Anarchy X: The Second Amendment

“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.”

What is it with those Founding Fathers? Once again, we have a set of words and clauses that obscure as much as they illuminate. I know, I know, some people look at this and say that it’s perfectly clear what it means. Unfortunately, I’ve had as many people tell me it clearly means one thing as I have had tell me it clearly means something diametrically opposed that the only thing I can say with certainty is that there is no “clear” meaning.

So here’s what I think this means, and I know this is not the most popular definition, but I’m going to put it out there: people have a right to defend themselves, from any and all comers. This includes state actors, foreign and domestic. Keep in mind that it was not so long before the drafting of the Constitution that a war was fought by the people, using their own weapons, to fend off an oppressive government. As the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, national rebellion.”

For those who believe the purpose of this amendment was to establish a militia for national defense, and we don’t need that since we have a standing army or the National Guard or whatever else, allow me to point out that at the time this was written the people of this country already had plenty of experience with their government having a standing army. If you don’t believe me, check the Third Amendment. It exists specifically because of past experiences with the British army back when they were British citizens. However, we don’t need to restrict ourselves to the intent of the past; we can look to the present to consider what our best course of action is.

Consider the Arab Spring that so much has been made of, and Egypt in particular. So many people were elated when Hosni Mubarak was deposed, and they anticipated the rise of democracy. But a funny thing happened rather quickly. Turned out that it wasn’t really Mubarak who was in charge after all, it was the military. The guys with the guns. And they aren’t giving up so easily. The protesters might have won a major battle, but there’s a long war left to go.

This isn’t to say that the U.S. is the same as Egypt, not even close. But there were a lot of people who got very upset at the Patriot Act, and that’s not the only restriction on freedom we’ve seen in the last twenty years. What happens if this trend continues for another twenty years? What about if the protesters who occupied parks across the country feel they aren’t being listened to? What if they start to riot and get thrown in jail, and emergency powers are enacted to deal with the problem?

These aren’t likely scenarios, but they are possible ones, and they aren’t the only ones. They are simply a few of the ways that a government that has nothing to fear from the people can start to tighten its grip on the people it is supposed to protect, often with the best of intentions (and we all know everyone in government has the best of intentions, don’t we Messrs. McCarthy and Nixon?) And governments should be afraid of their people. Every day, in every way, governments should rule with a very light hand because they understand the price of choosing wrong.

Gun control advocates will try to claim there is a public interest in limiting the number and availability of guns, but why? How does that help? This is like any other sort of prohibition, in that the more you do it the more you drive the market underground, and the more you give profits to criminals.

The worst part is when good people start to use the exact rhetoric for gun control their opponents use in other circumstances without even batting an eyelash at the irony: “Register your guns; if you’re innocent you have nothing to worry about.” Sure. While we’re at it, let’s just go ahead and get fingerprints and DNA from everyone in the country as well. Same logic applies, right? Makes it easier to find the bad guy when a crime is committed. More accurately, too.

I’m not going to say something silly like “guns don’t kill people.” Of course guns can kill people. So can cars, knives, rocks, televisions, glass bottles, and (if you eat enough of it) my mother’s cooking. That doesn’t mean we try to ban those other things (although if anyone wants to try to ban mom’s cooking, sign me up.) We acknowledge the risks, and we do what we do in any situation: we enforce the laws we already have. If you hurt someone with a gun, you committed a crime and you should go to jail. Simple. That doesn’t mean that owning a gun should be a crime all by itself.

ADDENDUM: I originally wrote this post before the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. First, I would like to say my heart goes out to those who lost friends and family that day. To those who wonder if this changes my position on gun ownership, I regretfully have to answer no. This is a black swan event. I do not believe that extreme cases such as this make a good and justifiable case for any sort of gun control, as they are an example of the sort of individual I spoke of above who will find a way to hurt other no matter what, and punishing the vast majority of law-abiding citizens in an unreasoning attempt to protect us is specious and wrong-headed. However, in the name of fairness, I would like to direct anyone who is interested to this post by Jason Alexander, which represents the opposing view (h/t to R.L. Mirabal). While I do not agree with everything he has to say, I do believe he has some salient points to make and his post is well worth reading. If nothing else, he at least seems open to rational discussion, rather than simple finger-pointing and blindly clinging to one position. In times like these, more rationality and less blind ideology would be a nice change of pace from all of us.


