I’m moving this essay up in the queue, because while walking my dog in the rain—such rote activities like dog-walking, showering and driving often trigger “right brain” activities and inspirations—it all became clear to me for the first time.
One aspect of the argument being offered by anti-gun zealots following this school shooting that is new compared to Sandy Hook is the sudden popularity of the term “weapons of war.” it was used multiple times at the very start of the CNN “town hall,” for example. Rep. Deutch:
But, beyond that, the best way for us to show that is to take action in Washington, in Tallahassee, to get these weapons of war off of our streets.
…and the answer to the question is, do I support weapons that fire-off 150 rounds in seven or eight minutes, weapons that are weapons of war that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can, you bet I am.
And that is making sure that we take action to keep our kids and our schools safe and to get dangerous weapons of war off of our streets. That has to be our priority and we’ve got to do it now.
My interest is not whether it is a wise or good thing to ban semi-automatic weapons. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that Maryland’s ban was constitutional, and the Supreme Court, so far, at least, has not chosen to review it. A national ban, however, would certainly require SCOTUS assent, and my guess is that such a law would fail, and as I will continue to explain, should fail.
“Weapons of war” is nowa pejorative phrase designed to make the most popular rifle in America sound as if owning one is perverse. “Weapons of war” suggests not just self-defense, but active combat, and it certainly doesn’t mean hunting deer and rabbits. Following Sandy Hook, a lot of the anti-gun rhetoric, as from New York Governor Cuomo, involved the deceitful (or ignorant) argument that you don’t need a semi-automatic rifle to shoot a deer. This vigorous false narrative is as old as the Left’s anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment movement itself.
Thus “weapons of war” is now the phrase of choice to persuade moderate, uncommitted citizens considering the gun controversy that it makes no sense to allow citizens to own such weapons. Hunting weapons, sure (at least until there’s a mass shooting in a school using those). A registered handgun to shoot a burglar, a rapist or a home invader? Fine. But “common sense gun controls” can’t possibly allow citizens to have “weapons of war.”
The problem is that allowing private ownership of weapons of war is exactly what the Founders intended. The Second Amendment was devised to ensure that citizens would not be disarmed by a government that needed to be overthrown, or, in the alternative, that some citizens wanted to overthrow, but wrongly.
The Founders were, it should not be necessary to say, revolutionaries. They believed that citizens had the right and even the obligation to bring down abusive governments. Jefferson stated it directly in the Declaration of Independence:
“Prudence … will dictate that Governments long-established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Jefferson was a brilliant man, and no dreamy-eyed idealist. He could not have assumed, feeling the way he did about governments, government power, and the men who come to possess such power, that governments could always be dissolved peacefully. As a prudent and practical man, he was also saying that it is unwise to seek to change a government every time it fails or disappoints, and that long-standing systems deserve the public’s tolerance, patience and forbearance. Government should be a contract of trust, and that when that trust is irreparably broken by abuses of power, the people must have the right, and must have the ability to activate that right, to demand a new form of government.
This is, of course, exactly what the 13 Colonies did. The Constitution they adopted when they began their experiment in democracy naturally and necessarily included a crucial right without which future generations of Americans would not be able to “throw off” a government whose abuse of power had become odious. That was the right to bear arms, embodied in the Second Amendment. The arms one had the right to bear had to be weapons of war, because fighting—civil war, revolution, wars of resistance—was their explicit purpose.
The militia reference, so confusing to so many for so long, reflects the fact that in 1792, volunteer militias were the means by which such armed citizens would execute Jefferson’s “right…duty.” The argument, which I have read frequently in the last few weeks, that the Second Amendment is archaic because the National Guard is the equivalent of the Second’s “well-regulated militia,” is either willfully or negligently obtuse. The National Guard fights for the government, and is part of the government. It cannot protect the people from the government. Again, that’s why citizens must be able to have “weapons of war.”
Muskets were weapons of war in 1792. Repeating rifles and revolvers were weapons of war in 1860, when the Confederate states decided to execute Jefferson’s option and seek to overthrow what they felt was a government overstepping its legal and constitutional bounds. Could Lincoln, if the Civil War had not begun before he had mastered how to find all the rooms in the White House, have legally announced that citizens could no longer own “weapons of war” and confiscate them, claiming that shotguns and hunting rifles were all any citizen “needed”? He could not. The public’s understanding of the Civil War, like so much in the country’s culture today, has become warped by an obsession with race and slavery since the civil rights era, helped along by historical revisionism and, again, poor education. The South’s action in attempting to secede was squarely within Jefferson’s principles as established by the Declaration of Independence, and thus consistent with the core ethical values of the Republic. The Declaration does not proclaim that the reasons why the people may determine that a government has broken its contract must meet certain ethical standards, but only that the public reaches that conclusion. There can be no argument that this was the position of the slave-holding states in 1860, and had been for many years. The Confederacy chose to exercise its right, established by the Declaration, to to “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
They were able to do this, or at least make the effort, because citizens had “weapons of war,” as the Second Amendment guaranteed. And sure enough, the national government that in their view was abusing power–whether or not we agree today that Lincolnwas morally and ethically right is irrelevant—sought to block their effort to throw off the government using force. That the South was ultimately defeated, and that in its defeat the evil of slavery was erased from the land and the evil of racism slowly receded, does not alter the fact that the citizens of the Southern states were following the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and without the right to own “weapons of war,” they could not have done so.
Had the positions of the North and the South been reversed, had the North taken up arms to form a new government when the national government protected and embraced the practice of selling human beings as chattel, and successfully formed a better government and culture, the negative connotations of citizens owning “weapons of war” might be very different today.
While generally avoiding the morass of Second Amendment controversies after the Civil War, the Supreme Court did impose some limits on how far private ownership of “weapons of war” could go. After the landmark Heller decision, upholding the individual right to bear arms, the Court ruled in Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016) that the Second Amendment extended to all forms of bearable arms:
“The Court has held that the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding, and that this Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States.”
The cases and legislation broadening or limiting what weapons could be constitutionally restricted is still a mess, with court rulings that any weapon that would not be normally employed in a militia (Which militia? 18th Century militias? 21st Century?) could be forbidden, another holding that weapons that are widely owned (like semi-automatic rifles) cannot be banned, badly written legislation lumping disparate weapons together, and “barn door” legislation passed in haste and panic, like the Gun Control Act of 1968, which was drafted following the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Among other provisions, that bill banned importing guns that have “no sporting purpose,” further confusing the public and warping debate to this day. For the Second Amendment was not created to preserve the right to engage in sport. It is a serious Amendment—deadly serious.
