan the failure of their ability to see well into the future when ship, carriages and the horse were used to accomplish the same goal during their time.

    What is the cost of bad parenting, impact to Society? Were there no bad parents or bad children during the time of the founding – yet there is no there any associated active training, regulation monitoring, active policing, testing, accreditation in order to validate and license parents. The Founders did not include an Amendment to the inalienable right of Parenting – it is assumed under due process, 14th Amendment, or 1st Amendment.

    Many are preoccupied with the “militia” aspects of the 2nd Amendment. Ignoring the 2 recent Supreme Court cases which not once but twice specified that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right. Just as Dred Scott had done some 200 years before when it found that, among other things, the 2nd Amendment applied not only to the general population but to Slaves as well. This is well in advance of the 13, 14, 15 or 19th Amendments. “Well regulated” meant prepared, which became especially important during the Revolutionary War and is a core founding Principal – that the oppression of a free people is intolerable and the inability of the people to protect themselves meant they were unable to protect and secure their Rights and freedoms.

    Under both Heller and McDonald the Supreme Court clearly upheld that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right.

    Why do you not focus on the trailing part of the 2nd Amendment which is clear and declarative – “the Rights of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” as, I would submit, many would about abridging free speech as written in the 1st? What about the direct or indirect culpability of those acting under the 1st Amendment who contribute to the atrocious acts of others? Generally we don’t ascribe malicious intent to those actors, commercial or private. Did the Founders calculate the pervasive commercialization of the mass media and the rapid access of consumable information (true, false, malicious or benign) on the Internet? No, they expected the People to exercise restrain and put in place mitigating controls. What if they are simply inadequate at this time?

    The Bill of Rights was passed in order to further codify those things that were left largely to assumption under the base Constitution. It was not a lack of trust in the base document but a lack of trust that Government would act on the good faith assumptions built into the Constitution. They did not want a change in times, challenge or morality to lead to the suppression of ‘inalienable rights’ secured by the Constitution. Hamilton, for instance, felt that the Constitution was limiting enough and should not need to be altered. Thankfully this was not the case and so the “Bill of Rights” was developed and codified clearly what the Founders agreed should be foundational rights. It’s especially important to note that these are the rights of the People most grievously suppressed under their countries of origin and as such were of specific and obvious concern that they be secured.

    So now we have a ‘crisis’ where the criminal use of firearms has people consider further restrictions on the Rights of the people. The 2nd Amendment is already [among] the most heavily regulated “inalienable right” – the GCA, NFA, AEC, Brady Act, 28 CFR part 25 (NICS), sections of 18 USC § 922/924/842 are just some of the federal, there are many local, municipal, county and state laws which apply and control everything to transfer to locations you can posses and discharge firearms.

    We don’t strongly prosecute or incarcerate criminals who use weapons to commit crimes. Look to statistics that show the rate of incarceration vs pleading, reductions, dropping of charges, etc. In my home state it’s around 30%. As the victim of gun crime and the survivor of an intended mass killing I can tell you that after months of ‘vigorous’ prosecution the people committing the crime received 6 and 8 months respectfully – and were vacated after ‘time served’ for much of it.

    Where people are killed and a commercial entity is found to be at fault there are an army of lawyers who will descend on that entity and sue it into oblivion, force others to take notice and to make changes to mitigate it. In Aurora the actor there was experienced with explosives, could he not have changed tactics? Yes, it happens all of the time. Still going into a movie theater involves you sitting in a large open area with hundreds of other people, many who smuggle in all types of contraband without limit. Acceptable risk – will you allow a faceless 3rd party to mitigate risks to you and your family or will you take some responsibility for it? Many now won’t and will transfer the responsibility to the entities unable to protect them.

    Politicians are more concerned with international stigma, overcrowding and cost so they release people known to use weapons in the commission of a crime, knowing at least 25% of them are seriously mentally ill and then complain about gun crime in Cities in which personal firearm ownership is so chilled or prohibited the populace cannot protect themselves.

    So we ignore the mental health implications in favor of the rights of the mentally ill. We knowingly fail to incarcerate criminals due to political reasons. We don’t blame school administrators or “The Government” for the clear failure to protect students in buildings of their own design and construction. Instead we focus on additional restrictions on the lawful free exercise of a Constitutional right already massively regulated and restricted and call into question the foresight of the Founders.

    The Federal Government is responsible for the security of the Nation. State Governments are responsible for the safety of their States. The People are responsible for their security. Nearly all Politicians take an oath of office Unfortunately People suborn their security to that of the “Government” who are uniquely built to respond to threats on security but not necessarily capable or focused on preventing them, especially those knew and unknown.

    I’m with Franklin in his concerns for The People being able to hold onto their Republic and those who would trade liberty for safety.

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