Just say meh to guns
First of all, so I don’t lose the pro-gun reader, I own a gun. Actually, I own a gun, knives, swords. I used to own a bow and a crossbow. I still kind of wish I had a handheld repeating crossbow, but that’s only because I’ve been a D&D geek for too long.
However, gun nuts scare me. Gun nuts are the ones who say they need guns to protect them from the government or seem hopeful that someone will break into their house so they can shoot them. Gun nuts are the ones that seem to think the second amendment is a clarion call to them.
Perhaps this is an issue where ambivalence is key. Anyone that is too committed to either side isn’t generally open to nuance. There may be gun-grabbers in government, but they are a minority. There may by gun crazy militias, but thankfully they are also a minority. The topic of gun rights and regulation is best left to those who can stand somewhere in the center and not be emotionally moved by the idea of either of these boogeymen.
The thing is, we can’t jump to the second amendment every time we talk about gun regulation. The founding fathers had no idea of the extent to which firearms would evolve. Sadly, no time-travelling bandits with laser-targeting machine guns ever waylaid Benjamin Franklin on his way to his print shop.
While I’m not ideologically against guns, I’m not falling for the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” We know the evolution of weaponry has turned the tides of civilizations. I believe it was Attila the Hun who owed wide-reaching military hegemony to the superior power of …the bow and arrow.
Weapons violently change the potential for casualties. Guns, like cars, need to be subject to sober and reasonable control. We’re all good with licensing and insurance. We understand the need for punitive laws to discourage driving under the influence. Why then are some people unable to apply that logic to regulation of something specifically designed to cause damage?
Of course a gun ban wouldn’t end violence, but we’re not talking about either. It’s as much an issue of culture as it is an issue of regulation.
When drunk driving laws were introduced, states began public relations campaigns, and private activism groups worked for public awareness. The culture changed. People didn’t just stop driving drunk because it was against the law, they stopped because it became seen in the culture as wrong.
Obviously drunk driving hasn’t completely stopped, but it has dropped. Roughly 20,000 deaths in 1980 compared to 10,000 in 2015. When you account for the increase in population that number becomes even more impressive.. Bartenders call cabs for drunk patrons. “Designated driver” became part of our lexicon.
But 10,000 people still die due to driving under the influence each year. “Designated drivers” are not that effectively a part of our culture.
With guns, what we have is a nonsensical set of premises that teeter from one extreme to another. We have exploitation of every opportunity for political points on either side, and we have a glorification of or demonization of guns that will do nothing but confuse the uninformed and empower the all-too-creepy.
Sober gun regulation encourages sober cultural treatment of what should be a greater social concern.
Most Americans, including most gun owners, are in favor of measures such as tougher gun regulation, closing the loopholes, better mental health and felony screening, and research to determine the best way to reduce gun violence. Most members of the NRA are in favor of greater regulation. But somehow we’re still stymied by the argument that the Second Amendment guarantees unfettered access to guns. A loud, intractable minority screams “Second Amendment! na na na,” plugs their ears, and successfully shuts down all discussion.
The bad news for them is that the Second Amendment is not there for them. Their Second Amendment argument is bullshit.
There is nothing in the second amendment that guarantees unrestricted access to firearms.
A basic historical and grammatical analysis of the second Amendment
This is the full text of the Second Amendment
It’s short and sweet–done so, ironically, to avoid confusion and allow for flexibility.
The Second Amendment is a compound sentence with an independent clause preceded by two modifying dependent clauses.
The Supreme Court interprets “A well-regulated militia” as implying the imposition of proper discipline and training.” IMPOSED proper discipline and training. People that argue the second amendment protects unfettered gun ownership ignore this fundamental point.
To put the SCOTUS argument another way, the keeping of arms with regulation through compelled discipline and training.
The second clause, “being necessary to the security of a free state,” modifies the first and main parts. Why do we need a well-regulated militia? To protect the security and freedom of the state.
Well regulated gun ownership for the security of the free states is the only function for which well-regulated gun is guaranteed.
To paraphrase, the first two, modifying clauses establish that a well-regulated and trained militia with is necessary for the security and freedom of the states.
The final part, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” is equally clear. It establishes the right of “the people.” The people being the “body politic.”
It actually means. “the people of a nation, state, or society considered collectively as an organized group of citizens,” and “a group of persons politically organized.” A body politic is also “a metaphor in which a nation considered to be a corporate entity.” (Under the old use of the word corporate.)
When the Bill of Rights or the Constitution is addressing an individual’s rights, it does so explicitly.
- In the the Fifth Amendment it speaks of the individual: “No PERSON (individual) shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime… nor shall any PERSON be subject for the same offence twice…”
- In the Sixth Amendment, it speaks again of an individual: “The ACCUSED shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”
- The Fourth Amendment drives this argument home by parsing between the collective and the individual: “The right of the people to be secure in their PERSONS, houses, papers and effects…” They first speak of the governed body, but quickly make clear people are to be secure in their persons against unreasonable search and seizure.