The Second Amendment exists as a fail-safe, an insurance policy, consistent with the Founders’ wariness of entrenched power and the human tendency of those achieving power to abuse it. Stipulated, some kind of balance must be struck. A government must be able to enforce its laws, or the state will descend into chaos. It cannot permit narrow interest private armies and wealthy individuals to challenge the will of the people and republic using force. Yet citizens alos must not be defenseless and without recourse in the event of government abuse, or when faced by other threats to the public good. It cannot be restated enough times that the Declaration of Independence, which is the mission statement for the United States of America that the Constitution enables, proclaims this principle expressly, making it an underlying ethical value of the nation and its culture.
This doesn’t mean that one has to agree with that principle, but to disagree with it one must understand and acknowledge it exists. I assume that most Second Amendment opponents do not understand the principle. They certainly don’t sound like they do. Those who use “weapons of war” as a term to disqualify certain weapons from Second Amendment guarantees either don’t acknowledge that the core principle exists, or are deliberately misleading those who don’t understand its historical and philosophical context.
The same interests within the country that would reduce the Second Amendment to a guarantee of nothing more vital than a right to confront a sneak thief or shoot a duck appear to many—I am neither endorsing nor rebutting this view here—to be on the verge of an effort to achieve Jefferson’s “throwing off” at this very moment, making their intense efforts to disarm citizens either ironic or sinister. Understandably, they would like to accomplish this as easily as possible, and certainly without armed conflict. “The resistance,” with which a large segment of the Democratic Party has allied itself, has asserted that it does not recognize the elected President of the United States as legitimate. Its allies in the judiciary have attempted to block the execution of lawful measures; cities and states are openly defying Federal authority. “Resistance”-allied academics and elected officials are arguing for removal of the elected President using justifications that have never before been recognized as grounds for impeachment. Progressives have belligerently supported policies that appear to directly contradict core American values, such as race and gender-based distribution of opportunities and jobs; government confiscation of private property for redistribution to favored classes and groups, suspension of due process, restrictions on free speech, reduction of the freedom of religion, and allowing foreign interests, in the form of world government, to make laws affecting the activities of American citizens
Many conservative commentators have suggested that if it appeared that this government was about to be “thrown off” by what a significant portion of the public regarded as a contrived and unjust use of the impeachment process, armed conflict could be a real possibility. It does not matter whether this is true; what matters is the warning. The warning is important, and the ability to warn—that is, threaten—is one of the main purposes and functions of “weapons of war.” This is why the United States has a nuclear arsenal (the opponents of the Second Amendment tend not to support that, either), and why the Founders believed that citizens needed to be able to let a despotic government, or rogue factors seeking to undermine the will of the people, know that they would not submit without a fight. They might lose, but they would not submit quietly. This is an essential, vigorous and admirable component of the American character.
In a recent article, The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson recalled that the late novelist David Foster Wallace had written a short essay on “The American Idea” that included this passage…
Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, ‘sacrifices on the altar of freedom’? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort? In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?
Wallace asked if the American people had arrived at a point after 9/11 where safety, security and avoidance of the risk of physical pain and misfortune were now more important than our other traditional values, notably individual liberty. Now Davidson asks,
More than a decade later, we are still incapable of serious discussion of the trade-offs between safety and freedom. For the most part, we’re not even able to admit that such trade-offs exist.Are you ready for another monstrous thought experiment? What if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to mass shootings is part of the price of the American idea? In some ways, mass shootings are a more apt example of what Wallace was talking about than terrorism. After all, we can arguably do something about a worldwide ideological and religious movement that uses violence as a political weapon—and we have. Whether the aggregate cost in American blood and treasure has been worth it is another question, but it suffices to say that we can do much less about a random madman intent on killing innocents than we can about ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Davidson demands that we accept the historical and philosophical reality that I believe the “weapons of war” talking point tries to obscure. The right to revolution is crucial to the American idea:
“In this, America is unlike the European nations that gun control advocates like to compare it with. Germany can restrict the right to bear arms as easily as it can—and does—restrict free speech. Not so in America. If we want to change that, it will involve a substantial diminishment of our constitutional rights as we have known them up until now. After last week’s school shooting, some Americans are okay with that, especially those families who are grieving. But I suspect most Americans are not willing to make that trade-off, and might never be—unless they suffer the same of kind personal loss.”
I don’t share his optimism on that point, exactly because the popular argument that owning “weapons of war” should not be regarded as a core right has been allowed to infect the public debates without immediate and effective rebuttal.
The American idea is worth fighting for, and the contention that one can fight for it without effective weapons is ludicrous except to those who would exchange liberty for safety, and those who have never committed serious thought to why the Bill of Rights exists. Insisting that being an American citizen means that one has the right to own such weapons is an indispensable assertion: We do not want to fight, we will try to avoid a fight, we shouldn’t have to fight, we probably won’t fight an should never have to–but if we have to, we will. That we have that ability is essential to protecting that right, which the Declaration of Independence used 250 years ago to explain why the United States was being created.
128 thoughts on “On The Anti-Gun “Weapons Of War” Talking Point”
Excellent post, Jack. One of your best, and one that deserves to be widely shared. Thank you.
That does simplify the core enough to explain to peoplen not paying attention.(did you mean to bold it all?)
No, I didn’t, and for once it wasn’t my fault. You can’t bold that much accidentally (unlike in comments). It was a WordPress glitch, and I had a devil of a time getting rid of it.
Thanks—your comment alerted me. I had to reload the piece in parts and multiple times—there was something wrong with one of The Federalist quotes—but it’s unbolded now.
A civilian version of MAD? Seems the only way to maintain a “balance” is a constant upgrade of weapons. I have a few friends who I adoringly call “gun nuts.” One is a son. They “play” paintball and their equipment is state of the art except for the “good stuff (guns)” and they are left in their lockup. They use thermal sights, technical displays, advanced navigation and HUD for displays. I find the whole concept frightening.
I find the undercurrent “Seven Days In May” message being delivered rather questionable.
I really don’t agree with you on this issue, Jack, but the kudos are handed out for doing it in a tempered approach. I am tired of the shrill histrionics on both sides.
One of the things that drove me crazy about the remake of Magnificent Seven is the scene when the mercenary army first attacks the little village. They run into ambushes, traps, and dynamite explosions that take out a sizeable chunk of their fighting force. Yet they just keep coming.
