I’m not a big fan of the Second Amendment.
There. I said it. It almost sounds shameful.
The reason for the shame? We Americans have made the U.S. Constitution a sacred document, including the questionable parts. We are proud of it, and for good reason: it’s withstood over 200 years of nationhood and has helped make the U.S. into the nation it is today.
But what makes the Constitution great is the spirit, the philosophy behind its words. What we lose sight of in our zeal to proclaim the sanctity of this amendment or that clause is that the document is assuredly greater than the sum of its part. There are in fact parts of the Constitution that suck.
That whole three-fifths of a person part and its implicit blessing for slavery. Sucks.
The not being allowed to consume alcohol thing. Sucks. Sure, that’s an amendment, but I think the Second Amendment is actually an amendment, too. (But don’t quote me.)
If anything, the Bill of Rights is upheld by many to be even more important than the document it amends. Because as Americans, we have been taught to be rabidly protective of our rights. So much so that certain constitutional scholars like Hank Williams, Jr., believe the Bill of Rights gives them the right to do whatever they please and also be protected from any consequences resulting from the exercise of said rights.
And when a part of the Constitution has been held to be outdated or wrong-headed or vague, we pass an amendment to clear it up. That’s how we came to our senses and realized that alcohol consumption wasn’t something that needed to be prohibited and slaveholding was.
So why not repeal the Second Amendment? Well, because it’s one of the Big Ten, the Bill of Rights, a round number of 10 rights that tell us what the government won’t ask us to not do. These were the bedrock rights that our Founders (with a capital “F,” mind you) surmised were the elemental guarantees of a free citizenry. We could literally say that our Constitutional rights had been decimated if one of the ten falls. It’s a great rhetorical point waiting to happen–our free government drifting ever closer to socialism by eroding our rights away, one at a time.
And if you’re of the mindset that the Big Ten aren’t to be tampered with, my weak treatise here will not sway you. But consider if you will the freedoms afforded by the Big Ten: speech, religion, press, trial by jury, cruel and unusual punishment, and… guns?
If that item seems a little out of place in the listing, there’s a good reason for that–IT IS. It’s the only right which has anything to do with a tangible possession. Or at least on the surface that’s what it seems to be. But here’s a shocker (don’t tell the NRA!): the Second Amendment is not, and never was, about gun ownership. Not really.
Yes, I realize that the Supreme Court has already ruled (and I paraphrase), “Nevermind that the explicit reason for the amendment had nothing to do with guns, it still applies generally to gun ownership.” I will defer to the wisdom of the Court, and politely suggest we rethink the wisdom of the amendment itself.
Here’s why: the right to bear arms in the 18th century was linked directly to the ability of a citizenry to fight government tyranny. The idea we should include such an amendment came from the English Bill of Rights, where this was a BFD because there was a monarchy that had a history of throwing its weight around.
Astonishingly, some gun rights advocates loudly announce this same fact. Apparently they don’t understand that we are three centuries in the future and the game has changed.
There was a crucial partner to the Second Amendment in this alliance against government tyranny. That partner was a decentralized military. Between armed citizens on the one hand, and government security patched together haphazardly with all the various militias the states could drum up on the other, there’s no way the government could sufficiently organize itself to bully its citizens.
Unfortunately, it also couldn’t fight a decent war and protect itself that way. By the twentieth century, the U.S. had abandoned the decentralized military as a national precept. Problem was, there wasn’t really an amendment to go along with that, so it kinda just happened.
But we remain lovingly attached to its forsaken partner, the right of the citizens to bear arms, because it made it into the Big Ten. Sorry to break it to you folks, but no matter how much guns and ammo you stockpile, you probably don’t stand a chance against a single regiment from a single base from a single arm of the U.S. military, much less the whole blessed thing.
So, with all due deference to the Supreme Court, I daresay the Founders would be shaking their heads at how we’ve cherished this right to bear arms when the whole setup the amendment leaned on has collapsed. They would have never included the amendment if the Constitution were to be drafted today. Because, really and truly, the right to have a gun is just about as inalienable right as the right to own biological weapons, or lawn darts, or a copy of “Meet the Spartans.” Some things are just awful and no one needs to have them.