When the Bill of Rights or the Constitution is addressing the body politic, the people, the plurality, they do so explicitly.
- “We the people of these united states.”
- The first amendment, “…the right of the PEOPLE to peaceably ASSEMBLE.” This is why loitering can be illegal and protest cannot be made illegal.
- In the second amendment, “the right of the PEOPLE to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The Second Amendment never avows that individuals must be allowed to buy and collect guns in any capacity they choose, free of regulation. It guarantees nothing outside of a trained body serving a governing body for the body politic.
At the time of the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, gun ownership wasn’t something considered controversial. Most guns were owned by rich or land-owning white men–the gentry, traders, and pioneers. While Indians did own guns, they were usually an inferior quality of “trade gun.” (Also, an indian on a horse could loose thirty arrows in the time it took a man to reload and fire a gun.)
They had no cause for concern of heavily armed crowds of the poor, or blacks, or women. The power and money and almost all the land was in the hands of rich, white men who feared the power of a centralized tyrannical body. Remember that they had recently fought to free themselves from the British crown. As the states navigated their way through the ultimate structure of the federal government, the one thing that slowed the process down was near universal distrust of a federal body that could potentially have overwhelming financial and military control over the states.
Remember, at the time these rich, white, land-owning men had mor manpower and firepower than the government, and they intended to keep it that way.
There is nothing in the constitution or any of the amendments that tries to curtail gun ownership, but there is nothing that guarantees individual, unfettered gun ownership.
Even if you ignore the facts or my interpretation of the Second Amendment, there is nothing that promises uncontrolled, unregulated or untrained gun ownership. It instead attaches those each as stipulations to keeping guns. In almost all previous drafts of the second amendment, the modifying stipulations are present in some way.
Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776
“XIII. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power.”A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth or State of Pennsylvania, 1776
“XIII. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; And that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1780
“Art. XVII. The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority and be governed by it.”
Proposed by James Madison June 8, 1789 to the House of Representatives:
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Common misunderstanding of the Second Amendment prevails in most segments of the population mainly because of the perpetuation of incomplete or purposefully inaccurate interpretations of the Second Amendment. People seem to love quoting the second half of the amendment, or cutting and selectively pasting the words of founding fathers speaking about the issue at the time.
An example of this quote splicing. Notice how in context the message changes:
Partial: “The great object is, that every man be armed…Every one who is able may have a gun.”
Whole: “May we not discipline and arm them [the states], as well as Congress, if the power be concurrent? so that our militia shall have two sets of arms, double sets of regimentals, &c.; and thus, at a very great cost, we shall be doubly armed. The great object is, that every man be armed.But can the people afford to pay for double sets of arms, &c.? Every one who is able may have a gun. But we have learned, by experience, that, necessary as it is to have arms, and though our Assembly has, by a succession of laws for may years, endeavored to have the militia completely armed, it is still far from being the case.”
— Patrick Henry speaking at the 1788 Virginia debate to ratify the Constitution. The partial quote was used by Stephen Halbrook in The Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
The above quoted material is from “Interpreting the Second Amendment,” at Lawsonline.
There are many good sources to learn about the historical context and the expressed sensibilities, like the above and at Cornell University online. Make sure any sources you use to better understand the Second Amendment, or ANY of the Bill of Rights, or …ANYTHING, be primary sources or objective resources like these, and NOT libertarian and conservative websites that are guilty of the worst kind of shenanigans. There is no real agenda to ban guns. Politicians that express a wish that there were no guns are not exactly confessing to some Illuminati/Mason/George Clooney plot to rid Americans of Guns so Obama can become supreme ruler of New Kenya.
There are plenty of worthwhile ideas for regulation that would in no way hamper private gun-ownership, but for that to happen, we must first overcome the paranoid and pathological arguments that are allowed to enter into reasonable mainstream debate, but that’s a discussion for the next article. For now, give your hysterical friends a friendly kick in the face and tell them that hyperbole alone won’t advance this or any other politically entrenched debate. Gun regulation must grow out of a mature society and must be a reflection of the desire for a mature and cautious society.
Hey! The limey jackass is making a perfectly cogent point that could bear discussion among the non-drooly.
Also, while, satellites and streaming internet are certainly a technological advance, they aren’t exactly dangerous.
UNLESS you are a multi-national corporation and that technology is in the hands of people like us!
Efforts to regulate media and the internet continue and to such a degree, it makes the specter of gun bans seem like an old woman wagging her finger and clicking her tongue.
Maybe we should focus more of our attention and ranting on THAT contemporary political issue! The corporations are the new tyrants, and no amount of modern arms can protect us from them. Only critical thinking skills and the cooperative action of the body politic.
The new militia member is the independent informed reader.