Your average guy in that army was recruited a few weeks earlier for what, a few weeks worth of pay? Once he sees these people are deadly serious, desperate, and more than capable of killing, do you think he’s going to throw himself at them? That push would have broken after the first 30 seconds in real life.
So when people say that the second amendment is obsolete because of tanks and drones, it just tells me they know nothing about guerrilla warfare or the psychological aspect of war, especially civil war.
It’s not going to be farmers and carpenters armed with bolt action rifles lining up on one side of a meadow with tanks and infantry on the other, marching towards each other. The side with the biggest guns doesn’t always win. Ask the Afghans and Russia.
Put people where they have nothing to lose and nothing to hope for, and they easily become capable of doing things they wouldn’t normally do, including taking life.
And ask the Vietnamese and the USA
“Seven Days in May” is about a MILITARY COUP, Rick. There is no right anywhere, including in the military regs and codes,, for that. That’s treason.
The movie you want is “1776.”
Maybe “Red Dawn?” Now that was paramilitary at its best!
Rick M. said: A civilian version of MAD? Seems the only way to maintain a “balance” is a constant upgrade of weapons. I have a few friends who I adoringly call “gun nuts.” One is a son. They “play” paintball and their equipment is state of the art except for the “good stuff (guns)” and they are left in their lockup. They use thermal sights, technical displays, advanced navigation and HUD for displays. I find the whole concept frightening.
HUD, etc. are fripperies; are you equally frightened by video games (especially VR ones)? There has been no general meaningful “upgrade” in the technology of the individual arms in question in over 100 years, so there’s not exactly the arms race anti-gun propagandists would like to have us believe. Modern automatic and semi-auto firearms date back to the late 19th century.
The Colt 1911 semi-auto pistol is not so designated because its maker liked the numbers one and nine. The M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle is 100 years old this year. The M1’s design is nearly as old, and the Ruger Mini-14 (an M1 copy-cat made to fire the .223 cartridge commonly used in AR15s) has been around about 50 years. The attacks on certain styles of rifles are simply attempted incrementalism in the drive to remove firearms from civilian hands in the U.S.
Minor correction – the Mini-14 was patterned after the later M14, which had a more reliable gas system than the M1 and which the Mini-14 and Mini-30 attempt to duplicate (the Mini-30, for those who don’t know, is the same gun chambered in 7.62×39 Soviet).
Sorry, yes, that’s obvious from its designation (Mini-14)…Sort of got ahead of myself in that string and left out the evolutionary step in that family. Thanks.
On second thought, I probably should have just said “descendant”, rather than “copy-cat”, as my focus was on the age of the general style and function, and the length of time such had been available in the common AR caliber.
I am admittedly non-versed in the use of firearms, but I do see weapons that have been used recently that are certainly exceptional in their ability to bring as many deaths as possible in a short period of time. I often hear the argument that weapons of this magnitude in civilian hands are necessary to keep pace. So, they have been stagnant? This is just an illusion? Seems like what it really the issue is vast improvement in base technology. I have a car and it certainly has some of the very same basics as my first car – a 1958 Ford Galaxy. I find the whole concept bizarre of having a weapon that I find no useful purpose for. And, yes, I have gone to a range and shot everything for an Uzi to a Magnum. I did not get a bit interested.
I am not “frightened” by HUD displays and have used them elsewhere. As far as video games I will stick to the occasional game of solitaire. What worries me equally is the fact I have seen the occasional post that has the mindset that “we need to be armed” since the Constitution is nothing more that a phony legal system, etc., etc. Thank you, anarchist! Somehow, I expect to be caught in the cross fire.
…I do see weapons that have been used recently that are certainly exceptional in their ability to bring as many deaths as possible in a short period of time.
The point is, they are NOT exceptional; firearms with the same capabilities (and more powerful) have been around for over 100 years, and in civilian hands. The AR style rifle is a convenient boogeyman. The Virginia Tech shooter killed 32 people with one each of two small and medium caliber handguns (.22 and 9mm).
Look up ‘Puckle gun.’
World’s first machine gun, invented in 1718. Yes, over half a century before the drafting of the 2nd Amendment. Invented before many of the Founders were even born!
You can extrapolate that to just about anything. I once knew somebody with the Massachusetts Aviation commission who learn to fly from the Wright brothers. At our meeting he told us he had been invited into the cockpit of a 747. Amazing in just a short time. And we had already been on the moon. I am sure a machine gun can trace its ancestry back to that 1718 start.
I think it would be instructive to understand the underpinnings of the Supreme Court rulings that have upheld and supported gun control to this point. I’ve heard it as a balancing act between individual rights and the State’s duty to provide safety for its citizens, under its police power and related responsibilities.
There are very few cases, amazingly few. I read most of them in preparation for this. One problem is that a court is unlikely to acknowledge the “right to rebellion.”
The ‘right to rebellion’ sounds to me like a nonsensical internally inconsistent phrase – maybe sounding good but likely simply to confuse. ‘Rebellion’ is a breaking of the rules. If there is a ‘right’ in rule 2 to break rule 1 in circumstances ‘X’ then doing so can not be a ‘rebellion’. The people may arguably have a right to be equipped to ‘rebel’ but can’t have a ‘right’ to do so. Madness lies this way …..
What aspect of consent of the governed confuses you? The right of rebellion states that rebellion is within the Rules, that unlike traditional governments where the subjects are granted rights, self government is a right that resides, forever, with the people. If “rebellion” bothers you, pick another one. How about, “the right to decide that a government is crap, isn’t going to get better, and needs to be kicked to the curb.” Better?
If the right of rebellion is implicit, then what was the legal ground that President Lincoln had for opposing it?
He had none. There was also no constitutional authority that suggested that joining the union was a one way, no way out proposition. Lincoln was rely on the same theory he used to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The President has inherent authority to act in the best interests of the US, and law be damned.
Interesting…that rings true (I’m no lawyer).
Honest question: what then does that say about the legal basis of a charge of treason?
I think it narrows it considerably to conspiring with a foreign enemy against the United States. And I believe that this is why, one of the reasons, why no one in the Confederacy was charged with treason.
Interesting too, I had not thought of that. Though I also suspect Lincoln’s nature at work. In addition to some imperialist tendencies (e.g. the habeas corpus thing, as you noted), he was extraordinarily compassionate and forgiving by nature. This would also explain at least his reticence to invoke charges of treason.
