Jul. 21st, 2012

max_boma: (Dwarf)
The Second Amendment seems to be one of the amendments to the US Constitution that is held most sacred. Any time there are outbreaks of gun-related violence, any discussion of "Can We (Should We) Limit Guns in the USA?" is immediately shouted down on Second Amendment grounds. The Second isn't used for its intended purpose as often as the First (free speech, free religion), Fourth (illegal searches, and, implicitly, privacy), or Fifth (self-incrimination), but we sure don't dare challenge it.

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.

When has the right to keep and bear Arms ever preserved the security of a free State?

I'm not talking about hunting, for recreation or for nourishment. I'm not talking about contests to shoot targets or take the largest trophy. I'm not talking about the ability to arm oneself and shoot up a movie theater, or a high school, or a college campus, or a McDonald's restaurant, or a post office, or anywhere else. When has the right to keep and bear Arms ever preserved the security of a free State?

I can only think of one situation in American history that I think the founders of the country, the authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, would argue meets the framework of the Second Amendment: the American Civil War, 1861-1865. Eleven states thought their security was so threatened by the federal government that they rose in armed opposition to the government, just like the colonists rose against Great Britain in 1775. The colonists won and got to keep their country; the confederated states lost and had to request re-admission as states.

How many times since then has a state used its militia to preserve its security? They've used militias in times of natural disasters. They've joined their militias to the federal military in times of war. They've used their militias as police forces, to quell riots and insurrections within their borders, but not against the federal government since 1865.

Despite that history, we routinely get gun nuts and other whack jobs spouting propaganda like, "The tree of liberty has to be watered with the blood of patriots," now and then. (I'm sure there are some people who espouse such rhetoric who don't rise to the level of "whack job." So sue me.) They shout down any debate about how reduce the odds of being killed by an armed assailant with their rhetoric, as if the Second Amendment is the only thing that's preventing the federal government from imposing Obamacare upon us.

Wait, no, that can't be right; the Federal Government is imposing laws upon the states, in accordance with the laws passed by the elected representatives of the people. When a whack job like Ted Nugent starts talking about "Second Amendment remedies" to Obamacare, he's not taken as a thoughtful Constitutional scholar and States Right advocate; he's regarded as a loose cannon, pardon the pun, having a temper tantrum because he doesn't like when the system doesn't give him his way.

Remember: states like Texas are proposing opting out of various Federal programs mandated by Obamacare (I hate the term, by the way, but the level of emotion it denotes is appropriate here), as the law allows, but they aren't discussing calling up their militias in opposition to this law.

So, I ask you: what's the Constitutional benefit of this system and framework that lets criminals amass enough firepower to kill thirteen people at a high school, or fourteen people in a movie cinema, or thirty-two people on a college campus, or twenty-one people in a McDonald's?

The Second Amendment was used once, by the Confederate States, and it didn't work. It'll never by used again for its nominal purpose. It's obsolete.

The Micro-Argument

What about the premise that the Second Amendment is meant to let individual citizens arm themselves in self-defense?

Well, first off, that's not what the Amendment says. The Amendment is about the security of the state. I know the gun nuts will reply that this is what the Supreme Court has repeatedly said the Amendment means, but I consider that interpretation a bastardization of some rather plain, self-evident words, just like so many of my philosophical or rhetorical opponents would say of so many other court interpretations and rulings.

Secondly, even if that is the goal, is it working? Are we safer as a society because we're rife with more firearms than other industrialized nations? 

That question is so obvious that the only way to debate it is to set up straw-man arguments based on partial implementations of gun control. "If this District has strict laws and its neighbor doesn't, crime rates don't go down." Well, duh!  If it's easy to circumvent a law by crossing an unguarded, unregulated border, of course that law won't prove how effective it would be in a complete implementation. "If handguns are criminalized, only criminals will have guns!" OK, that works for me, except that there are always exceptions for law enforcement, and we might even allow long-arms (rifles, shotguns, etc) for sport such as hunting. If possession of a handgun suddenly becomes a justification for treating a person like a suspected illegal immigrant in Arizona, what's wrong with that? "Officer, he has a gun!" "Sir, can you prove to me that you are licensed to bear that arm? No? OK, come with me." Drug dealers, bank robbers, and carjackers all suddenly have to find other ways to exert their criminal power.

Seriously, what's the worst that happens if we ban handguns except for sworn military personnel on active duty and law enforcement officers on duty? I really don't see how the Second Amendment is making us safer.


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February 2013


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