I am a high school government teacher and on a daily basis I think about the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. I am a big fan of the Second Amendment as it is enjoyed today, even though I feel a bit sheepish because I think it has been interpreted and applied in a way that is inconsistent with the original intent of the amendment. This will not be that argument, as this is neither the time nor place. What I want to do is carry a message to citizens and lawmakers alike. With every right we enjoy as citizens in a free republic, there is also a corresponding duty we are obliged to see through. People who think rights are not inextricably linked to duties are sorely mistaken -- and if they become the majority of Americans, this country's future is in serious jeopardy.
Not only am I a high school government teacher, but I teach at Highland High School, where the campus was locked down this Monday past because two criminals committed a robbery, stole firearms from a home in the neighborhood, and were spotted near the school. Readers can imagine the thoughts in the heads of the staff and, more importantly, the students as our lockdown commenced just days and weeks after recent gun-related tragedies. This potential crisis was averted as the Bakersfield Police Department, in conjunction with our campus officer, apprehended the suspects quickly. However, this crisis could have been prevented had the owner of the firearms taken greater steps to secure them.
The people of America have the right to own guns; this is beyond contestation. But along with this right, every gun owner has a duty, a very serious duty, to secure those firearms. Most gun owners in America are responsible, law-abiding citizens, and yet, think of all the gun owners you know who could do a much better job at securing their firearms. I think owning an assault rifle is fine -- I know I have enjoyed shooting them -- but along with the right to own that deadly weapon is an absolute duty to make sure that gun does not fall into the hands of someone who would commit a crime with it. I hope President Obama's plans help stem gun violence, but I think they will probably have little effect, save closing the "gun show loophole" and mandating universal background checks. The only way to make a real impact is for state governments to introduce laws that hold gun owners accountable for securing their weapons. If a gun is used in the commission of a crime, then whoever bought that gun legally should be fined steeply. If your firearms are stolen, there should be a mandatory reporting window to alert police your weapons are stolen -- and you must prove to an investigating officer that your guns were secured at the time they were stolen. If you cannot prove your weapons were secured, then you should be fined steeply. If you are a firearms manufacturer, you need to produce traceable firearms that can be tracked by more than just a serial number that a gun thief can file off.
Enacting or enforcing these two measures -- forcing weapons manufacturers to make more traceable products and fining gun owners for not securing their firearms -- would completely circumvent any kind of debate about taking guns away from people, or what kinds of guns we should take away, or what kinds of magazines we may be permitted to own. Mental health considerations and enhanced background checks fed into an up-to-date federal database would make sense, but they would be much more difficult to enact and would not produce nearly the results that these two measures would.
Please, fellow citizens, secure your firearms, honor the precious right that has been handed down to you by responsible citizens of the past. Lawmakers, hold the public and weapons manufacturers to account if they are failing to recognize the duties that come along with our rights.
James Maddox of Bakersfield teaches U.S. government at Highland High School and is a James Madison fellow for California. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.