And, most of all, he had spectcualr leadership instincts. he knew that the healing of the national rift would take a long, long time, and that punishing the South would only make that process longer, more bitter, and worse in every way. How different world history would have been if the Eurpean victors after The Great War had been similarly wise.
Exactly. Not for no reason is he generally considered our greatest President.
That’s actually an important point to make. How many times in the history of the world or even in current events, do we see opposition parties in democratic elections labelled as traitors, being against the interests of the government. They’re even charged and prohibited from taking part in the elections as candidates. There’s an inherent right for individuals to oppose government, but there’s a responsibility to do so as peacefully as possible. Over the course of history, that is bound to be “not so peaceful”….but it’s not a starting place, and we must remember that it’s a possibility for an ending place.
No sorry Jack, I’m still intrigued about this ‘right of rebellion’. What practical use is it? How do you mobilise it? Who decides when it applies? Could Lee Harvey Oswald have claimed it if he’d gone to Court? Was John Wilks Booth claiming it when he killed Lincoln : “Sic temper tyrannis” and all that? How are you as an American so much better off with this ‘right’ than I am as an Australian apparently without it?
The article, the history, the theory and Jefferson are quite clear. It applies to “the people” not “a person”, so your questions strongly suggest that you haven’t grasped the concept.
The “right of rebellion” is self-evident. But I think it’s only fair for us to acknowledge there to be a “right to resist rebellion and preserve the status quo”. How can that be though? It seems contradictory. I’m not sure I have the time to dive into it, but it ultimately makes sense and in short, those whose rebellions fail ultimately don’t get to appeal to the “right to rebel” if seeking mercy for the rebellion and those whose attempted suppression fails don’t get to appeal to the “right to suppress” if seeking mercy from the successful rebels. It just boils down to conflicts between men who believe they no longer can continue to live with a certain political arrangement and therefore must fight to change it…
Alea iacta est
As so often, I suspect our differences are in semantics; in this case what you mean by a ‘right’. For me a ‘right’ can only be given by an ‘authority’ that has the necessary power. That is why the ‘right to rebel’ is in my language almost nonsensical and not in any way ‘self evident’. I suspect for you a ‘right’ is more a ‘capacity’ I have plenty of capacity to ‘rebel’ eg. in a golf tournament by cheating, but it would be nonsensical for there to be a rule allowing me to cheat for instance by improving my lie, because if there were I would no longer be cheating.
You are in my view quite right to point out that the key issue is power, which I think is the classical view of Thomas Hobbes. You have a ‘right to rebel’ only if you are successful. ‘Winners are grinners’ and they typically also write the history. Losers typically get hanged, which makes consideration of their ‘rights’ rather academic.
That’s not what Jefferson meant by a right, nor what the Bill of Rights means by rights. Thus it is not what “rights” means when properly used in reference to the United States.
My understanding is that it was the view of the founders (and the constitution was written with the view) that “rights” were intrinsic, and if they were granted by anything it was “the creator”/God/human nature. It’s not the same as a capacity, in that people have the capacity to murder (for example) but not a right to murder. Rights, as understood by the founders, were specifically the capabilities it would be morally/ethically wrong to take from another human (flawed ideas of the period about gender and race non-withstanding.)
One of those was the right to government by consent of the people. But since the government had the power to override that consent with force, one of the rights must logically be the right to resist that overriding of consent with force.
Andrew, thanks for elevating the discussion to include Thomas Hobbes, one of the most interesting thinkers of the modern age.
In this case, though, I think it was John Locke whose influence dominated. The classic opening of the US Declaration of Independence, I believe, owes its provenance to Locke: note the explicit language about rights:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This would support Jack’s and Michael’s claim that the rights here are not given by an authority with power, but rather are innate and inalienable.
Thanks Charles. Reading around ‘the right to rebel’ has been interesting (thanks Google). Having ‘right to rebel’ associated with a constutional document (defining the institution against which one might rebel) is quite intriguing. I’m quite used to seeing ‘winding up provisions’ (through which an institution can be terminated). But I’ve never thought before whether a group of members might claim a right to torch the clubhouse because of the mismanagement of the Committee.
And are those contemplating rebellion interested in whether the club’s constitution recognises such a ‘right to rebel’? And if not, what use is it? I guess the discussion about such a ‘right’ generally surfaces around the table of successful rebels seeking to reinforce their legitimacy. As per Hobbes any ‘right’ (or not) to rebel typically doesn’t apply for failed rebels.
It is very human (and perhaps necessary) for leaders to be focused on winning during the conflict, and then to concoct the justifications after the event for their memoires. Maybe Wilks Booth’s bullet saved Lincoln and the US from consolidating as ‘holy writ’ the justification as expressed by to you by Jack : “The President has inherent authority to act in the best interest of the US and law be damned” (?)
You might remember this thread started with the proposition that the 2nd amendment right to bear arms was necessary to support the ‘right to rebel’. Having read through on Heller and Miller, and wondered about machine guns and sawn of shotguns, it does seem there is a fair way still to go to establish a sustainable and coherent framework.
You might wonder why foreigners like me (joint Brit / Australian) take any interest. And I understand why some get irritated. If so …. sorry. But the underlying issues do have lots of relevance outside the US. Whether we should have a ‘bill of rights’ is very live in Australia (I hope we don’t). And my understanding is that the Brits will lose their access to the EU equivalent through Brexit. And my reading of ‘ethics’ is that it is or should be ‘universal’.
I’m very interested to hear your opinion on why you think an Australian Bill of Rights would be a bad thing. To (most?) Americans, it is self-evident why having rights enumerated and protected in the country’s core founding documents is a good idea. I’d like to know what the counter argument is.
Andrew, once again you’re elevating the conversation; very thoughtful. And please don’t apologize for providing an ‘outsider’s’ take on US politics; as you know, we tend to be a bit of an insular country, and my humble opinion is we need to hear more from “the furriners.”
An authority that can grant what you call a “right” also necessarily has the power to revoke it. That’s not a right, that’s a privilege.
Rights, on the other hand, exist outside of any power structure or government. They are inherent to the individual. Now, whether or not a government recognizes and honors those rights, or suppresses exercise of them with force is another matter, and is the principal reason America’s founders wrote the Bill of Rights.
