The Second Amendment Part I

I submit that today the founders would be among those questioning the lack of gun control.

In the current climate, the second amendment to the United States Constitution has become hotly debated. Until the recent Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the second amendment was of little moment Heller largely turned the focus on the right of self-defense, but its analysis, besides twisting the words of the amendment itself (by among other things considering all able-bodied males the militia) ignores the history against which the amendment was created and our experience since then. I submit that today the founders would be among those questioning the lack of gun control.

As many civil libertarians like to say, the purpose of the second amendment was a check against a bad government. The drafters of the second amendment had themselves overthrown British rule, something accomplished through a revolution begun with local militias. The declaration of independence itself asserts that government ceases to be secure basic liberties and is no longer based on the consent of the government “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government”

The founders accomplished this not with words but with guns. The American revolution was an armed revolution. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787, “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”

However, the founders were also empiricist, men of science, who valued to the teaching of experience. At the adoption of the second amendment, the American Revolution had occurred, and the founders probably recalled the English Revolution of 1688. In those revolutions, English Kings yielded power when confronted with citizens bearing guns. History since 1791 when the Second Amendment was adopted, however, has taught a different a different lesson.

The first revolution out of the box was the French Revolution. Almost immediately after the passage of the second amendment, that revolution turned violent, and rather than resulting in a democracy, collapsed into a military government. In the ensuing years, there have been many violent revolutions, and few have resulted in democracies. It turns out that those with guns are the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, the fascists, ISIS and the like. Those with guns rarely yield to the ballot box.

The founders did not take these experiences into account because they occurred after their revolution.

Other provisions of the Constitution turned out to be far more central to democratic government. Truly democracies, it turns out, cannot survive without free speech and free press. Free speech has caused many revolutions, and have been led by people like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi. The founders likely thought that the Minutemen were far more critical to their revolution, then Thomas Paine’s writings, but history. teaches something different. Those who overthrow governments by armed revolutions rarely give up power easily. Armed revolutionaries themselves become worse tyrants than the leaders they expel.

The notion that widespread gun ownership is essential to a free society persists in conservative circles. Dictators, we are told, disarm their citizenries in order to impose power. But no American thinks if​ the president is out of control we should storm the White House with guns. Indeed, the most ardent supporter of gun rights does not flinch at a rule that prohibits citizens from bringing guns into the White House, the capital building, or even the local courthouse. What we most assuredly do not want is for our government to be violently overthrown. Even the advocacy of changing the government by violence is a criminal act. 18 U.S.C. § 2385.

In short, the very purpose of behind the second amendment has vanished. The Supreme Court, in Heller, retreated to self-defense and hunting as the justification for the amendment, topics I will address in future essays. It is notable, that the Court yielded up the central core of the amendment. History over 227 years has taught that the assumptions behind the second amendment were wrong. And if its drafters were alive today, I submit that they would be the first to recognize the error.

Comments (15)
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paulaloe
paulaloe

Editor

I just read your essay, with which I largely agree. I think our difference of opinion is the notion that gun ownership forms a basis of ensuring that the government does not become anti-democratic/tyrannical. While I believe that this a large motivation for the second amendment, I don't think that motivation has stood the test of time

Philip Carino
Philip Carino

Wow, insightful read and comments! Keep it up Paula. Can't wait to see part 2! My 2 cents: laws no matter how fundamental SHOULD be kept abreast of the times, thus there were amendments. Given these, the Heller example was quite a defining moment really making the right to own lawful guns not "unlimited". The problem now lies with a Congress who would act in ensuring that such rights be regulated so that events such as bloody shootings will not happen again

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

@paulaloe Are you even reading what I'm writing? I'm NOT suggesting we have a "revolution", with guns or otherwise. I have specifically said I would never suggest that anyone take up arms against the government. And never mind dictators, I don't think you could get 97% of people to agree on free cake. I do not think, nor have I said that unity of opinion is necessary or likely. I'll try to say this as simply as possible for you. I am in favor of allowing private ownership of weapons by citizens of the United States. I am in favor of this because I think it will act as a deterrent to tyranny, not a solution for tyranny. You don't get a vaccine to cure a disease, you get a vaccine to prevent a disease. For the rest of your life you may never encounter the microbe that causes the disease, the vaccine may not have even been necessary, but you got the vaccination because none of us can know definitively what the future holds. I don't believe that in my lifetime there will be armed conflict between the government and the citizens of the US. I don't believe that if such a conflict were to occur, that the citizens would be likely to prevail through force of arms. What I do believe is that the right to bear arms will not encourage or enable the citizenry to overthrow the government, but like a vaccine, may prevent the sickness of tyranny from infecting the body politic.

paulaloe
paulaloe

Editor

Felix, in this country, that ship sailed long ago. I don't think that any government of the United States worries that the citizenry will take up arms and overthrow them. They do worry that institutions will abandon them and they will lose power. Thus, Richard Nixon quickly went to one of the largest landslide victories in history to being forced from office. Today, I doubt that you would get 97 percent to oppose the worse dictator. Even the American Revolution the population was divided. The only experience where a portion of the country was fairly united in trying to throw off the United States government was the civil war, and we know how that turned out. We have had successful revolutions in this Country -- just not with guns. Maybe the founding fathers never saw how strong certain institutions and free speech would turn out, and how badly armed revolution would turn out.

