Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Second Amendment... What Does It Mean?

Lefty's is back and running after a long break, so I feel it's time to weigh in one of the issues that has sprung up since the incident in Tuscon, Arizona. I thought about writing shortly after the event, but I felt it was disrespectful to jump into the politics immediately afterwards. But enough time has passed, that it's reasonable to have a serious discussion about gun control. It's not "exploiting a crisis" for us as a nation to reconsider what is important when a tragedy happens. So I think it's worth talking about guns and their role in our country.

One thing I've heard many times is that "Guns don't kill, people do." This is not entirely untrue. People have many different ways to kill someone, and we can't prevent that by keeping every potentially dangerous item out of people's hands. So my response to "Guns don't kill, people do" would be "Guns don't kill, but they transform murder into massacre." No other common method of murder is able to kill so many so easily. This is what makes the gun more controversial than a knife, a wrench, or lead pipe. (Clue anybody?)

And this brings us back to the Second Amendment, so often quoted by the NRA and their supporters. I present it here, in its full text.

"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."

That first phrase seems to be dropped by gun supporters a lot, because frankly they find it inconvenient. The people have the right to guns because of the necessity for a "well regulated militia". Does that mean only the military should be allowed to own guns? Or are they referring to something different when they talk of a militia? If they are speaking of an old style civilian militia, is that really still necessary when there is no longer a threat of Indian attacks in a time when we were merely thirteen states in a relatively new and unknown land? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I have never seen a gun rights supporter try to explain these to me. And frankly the militia is not even the most important part of that phrase.

"Well regulated". The second amendment includes the words "well regulated" in it. I agree with everyone's right to keep and bear arms. I do not think we should outlaw guns entirely. I have absolutely no problem with people who want to buy hunting rifles., and I have no desire to stop them from doing what they enjoy. I do believe, as the founders carefully put it, that the civilian militia, which has become just civilians in the modern day, should be WELL REGULATED. To anyone who believes that right to bear arms should not be regulated at all, I ask, should I be allowed to bear nuclear arms? Bombs and explosives such as C4 are another form of arms or weaponry, so should we allow those to be sold at Wal-Mart? If those regulations are necessary, why should we not also keep assault weapons out of stores. The fact is an AK-47 is a weapon of mass destruction. In the course of human history, the AK-47 has killed far more people than the atomic bomb.

When the founders were writing the constitution, the only weapon that could be easily obtained by the common person was a musket. After firing one shot with a musket, a soldier had to get a cartridge, tear it open with his teeth, put a little bit of powder in the firing mechanism, put the rest of the powder and a gun ball down the barrel, ram the ball and powder home, cock the musket and fire. It took a hell of a lot of work to kill more than one person with that thing. We have to accept that the founders had no comprehension of the kind of weapons that can be legally bought today. And despite that they still had the word "well regulated" included in the infamous Second Amendment. Assault weapons aren't needed for hunting, they aren't needed for defense, and they aren't needed for entertainment. They are needed for murder on a scale we should never be willing to accept. We had a Federal Assault Weapons Ban from 1994-2004 and think about all the lives that have been needlessly lost since. It's time for us to step up and decide whether this "essential right" is worth the lives which they have taken and that can never be given back.


Christian Myers said...

In Minnesota there is a movement and now a state legislature committee hearing pursuing the idea of repealing the state requirements for background checks prior to gun purchases. I was shocked when I found out. I just don't get why "well regulated" is such a bad thing. Even if I were a hunter or lived somewhere where I needed a gun for self-defense (though I feel less access to guns is a better way to resolve that issue), I would still be willing to undergo a background check and wait a little while if the trade off is the safety of my family, friends, and fellow Minnesotans. The only people who should be worried about a background check before a gun purchase are the kinds of people who shouldn't have guns in their hands anyway.

I also agree that opposing a ban on assault weapons is ridiculous.

My final comment is that I am so glad you called attention to the entire second amendment. I visited the NRA headquarters in Washington D.C. once, and right on the wall in the main lobby they quote the second amendment: "...the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
I'm not kidding. The ellipses are actually included. It just doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

Wait, so if an AK-47 is a WMD, does that mean that we did find some in Iraq?

Anonymous said...

Your point about 'well regulated' is well taken, but the purpose of the militia is to deter tyranny - look at the role of militias in the revolution. Since the military is an arm of the government, allowing only the military to have arms does not deter anything.

Interestingly, if the hope was to deter tyrannical governments then it seems that today, in order to match our military's might, people ought to be able to own all sorts of weapons (AK47s, tanks, and bombers, etc.).

So the relevance of the second amendment today is a very interesting question.