Jeff. I don’t have a well thought out position on the arguments for and against an Australian Bill of Rights but I start off rather anti. // I prefer accountable politicians deciding big things rather than unelected judges. // The US experience seems to something of a warning as to the difficulties of interpreting old words in new situations; eg and topically the 2nd amendment. // We have had a somewhat traumatic experience over the past decade with so called ‘people smugglers’ and a bill of rights might well provide opportunities to undermine our strong and now quite effective border control system. // We are still in an internal debate concerning so called ‘aboriginal reconciliation’, with calls for a ‘treaty’ to be established, and again a ‘bill of rights’ might well provide opportunities to create further division. // And perhaps with misplaced complacency, I am quite happy with the ‘status quo’ and do not want to provide opportunities for ‘boat rocking’.
This is admitedly all somewhat superficial and if the prospect (of a bil of rights) comes more to the fore I will need to pay more attention. We do have significant protections in our (written) Australian constitution and there are some significant ‘rights’ in our States which I should know more about.
Those are reasonable and understandable concerns. I cringe whenever folks here in the US start talking about a new constitutional convention, for many of the same reasons – I don’t trust today’s politicians to not fuck it up. The American constitution seems like one of those things that fortuitously happened at just the right time, with just the right people involved. That’s not to say that it’s perfect (term limits for office holders seems like a no-brainer addition that they left out), but men like Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, et al, were more thoughtful and intelligent by at least two orders of magnitude than the foxes we have guarding the henhouse today.
What I see wrapped up in a Constitutional blanket is fear. Fear of government. Fear of crime. Fear of your neighbors. So, the idea is to justify weapons that I firmly question the need for anyone to have. What is the Aussie mindset? I do not fear the government but am cautious. I do not fear crime but, again, am cautious but not embedded with fear. And my neighbors? I am the only one in our neighborhood (20 families) that does not have a gun. If one of my neighbors goes off the deep end then I may have some real fear.
In 2017, 22% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they can trust government, compared with 15% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. The Founders didn’t trust the British government, and their general distrust flowed from that.
If you don’t trust someone with great power over your life, shouldn’t you be afraid?
Just how do you interpret trust? To do the right thing? To be honest? To prevent legislative log jams? Does that poll apply to collective legislative performance? My understanding is a far greater number are satisfied with their legislator. Taking a giant leap from distrust to being armed over it is quite a leap.
I don’t understand. Trust is not a difficult concept. There are many reasons one may not trust someone or an institution, but trust itself isn’t ambiguous. If we can’t trust someone or something, we can’t, or shouldn’t rely on them. If there is a 1000 foot giant living next door, I don’t care if he’s stupid, clumsy, mean or homicidal. I want to know I can stop him, because I can’t trust him.
And that is the difference between me and you (meaning others on this board) – fear. The Constitution is a blanket to minimize fear of government, crime, and neighbors. I have many fears, but those three are not among them. I am cautious with the government and have traveled the world with caution in crime areas. Fear my neighbors? I am the only one among 20 families without a gun! Maybe you are on to something?
Polling is interesting, Jack, and Lawyers, car dealers and Heather from Card Holders Services usually rank quite low. I will not use my Cinsititutional right to carry or fear based on those three – although with “Heather” some of you folks could build a case for me to “pack” and pay that boilroom a visit.
I don’t think the “right to rebel” can be legally defined without simultaneously providing a protection for ANY law breaker. I think a written definition into any Constitution of when it’s ok to rebel makes the act too easy and ultimately undermines the system. A Constitution itself is a type of rebellion/revolution *against* the system that came before, a rebellion that succeeded. Against which if there came need to rebel against IT, there’s no point encoding such. Rebellion or revolution inevitably must be tried and won (either by the status quo winning or the new system winning).
I’m afraid this will leave you more confused about my argument. I didn’t have time to outline this well before composing.
I think I understand what you’re getting at. The way I see it, the Constitution is a contract between the people and the government. The “right to rebel” doesn’t kick in until the government breaks that contract. As Jefferson made so eloquently clear in the Declaration of Independence, the people should make every effort to resolve differences first, and that revolution is the last resort, to be undertaken only after a “history of repeated injuries and usurpations”.
There’s also a practical safeguard built into the whole enterprise, which is that any rebellion that doesn’t have a certain level of buy-in among the general public won’t get very far. Unlike the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, this “right to rebel” that we’re discussing isn’t an individual right, intrinsic to individual persons, it’s a collective right, to be exercised by the citizenry. You don’t have a “right to rebel” against a parking ticket, but if the general public arrives at a consensus that the government no longer represents our interests and resists peaceful attempts to resolve the crisis within the constitutional framework, then we as a group have the right to institute a new government. Having the consent of the governed is the only way for a government to be truly legitimate.
Really well worded addition that does clarify what I was trying to get at.
The concept of the right of rebellion is even older than the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. It goes back to 1215, when the English noblemen banded together against John Lackland, who decided because he was king he could rule as he pleased. The allied noblemen defeated his forces at Runnymede and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, providing for protection of church rights, protection against being held without trial, access to swift justice, and the ability of others to see that the king followed the law, by force if need be. The idea that the people have the right to throw off an oppressive government, by force of arms if need be, wasn’t a new one at the time of the Revolutionary War, nor was it to stay limited to Europe (1848 saw revolutions up and down Europe). Arguably George III and Parliament were early adherents of the theory that some rights had become irrelevant with the passage of time, and now were just in the way of good order. They decided to secretly disarm the colonists under cover of night, got caught in the act, and the rest is history. The right to bear arms was written into the Constitution specifically to avoid that situation.
I’ve argued this with people up and down the internet. All I keep hearing from the anti-gun people is that the history is irrelevant and that I am being pedantic, which is just another way of sticking your fingers in your ears and refusing to listen. The Europeans don’t help by chiming in and saying how great it is to send their kids to school knowing nothing will happen to them and how they can walk home from the pub at night knowing no one is going to shoot them. Uh huh. First of all, you folks work on your issues, we’ll handle ours. If we want your help, we’ll call you. I repeat, you folks work on your issues, we’ll handle ours. If we want your help, we’ll call you. Second of all, I guess kids never get hit by cars, or grabbed by strangers in Europe, and I guess no one gets roughed up by four or five guys heading home from the pub who want to take his wallet or his smokes. We both know that’s not the case, but I guess you guys think that’s ok, as long as no guns are used. Europe’s never been that strong on logic at times. Third of all, you only have a free country as long as you can keep it, and you guys are doing a dandy job of giving yours away a piece at a time.
