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
No. 1-15
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.

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