As I explain in part in a new article (click here) the gun industry/lobby that has been behind the perversely successful effort to convince a large portion of Americans to back packing weaponry originally crafted to slaughter enemy armies is trying to pull some fast ones.
One gun rights myth is that gun regulations don't do any good, or are outright bad for lawful citizens. The argument is that cities and states that have lax laws and lots of guns at worst do not suffer more homicides, and at best have fewer murders because armed ne'er-do-wells are deterred when law abiding citizens are packing heat too. It is an opinion so pernicious that David Brooks reiterates it in his New York Times column and on the PBS Newshour as sociological truth. Which it absolutely is not. The
Another trick the gun people are playing is to say that gun laws can't stop determined mass shooters. Yes, but laws against murder don't stop murder. Laws and regulations are not intended to put a total stop to the target activity in a democracy, they are meant to tamp down crimes as much as possible while not impairing personal liberty more than necessary.
That brings us to the gun rights myth that this essay will address in detail, the proposition that the sacred Constitution of these
But that's not how Amendment II begins. It starts with "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a
That amendment number two is the only one predicated by a government need means that it is the only one that is as much about the government as it is about the individual. Here's what happened. As you may recall, in 1775 the British Crown decided it was a good idea to seize the arms stored by colonial militias in the greater
Had the amendment been designed give citizens a right to own and bear guns for their own purposes, then it would have read something like
Fact is that some of the founders were kind of nervous about an armed citizenry. One of the fears was that the democracy could slip into chaos if angry and armed mobs decided to try to rule by the gun rather than the ballot -- just look at how things soon went south in France. This disquiet about what the masses might try to pull off was all the more acute because most of the founders were from the economic elites. So they punted on this constitutional right, so much so that they went to the trouble to mention a "well regulated militia," as governmental a line as you can get. With a number of the founders wanting an across the board right to possess weaponry, and with others leery of going that far, the 2nd amendment ended up being exactly the kind of political compromise that many on the right loath as denying individuals their full liberty to do what they please aside from murder, assault, rape and theft. But the gun industry and its lobby cannot admit that, so they drop the government predicate of the amendment when they can get away with it, and do intellectual loop the loops when they have to try to explain it away.
The reason that militias are mentioned in the Bill of Rights is because they were a big deal in those times. For much of the 19th century young citizens were often required to serve in their state's militias. If you read a history of Civil War military actions there is frequent mention of state militias integrated into the armies of North and South. But militia service was widely unpopular, many saw it as an uncomfortable waste of time which it largely was, and in many case militias became undisciplined men's' clubs with little discipline or training. And the 1% continued to be nervous about the armed masses. So for these assorted reasons the militia scheme was abandoned in favor of the more tightly run National Guards, that were often ensconced in those castle like urban armories designed to hold out against the rebellious mobs.
As new states were formed in the 1800s some remained explicit about gun rights being about the common defense. As per
As a firearms industry bent on selling as much of its product as possible increasingly pressed to make gun rights into an individual thing, state constitutional statements on the matter tended to become more what the gun lobby wants them to be. Here's an excellent example of this phenomenon. When made a state in 1959
The recent Supreme Court denial of what amendment number two literally says, a decision straight out of the gun industry/lobby that overturned decades of prior court decisions that had actually been based on what the clause really says, was a radical right wing reformulation of the amendment. One that exposes that the justices who claim to be "originalists" that supposedly strive to parse out what the majority voters at the Constitutional Convention really intended, are just pulling our legs when it comes to their supposed doctrine. If the court conservatives strictly applied originalism they would have acknowledged that gun rights stem from a governmental necessity, that for better or worst the latter therefore has the authority to strongly regulate their possession and use, and that giving citizens a stronger individual right to pack arms would require a constitutional amendment. Instead the conservative wing of the court just did what they wanted to -- the clique applies originalism when it fits their desires, and are willing to quietly drop the theory does not match their immediate convenience.
The other problem with the constitutional right to bear arms has to do with what arms were back then versus what they are now. In the late 1800s a pistol was a single shot muzzle loader, a portable Rube Goldbergian device with limited killing potential. When the trigger was pulled the possibility that the thing would misfire was high. If the flintlock mechanism actually did work the imprecisely manufactured ball literally bounced its way down the barrel from side to side and upon emerging who knows what way it would go. In videos skilled shooters take the old timey pistols and show how they are hard pressed to hit a human target even at close range. Assuming the first shot did not get the job done, reloading was a multi-step procedure that took about a minute -- assuming the other guy did not do something to stop the process or fled the scene.
A modern pistol is a weapon of mass destruction. One that the individual can conveniently carry without those nearby being aware of the potential danger. In a few seconds an automatic like a Glock can emit 15 rounds that will each hit within an inch of the aiming point. To further improve accuracy a laser pointer mounted on the gun can conveniently light dot the chest or head of the victims. A dozen can be maimed or killed in a moment. A handy magazine reload takes a few seconds. Or use a 30 round magazine as the shooter did in
We will never know for sure, but if the founders who devised the Second Amendment could be gathered together and shown what mass produced, mass firing automatic firearms can do, and how the USA suffers from by far the highest levels of homicide among the advanced democracies where guns are more tightly controlled and less common, it is likely that most of them would be even more prone to tying gun rights to governmental needs. One can hope so.
Moderates, especially politicians, who want more serious firearms regulations while not upsetting the gun lobby too much are prone to saying that we can have both sensible controls and our full constitutional rights at the same time. This is true only in the context of the limited rights actually contained in the 2nd amendment. What is not true is that we can have the practical and to be blunt extensive regulations that help suppress homicide rates to amazing lows in other 1st world countries on the one hand, and have the free wheeling gun rights that the heater lovers imagine the Bill of Rights grants them on the other hand. If we have the former the gun people are going to be really mad. We cannot have our cake and eat it too.
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