The fact is that a lot of folks, including a chunk of my generation, went kind of soft during the economic boom that was the 1990s. We just wanted to be safe, be happy, and watch our 401(k) plans balloon. We didn’t want to be distracted by things like foreign policy or a president who couldn’t keep his hands to himself or shootings by disturbed individuals. In fact the 1990s is when we put the assault weapons ban in place, specifically 1994, with a ten-year sunset provision to make it palatable for those who thought it was questionable.
A lot of these folks stayed soft, even through 9/11 and what followed. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen, this wasn’t how it was supposed to play, this was just a ripple coming to our placid shores, right? These are a lot of the same folks who voted for Obama, thinking he’d bring back those good old days of peace and prosperity, the planet would begin to heal, and the colors would finally become one. How’d he do? Not too well, eh? But the rhetoric about how every child has a right to go to school safe, how everyone has the right to work at their desks without the fear someone will come in and mow them down, and so on, all sounds good, so we buy into the arguments now being advanced. Notice they don’t talk about how everyone has a right to walk down any street anywhere safe or how law-abiding citizens have a right to be free from criminal activity in their neighborhoods. That would require actual effort and risk, and those they go after might fight back. It’s so much easier to spew hate at law-abiding citizens and conservative politicians.
Frankly, it’s time the law-abiding gun owners and conservative politicians stopped trying to engage with or placate the other side, who isn’t here in good faith and isn’t looking to deal with us with respect. We have said all we have to say, and if we speak more, it’s going to be with something other than words.
I want me some weapons of war! Ya gotta admit, it’s enviable weapons of war them thar Marxist progs got, with their CNN “town halls” and such.
Not intending in the least to disparage anything you said there at 9:09 am, Steve-O. I hope to read more commenters saying what you are saying, even more bluntly, if that is possible.
Oh, I told an antigunner whose page was all Trump hate and Obama ass-kissing to put his nose in the former president’s anus and take a big sniff if he couldn’t handle what I had to say yesterday. The look on his face was probably pure gold.
Were you not one of the people who were all upset when the teen used profanity to Trump after the shooting, saying it was disrespectful to the Office of the President and that you would punish your daughter if that was her?
Nice. Or are you saying that only counts for sitting President’s, and she should wait until he’s out of office to curse him out?
I didn’t use any profanity. I just told the guy to put his nose where it had obviously been for eight years.
I won’t feel safe until I get a Personal Defense Satellite.
The model in Europe (and indeed, most of the world) is you concentrate great power in a few hands – the power of armed force, the power to censor speech, the power to surveil – and basically hope with all your might that this concentration will keep it all from ever falling into evil hands. The result, predictably, is that it all seems to work swimmingly for some time, much better than I a system where power is diffused (and evil therefore always has access to some of it), until suddenly it all goes pear-shaped.
So sure, Europe feels smug right now, but let’s not forget that Western Europe hasn’t had a literal fascist dictatorship since… 1975. That’s when Francisco Franco died. That’s not really so long ago, when you think about it. The UK hasn’t had a low-grade civil war for, what, over 20 years now? “The Troubles”, they called it. How quickly we forget there was a time when people there weren’t quite so sure of their children’s safety at school, and again, it wasn’t that long ago.
Antonio Salazar, dictator of Portugal, only preceded Franco into the great unknown by seven years. Italy still can’t get its shit together. Let’s not even talk about the mess nominally free Greece was, or how the Turkish army took over a few times. Europe can take its opinions on us and shove them you know where.
Oh, the relevance: https://youtu.be/LdhQzXHYLZ4
It should be noted that criminal homicide rates peaked in the early 1990;’s.
I remember those days. At the time, the problem was inner city violence, often perpetrated by criminal gangs.
I wonder why the anti-gun cult never talks ab out gang violence. Were gangs eliminated within the past decade?
There is one other thing to consider:
Go back to 1775 and Paul Revere’s “midnight ride” where he was warning, “The British are coming!”
What was the objective of the British troops being deployed from Boston?
Well, according to “Paul Revere’s Ride” the objective of the British troops that were confronted by colonial militia at Lexington and Concord was to “disarm” the rebels by seizing and destroying “all military stores” and take their leaders into custody.
In short, to confiscate the colonists’ “weapons of war.” As we know (or should know), that operation didn’t go well for Great Britain and sparked the Revolutionary War. We know how that war ended.
But some people need to realize/be reminded that America’s successful war for independence was sparked by an effort to confiscate what was the AR-15 or its day from lawful owners.
Maybe our schools need to spend less time on regulating “microaggressions,” and spend more time on American history – minus the Howard Zinn [nonsense].
IM wrote: “Maybe our schools need to spend less time on regulating “microaggressions,” and spend more time on American history – minus the Howard Zinn [nonsense].
I think this is a limiting assertion and it has the intention to limit and control discourse. Therefor it must be a) seen as what it is amd b) rejected.
But that does not mean that Zinn or Chomsky or people like William Appleman Williams and Michael Herrington, or perhaps Randolphe Bourne, cannot be critiqued. But to be critiqued they have to be considered. Therefor the ‘minus’ part of your argument is suspect.
From that I proceed to a general critique of so-called ‘conservatism’. Allow me to say, with tremendous respect of course, that I have grown tired of *your* lies. I make bold statements because bold statements are the most interesting.
There are now and there have been in the past organic and natural ‘populist’ movements in the US that share a great deal of commonality with what is referenced as ‘the progressive platform’. There have been organic popular anti-war movements which have resisted the destructive enterprises of our ‘conservative’ sell-outs.
What our schools actually need, you may prove yourself incapable and even non-interested in articulating. But they definitely need to establish’reestablish a platform where free thought is encouraged and all ideas are brought to the table.
I have read a great deal of Chomsky’s work and his analysis of power and the power-dynamic is unparalleled. It cannot be simply dismissed nor eliminated from the curriculum. But here on this blog someone once said ‘I have never read Chomsky because I don’t have to to know that sh*t stinks’.
In order to dismantle ideas one must be familiar with them.
The thing about the so-called conservative position is that it has, in its unique way, also become a sort of conventional trap. ‘Conservatives’ seem to read off flash cards too, just as the Progressives do.
(I want a Gold Star and a 🙂 for this marvellous and trenchant essay … And when do the California Junior Communists arrive? I am dying with anticipation!)
Michael Harrington: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Harrington
William Appleman Williams: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Appleman_Williams
Howard Zinn was a polemicist who even other academics didn’t like and gave poor peer reviews to. Chomsky is a linguist.
Sure, and some said he reduced history to a ‘Manichean fable’. But then to be completely fair so do those who adobt and hold to some of the ‘civil myths’ of ‘the American civil religion’.