9 Comments on “Anarchy X: The Second Amendment”

  1. Dave says:

    Great post. I was cracking up at your remark about your mom’s cooking.

    I think it’s also important to point to statistics which clearly show the correlation between tight gun control and higher crime rates, and vice versa. I feel like that’s the nail in the coffin you really need when trying to bring someone from the left over to your side. People tend to be so entrenched in their views that logical arguments alone won’t suffice, and that’s where the data comes into play.

    I do agree with all the points you made however. It’s unfortunate the founding fathers were so unclear when it comes to the second amendment (and quite a few others, to be honest). The vague phrasing has allowed politicians to turn much of the Constitution on its head, which is a real tragedy.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      I sometimes wonder about the value of bringing statistics to an argument. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have found it can be counterproductive in two ways.

      First, it can make you seem cold-hearted. While I would like to believe that any discussion about law will be strictly about logic and the facts, many people (on either side of an issue) will bring their emotions to it, which is why the phrase “won’t someone please think of the children” has become so trite.

      Second, anyone can use (and abuse) statistics. I once saw a debate on gun control where two people on opposite sides of the debate used the exact same statistics, from the same city in the same time frame, to show their side was right. Quite convincingly, too. It’s all about how you spin it. A well-constructed logical argument doesn’t involve spin. You may not AGREE with it, but at least there’s no hiding it.

      • Dave says:

        When I debate my friends on the left I always run into the same problem – they bring up absurd hypothetical situations (say, 10 mentally ill/depressed patents walking around with firearms) to conclude that people cannot be trusted with guns. Whenever I come across that, I feel like there’s no possible logical argument I could make that would make them see my way – the more I try, the more I’m asked to answer completely ridiculous hypothetical questions.

        That’s where I feel a need to invoke statistics, to prove that my arguments hold more credence than their hypothetical scenarios. Although statistics have their downsides, as you mentioned, I don’t think there’s a way to bring people over to your way of thinking without them. At the very least, I’ll convince them that crime won’t in fact skyrocket with more guns in society, after which I’d ask the need to restrict freedom if crime stays about the same anyway.

        I’ve found that logical arguments, coupled with statistics, are the way to go with virtually every argument I’m trying to make. Statistics are just evidence for a logical explanation of something; without them, there’s really no proving or disproving your case.

  2. Lee Weishar says:

    I’m guessing it was left unclear in order to be clear. It was kept simple so there wouldn’t be any way around the idea that people have the right to bear arms. It was made so that people couldn’t even argue the meaning – that the people cannot be told they can carry weapons.

    I have to wonder if the founding fathers knew how well people in the future could manipulate meanings to suit their personal beliefs 🙂

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      An interesting thought. Certainly the history of philosophical thought seems to bear you out. It’s not unusual for two sides to argue from the same axioms and base principles (and here I’m thinking particularly of the Lutheran Schism and Catholic Reformation) to go in completely different directions. Plus the classic emotional argument has been around since debate began (“won’t someone please think of the children!” – Aristotle, BC 350).

  3. Yep, Jason Alexander does have some good points. And I see your point about a black swan event too. But I’m guessing that neither of you have lived face-to-face with daily violence or you wouldn’t be able to write about it quite so eloquently. Then again, I could be wrong.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      You are correct in that I have not lived directly with daily violence in the sense that I have not lived in a place like Bosnia, Iraq, or another warzone, or even someplace that has a reputation for regular violence like South Central Los Angeles. I have however lived in the seedier parts of Richmond, where in my first apartment there was a guns-for-drugs deal right outside of my apartment one night, a friend of mine got mugged on campus a few blocks away from where I lived, and it was not an uncommon occurrence to hear gunshots on any given night from out in the street. (Hope my mom isn’t reading this right now.)

      I have lived close enough to violence to know it is real, and to know it is brutal, ugly, and vicious. I have also seen violence in many forms, not just from guns, and I do not believe that banning guns is the solution to stopping violence. For example, it is far too easy to find examples of mass killings done with knives, yet there is no call to ban knives. I understand knives have other uses than killing, but I assert that guns do as well.

  4. […] allow me to address the “right to bear arms” crowd. As an acknowledged supporter of the Second Amendment myself, I hope that you will not see it as an attack when I say: STFU. Please. Just for five minutes. If I […]

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