I wish I could take credit for this idea, but a cursory Google search will spit out at least a half dozen articles on the same subject. So, while the idea does seem strange, it is gaining some steam. Why is it gaining steam? I really don’t have to tell anyone the answer to that question. Gun related deaths seem to be adding by the dozens on a daily basis. Some are old-fashioned crimes, some are Darwin Awards nominees, and then we get the sad cases of mass killings that seem to have on a monthly basis. In order to keep myself organized let me address the constitutional arguments.
Kurt Eichenwald at Vanity Fair did a very good job of looking at the specific language of the amendment and was certainly a lot more eloquent than me on that end. So, let me address the historical significance (which he and others have also addressed). You have to consider the life experience of the framers at the time of the Bill of Rights. They had just left a war with a superpower that had no qualms about keeping a standing army and stationing them in private citizens’ homes (thus the need for the third amendment). So, when they muttered the phrase, “a well-regulated militia being necessary for the defense of a free state…” it was because they didn’t want a national army to stand during peace time.
Now, we could get into an argument over whether they wanted private citizens to bear arms for their own purposes. Quite frankly, that argument doesn’t particularly concern me at this point. The point is that strict constructionists have a considerable hypocrisy problem. Most of them tend to be conservatives that also tend to be pretty hawkish. Yet, here we see the framers clearly had a problem with maintaining a large standing army. George Washington even warned against foreign entanglements in his final address to the nation (he also warned against the “spirit of the party” but that is a different discussion for a different day.). So, our “strict constructionists” have no problem completely overlooking at least half of the intent of the second amendment since we have the largest standing military in human history when you include all of the bombs, gadgets, and advanced weaponry.
Those strict constructionists also have a problem with the fact that everyone of the Bill of Rights have been modified over time to meet the needs of an increasingly modern world. We have limits on our freedom of speech and freedom of the press to address concerns in technology. We have agencies that regulate our airwaves and legal precedents in place to monitor situations where libel or slander might occur. Furthermore, we have the infamous example of crying fire in a crowded theatre. The fourth amendment has been interpreted and reinterpreted to include probable cause and other exceptions to the rule.
The problem with the second amendment is not the second amendment itself. I have no problem with reasonable people arming themselves reasonably for reasonable purposes. The problem is that reason so often leaves the situation when the NRA gets involved. Most proponents of a repeal don’t want jackbooted thugs to come and collect everyone’s gun. They want a new amendment which will state clearly that the government has the right to regulate gun ownership and use in reasonable ways. Like most other laws, the courts would decide on what is reasonable if there are disputes.
If we go back to the Declaration of Independence, we could repeat the oft-repeated phrase, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all people are created equal and they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Consider the following numbers according to Gun Violence Archive in the early days of 2015.
- Total Gun Related Incidents: 171
- Number of Deaths: 63
- Number of Injuries: 112
- Child Deaths/Injuries: 3
- Teenage Deaths/Injuries: 10
- Mass Shootings: 1
- Accidental Shootings: 5
Keep in mind that this was as of January 3rd. If we extrapolate these numbers over a calendar year then we would be looking at 20,805 separate gun related incidents, 7665 deaths, 13,627 injuries, 365 child deaths or injuries, 1,217 teenage deaths or injuries, 120 mass shootings, and 608 accidental shootings. Mind you, we are talking about a small sample size (three days), but you get the idea. Thomas Jefferson (and John Locke before him) listed life first because it is the most important and most basic right. Governments were instituted among men (and women) to provide for the general welfare. That meant life. Our most basic trust and most basic duty is to protect the lives of those under our care.
If we remove the religious/metaphysical undertones, liberty is impossible without life. You cannot speak freely if you are dead. You cannot publish or broadcast anything if you are dead. You cannot go to your favorite house of worship if you are dead. You cannot protect any of your other civil liberties if you are dead. So, to protect one particular civil liberty without any modification to the detriment of life makes no sense. Now, that same Thomas Jefferson told us that those that would give up their freedom in the name of security deserve neither. I would cite simple common sense. We can have both if you introduce a little common sense. Allowing any and everyone to arm themselves to the teeth with weapons and ammunition that are designed to kill many people quickly is not liberty. It is lunacy.