It would be much more ‘teacherly’ to allow Zinn’s perspective to be reduced, intellectually, to Manichean fable and to understand how and why limited binary views are destructive to intellectual analysis … than to banish him.
Chomsky is really a philosopher and his background is philosophy. He describes hismelf as ‘a child of the Enlightenment’. I see his political analysis as an expression of Machiavellianism. His analysis is essentially Machiavellian: he reveals how power functions and how power conceals how it functions. That is very useful analysis.
Jack, what is your personal opinion about the existing balance between safety and rights – or, feel free to rephrase that problem statement any way you like.
Do you think we need more gun-related regulation? Less? Or is today’s balance (or whatever term you prefer) about right?
What is your view?
I have always believed that basic regulations, like age, training, certification and evidence of law-abiding character, as well as conditions for transfer and sale, would be positive reforms. However, all of these require a degree of trust in the government, and when one prominent political party increasingly evinces the desire to eventually eliminate the right to own guns, and its policies and rhetoric demonstrate increasing estrangement from basic American goals, principles and values, I no longer believe such reforms are suggested in good faith, or that they would be treated as anything but incremental stages to banning.
It’s a little like Israel and Palestine: when I see a credible acceptance of a meaningful Second Amendment’s right to exist, I’ll support the compromises. The current tenor of the discussion makes that point look very far away indeed.
“when one prominent political party increasingly evinces the desire to eventually eliminate the right to own guns…”
WHO among “prominent” Democrats is saying this?
That aside, thank you for articulating your framework. I find it, apart from the above excerpt, quite reasonable.
(And, if it bears repeating, I’m a Democrat, though hardly prominent.)
I would venture to say that most “prominent” democrat politicians are not complete fools, and would be canny enough to not come right out and voice this opinion, although a number have said and done things that point in that direction. Some (including Hillary) have expressed admiration for Australia’s firearms program, which is forced confiscation. In 2013, Feinstein (of “Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ’em all in” fame, re ARs) proposed a bill that would “ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing of importation of 150 specific firearms including semiautomatic rifles or pistols that can be used with a detachable or fixed ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.” Incrementalism is their game.
Joe Biden, on Nov. 18th 1993, in an AP interview, also stated: “Banning guns is an idea whose time has come.”.
This was around the time of the “assault weapons” ban, and so arguably about those guns only. Biden being Biden, I assume he was caught up in the excitement of the ban, and stated his actual position without the usual parsing.
The admiration many gun-control proponents have for the Australian model seems to fall into the wishful thinking category, as the number of guns confiscated had been replaced by 2013: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-14/australians-own-as-many-guns-as-in-1996/4463150
To be fair, Joe is an idiot.
True, and Willem did specify “not complete fools”. Biden is prominent though, by any standard.
I also said “most”…That leaves room for Biden in the other group.
..while Trump is MENSA material, Jack??
I was a Biden supporter in 1987/1988 when he made a failed effort. The alternative was two natives of Massachusetts. Always considered Biden a moderate. In 1987 he was considered a young candidate and now an old one.
Dukakis was a very viable candidate- until the whole furlough thing became an issue.
Historically, he was the kind of candidate who almost never wins the Presidency, though: he was short, he was ethnic with an ethnic name, and he lacked presence and charisma.
The tank did him in. This was the last years of the Cold War and Duke certainly didn’t impress anyone as a Cold War Warrior. But Bush had the resume in that area.
I don’t recall announcing a “who is dumber” competition. What does Trump have to do with Biden? Trump doesn’t make Biden more acceptable, and vice-versa. But the non-stop insults regarding Trump’s intellect are wildly out of proportion given Biden’s well documented idiocy. The news media gives him a pass, always. Guess why Similarly, they harped on Sarah palin’s alleged stupidity, while never choosing to highlight the obvious: Joe is a dolt. Whataboutism becomes you not.
So, let me bring this back to earth.
Jack talked about ““when one prominent political party increasingly evinces the desire to eventually eliminate the right to own guns…”
I asked for examples of prominent Democrats who actually hold this viewpoint.
You suggest that “most “prominent” democrat politicians…would be canny enough to not come right out and voice this opinion.” In other words, they do NOT say this.
Joe Fowler raises the 1993 quote from Joe Biden, though he notes (probably correctly) that Joe may have been speaking in limited terms, and that he is (notoriously) know for misspeaking. But Biden is on the record many times since as positively affirming his defense of the Second Amendment. So again, you’re stuck with “inferring” what he “really meant.”
I repeat the challenge: Show me one prominent Democratic politician who has ever declared their flat-out opposition to all guns, or to the repeal of the Second Amendment. I am not aware of any.
When you indulge in speculation about others’ motives without quotes to back it up, or when you darkly impute hidden objectives to people who have never said what you claim them to be dissembling about, you really do your cause no good. It’s just dark conspiracy talk, and we have way more than enough of that.
There’s plenty to debate about guns without getting into psychological fiction about it.
Let’s see, I suggested that democrats who want gun bans might be clever enough to not express this openly, though they advocate policy in that direction. You fall back on your demand that the only acceptable proof of what they would be loathe to say is examples of them saying it. I fail to see the logic in that. I do see the logic in believing that after half a century of ever increasing gun regulation, it’s reasonable to imagine that a democrat politician who wants to ban “these” guns now will want to ban “those” guns next, and is not just going to stop when each successive ban or restriction fails to foil the criminals and crazies, as has been the case so far.
But you wanted a name…So I’ll just offer back up the one already mentioned by Joe and Jack (and you): Joe “Banning guns is an idea whose time has come.” Biden. You chose to “infer” that he really didn’t mean what he said; I can just as easily choose to believe he slipped up and spoke his mind (what there is of it), as one of the “not-so-canny” group of politicians. Giving lip service to the Second Amendment is no proof of support. Obama did so, and then ran an end run around due process by placing pensioners on “no-buy” lists, ran the “Fast and Furious” scam, and pulled other such stunts.
But wait, just for you, there’s more:
“I believe for example when Washington, D.C., passed a law that nobody could have a gun except law enforcement and it was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, that we should overrule the Supreme Court with a Constitutional amendment. I don’t believe that in our society that we should have guns.” Ed Koch, former democrat mayor of New York
“I don’t believe people should be able to own guns.” Barack Obama, 1996
“I do see the logic in BELIEVING that after half a century of ever increasing gun regulation, it’s REASONABLE to IMAGINE that a democrat politician who wants to ban “these” guns now WILL WANT TO ban “those” guns next, and is NOT JUST GOING TO STOP when each successive ban or restriction fails to foil the criminals and crazies, as has been the case so far.”