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

I agree that our laws and society must evolve. I'm just not convinced that the society we have today is evidence of "progress of the human mind". I won't say that I think the Founding Fathers were untainted by self interest, and were angels of moderation and judgment, but I do believe that they had the interests of the entire fledgling nation at heart when they wrote the Constitution. It is a document for the ages, and justly revered. I also think that the political process we have today is deeply wounded by money and special interests. Thus I'm exceptionally leery of allowing people who use tragedy to get votes (both parties), to meddle with the Constitution.

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

@paulaloe I'm not sure if you misunderstand me for rhetorical purposes or through ignorance. I didn't suggest "that 97 percent of the population will rise up and fight tyranny" as you put it. What I said was "The other 97% has the right, if not necessarily the inclination, to bear arms and to fight back against tyranny and despotism". I would't guess at what percentage would do what in an unknown future. The salient point is that they have the right, and the ability to do it as a last recourse because the Founders envisaged that right as a check against tyranny. I would never suggest that anybody take up arms against the government. It's a losing proposition. To put it bluntly, an armed populace protects against tyranny not because of the ability to beat the government in open conflict, but because the possibility of open conflict means that the juice probably won't be worth the squeeze. It's the difference between picking up a dollar bill off the sidewalk, or pulling a dollar bill out of a sewer drain. Either can be accomplished, but only one generally is.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

@paulaloe I understand your point on the Bolsheviks, but I don't think it applies entirely in your argument, but so be it. In regard to the Nazi's, they were a political class that came to power, and disarmed all of the Jewish people. The Jews then had no guns, while the rest of the Nazi's had all the weapons and were free to do to the Jews whatever they wished, and walla... the Holocaust. The notion of the Second Amendment is that EVERYONE has the ability to take up arms if need be to stop a ruling party like the Nazi's from overthrowing the country. Removing the ability of the public to keep the government in check is inviting a political revolution of those with money and power to make us all little fish in their pond with no power whatsoever.

Let me understand you correctly, you think that the thousands and thousands of years of history that the Founders used to start this great nation is less important than a couple of examples that have only occurred in about a 50 year period in relation to the whole of the universe? I'm not so sure about that.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

@[Pat Greer] Do I think that the citizens could rise up against the current, full power of the US military? Unlikely. But if the citizens felt that it was necessary because the Republic was in jeopardy of falling, then you would also find that many of those in the military would likely not follow suit in carrying out commands. After all, they swore an oath to protect this nation against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Our ThreePatriots namesake was influenced by the Three Percenter movement that @FelixCulpa mentioned in his post.

Jon Saltzman
Jon Saltzman

Editor

something quite unrecognizable? What are the limits to changing the Founder's original intent?

Jon Saltzman
Jon Saltzman

Editor

We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." But don't you worry that the "coat of a boy" might evolve into

paulaloe
paulaloe

Editor

An inscription on the Jefferson Memorial ""I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

paulaloe
paulaloe

Editor

Actually, the both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis teach the opposite lesson. In the case of the Bolsheviks, they ceased power by force from the Kerensky government and were simply the party with the most guns. The Nazi's, of course, came to power differently, but they had too had more guns than there opponents and used violence against them. The notion that 97 percent of the population will rise up and fight tyranny is just not born out by experience. Another interesting aspect is that the Nazi solution for governing was to put virtually every abled body male (other than opponents of course) into the military or special forces, thus militarizing the entire country. The communist, of course, put down any dissent by violence. The point is that both were movements that came to power simply because they were more violent, more armed, and more brutal than the other parties. I believe that the founders were well intended, intelligent and insightful, but the second amendment was based on their experience, not all that came after it

FelixCulpa
FelixCulpa

PatGreer, While we are now possessed of the most formidable standing army in the world, it fails to change the intent of the Founders. Of course if the US Army ever decides to attack the citizens of the US it would be terrible, and lead to much bloodshed and death. However the intent of the Founders (I believe) was to allow the citizens of the US a last recourse. Additionally, less than 3% of the adult population is in the armed forces. The other 97% has the right, if not necessarily the inclination, to bear arms and to fight back against tyranny and despotism. A coup that can occur bloodlessly is more likely to happen. A coup which results in the death of citizens bent on defending their liberties is much less media friendly, and less likely to happen. Sorry for the cynicism, but that's the world we live in bud.

Pat Greer
Pat Greer

Editor

No one says this so I will. If the purpose of the 2nd Amendment is to allow us to defend against the government, do you think we are in a position to do that now? Do you think we are capable of defending ourselves against the largest, most well funded government in the world? The answer should be no. Yes? So if the answer is no. That means we are unable to defend ourselves now. So if we pass laws that limit our ability to fight a government we already can't fight against, what is the purpose of not utilizing laws that may help us?

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

The Second Amendment does exactly the opposite of what you are trying to get at. You mention that ISIS and the Nazi's and others were the ones with guns, while the other people didn't have them. That is EXACTLY the point of the Second Amendment. It gives EVERYONE the ability, as a basic human right, to defend themselves and to provide a check on government power if it should come to that. Why did the Nazi's and Communist Bolsheviks (which is a whole other discussion completely irrelevant to the gun debate) have in common? They were THE government and only they had the guns, so everyone was at their mercy. You literally just made the point of why the Second Amendment was made and needs to continue to this day because otherwise, the government can do whatever they want because only those in power have the weapons to do so.



Sam Jenkins
EditorSam Jenkins
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KateHarveston
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Steven Singer
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paulaloe
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Pat Greer
EditorPat Greer
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A_Chapman
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