We have rights, and the Bill of Rights helps enumerate them, but we all know there are circumstances where they do not apply. The FCC gets a barrage of complaints (from a lot of the same folks on the same side of the political aisle as the pro-gun lobby) about programming that is deemed to be offensive and should not be allowed. This is a straightforward instance of the government limiting freedom of speech, for what is generally believed to be a good reason. I’m not necessarily saying that the content of public airwaves should be unregulated, but if you’re going to sit there and tell me a nipple is dangerous (yes, I’m still bitter) but a gun is not, if it’s in the hands of a responsible gun owner, then pardon me if I laugh in your face. We can qualify freedom of expression in a zillion ways every day, but the first instance of responsible gun control regulation is met with reports directly from the deathbed of the Second Amendment.
So, that’s why I almost feel inclined to say, screw it, repeal the damn thing and put it out of its misery. If the pro-gun lobby feels that it’s that feeble, and as I’ve demonstrated, its original intent has been made totally irrelevant, then kill the poor thing. It’s served its purpose, and I hope to live 221 years like it has. No tears shed on this end. Heck, maybe we could even shoot it, so it could bleed irony as it dies.
But whether we let it live is only a formality from my perspective. People in Japan have the “right” to bear arms, but the administrative hoops to jump through make it prohibitively bothersome. We could do something similar and still pay lip service to the amendment. The real benefit of repeal is that we wouldn’t have to listen to people talking about guns and the Constitution as if they were the actual focal point of the document.
So although I mainly wanted to address my feelings on the amendment, I’d like to put in a word or two about actual gun control. As you may have guessed, I’m in favor. Nations like Japan have insanely minuscule instances of gun fatalities. But Japan is an apple and the U.S. is a blood orange, I will admit. We can’t automatically transfer the laws of one nation to the other; to do so would be to ignore the social context. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s just assume that more gun control equals fewer guns which equals fewer deaths. I think the greater good is served by this scenario, which overrides your right to own a gun.
“But if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” If I hear that once more, I’ll scream. It’s a meaningless tautology, and let me demonstrate how. Let’s substitute some other currently recognized criminal offense into that sentence and see how it sounds: “If you outlaw rape, only outlaws will be raping people.” “If you outlaw drunk driving, only outlaws will drive drunk.” You get the picture. Outlaws, by definition, are going to do things regardless of what the law says. That’s a given.
The underlying rationale to this defense is that we need to be able to shoot down the criminals before they shoot us. Does that mean I need to swig a bottle of tequila and go run down a drunk driver before he has a chance to do the same thing to someone innocent?
Of course not. The truth is that the playing field is never even–criminals always have the upper hand because they’re willing to do things that others will not. They are on the offensive. This applies, however, to ALL laws. Stating that a law is not valid because criminals won’t follow it is, as I’ve stated, a tautology. If they were following the law, they wouldn’t be criminals. Starting to see how this line of reasoning goes nowhere?
Having said that, gun control should be enforced from the channels of distribution first, and possession only secondarily. Once the distribution is better regulated and it’s more difficult for anyone, good or bad, to get a gun, then we can reap the rewards of saved lives.
Will this be hard? Yes. Will it be another war on drugs? Well, possibly, but last I heard that’s still in effect, even for marijuana–if you really want to talk about the government interfering with the pursuit of happiness… never mind, that’s a different subject.
And who knows… maybe everyone will start bludgeoning each other with hammers like the pro-gun advocates maintain. Maybe guns are just a scapegoat; maybe people actually do kill people, instead of guns. But I do wonder how far any of the assorted gunmen of the past several years would have gotten if they had attempted a mass bludgeoning.
But one thing’s for sure… the Second Amendment does not apply to lawn darts, and you absolutely cannot throw one of those at a home intruder, a drunk driver, or a rapist. You just need to pray he doesn’t have a lawn dart aimed at you.
Because if you outlaw lawn darts…