Your quotes, my emphasis. You BELIEVE that it’s REASONABLE to IMAGINE…
Meanwhile, in the non-imagined world:
Here’s a headline quote from Joe Biden from 2013:
“The first foundational principle is there is a Second Amendment. The president and I support the Second Amendment. And it comes with the right of law-abiding responsible citizens who own guns, use it for their protection as well as for recreation.”
Ed Koch is not a prominent Democrat, being dead, and not a politician since 1989, but when he walked the planet he apparently owned a handgun himself. (He also proposed banning bicycles on certain streets).
If you Google the current Democratic Party platform for its position on gun control, you will find the following:
“We recognize that the individual right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second Amendment right to own and use firearms.”
Looking for people’s actual quotes, I suggest, is an important part of a reasonable dialogue. Unless you’re willing to do that, I suggest that relying solely on “believing it’s reasonable to imagine” does not constructively add to the discussion.
Also, I don’t know where you got the Obama quote of “I don’t believe people should be able to own guns.” Can you show a link or citation?
Meanwhile, here’s Obama: “”I believe in the Second Amendment,” he said. “How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people’s guns?”
And here’s the link and citation:
Few of Obama’s anti-gun shenanigans had much, if anything, to do with strengthening “comprehensive background checks”. For example, merely as “a thumb in the eye” of gun owners, he blocked the re-importation of historic American-made non-automatic firearms from South Korea. These are collectors items with a very slim chance of seeing use as a threat to society. Prosecution of federal firearms crimes was woefully lacking during Obama;s tenure, particularly in the districts covering Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City…even Rahm Emanuel complained about it.
More of his history:
Obama consistently supported gun control legislation while he was in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate.
When Obama ran for the Illinois senate, Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI), asked him if he supported a “ban [on] the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns” and he responded “yes.” His presidential campaign “flatly denied” Obama ever held this view, and blamed it on a staffer, but IVI provided Politico the questionnaire with Obama’s own handwritten notes revising another answer. Members of IVI’s board of directors, some of whom had worked on Obama’s campaigns, told Politico that “I always believed those to be his views, what he really believes in, and he’s tailoring it now to make himself more palatable as a nationwide candidate.”
In 1998, a questionnaire administered by IL State Legislative National Political Awareness Test didn’t ask about banning all handguns, but it did find that Obama wanted to “ban the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons.” Such a ban would outlaw virtually all handguns and the vast majority of rifles sold in the United States.
From 1998 to 2001, Obama was on the board of directors for the Joyce Foundation, which funded such anti-gun groups as the Violence Policy Center, the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, and Handgun Free America. Both the Violence Policy Center and Handgun Free America, as its name suggests, are in favor of a complete ban on handguns. During his tenure on the board, the Joyce Foundation was probably the major funder of pro-control research in the United States.
Willem, fair points, and thanks for the detailed documentation.
I won’t challenge your factual analysis, it sounds right; I would say, though, that a good politician (no, that’s not an oxymoron) has to learn from his or her constituents, and be able to evolve their position. Those who never change their position move at some point from “principled” to “stubborn” to “incapable of compromise” to “demagogue.”
Obama may be many things, but stupid isn’t one of them. I’m guessing he saw the political impossibility of completely banning guns, and got off that train a long time ago. I haven’t looked it up, but I’m sure there are plenty of quotes of him supporting the 2nd amendment, while continuing to argue for greater gun control measures (also not an oxymoron).
Thanks again for the fact-based engagement.
Thanks, Charles; always fun. I’ll toss in a couple of things I neglected earlier.
“Show me one prominent Democratic politician who has ever declared…”
Dead as he may be, I think Ed Koch may still be considered among the “ever”.
People can/do change, but, especially with politicians, I find their words more believable when they comport with their actions. Failing that convergence, I’ll choose the actions as the indicator of their positions on issues. Maybe I’m just too cynical.
Well, let’s go right to the top: Hillary said during the campaign that we had to look at the Australia approach. What else does that mean? Joe Biden, in 1993, in an AP interview, also stated: “Banning guns is an idea whose time has come.”
Ah, yes, the Australia approach.
Would the NAACP have had the slightest cause for alarm if a prominent federal elected official in the 1980’s suggested using South Africa’s approach in dealing with crime in urban, predominantly black, neighborhoods?
Have you heard of the Los Angeles Times, specifically their editorial dated December 27, 1993?
My view is that when people claim to want to exchange liberty for safety, the liberty and the safety generally don’t belong to the same people. When we put people in prison, it’s to make those on the outside safer, not the inside.
This was a fine essay, Jack, both in substance and form (aside from the unintended bold that WordPress chose to inflict on the second half). I doubt I can add anything meaningful, but I’ll try.
It struck me that if we were to ban “weapons of war”, it would encompass all the following:
1 Pump and semi-automatic shotguns – Both these shotgun types, indistinguishable from their civilian variants, are currently used in military and police arsenals.
2 Semi-automatic handguns – The military has been using these since their inception, and still does to this day. They have been used in every US war since 1911 to the present day. The iconic Colt M1911 and Beretta M9 are widely sold to civilians and are functionally identical to their mil-spec designs. For the most part, all semi-auto handguns are equally efficient (or inefficient), and because of how simple and fast combat reloads are, magazine capacity is only marginally relevant.
3 Bolt-Action rifles – These have been weapons of war since the 1830s and are still used by every military in existence today.
4 Semiautomatic rifles – The M38 SDMR (designated marksman rifle) is current military issue.
5 Automatic (select fire) rifles – Well, this one requires no exposition.
In some form or another, all the above weapon types are current USG issue, and therefore “weapons of war” by any meaningful definition of the term.
The way I read it, the only common firearms that are no longer weapons of war are revolvers and lever-action rifles, and perversely, fully automatic pistols (machine pistols). I think machine pistols are in use in foreign military service, though.
So to bring this thing full circle, what argument is there for banning only semi-automatic rifles of the same form factor the military uses, and not the rest of the arsenal? If it is a “weapon of war,” then under the theory of those you have quoted, they shouldn’t be in civilian hands.
So under the liberal argument, we’re to be relegated to revolvers and lever-actions. While I love both those types of guns, and they are certainly suitable to most home defense and hunting needs, they would be inadequate to the purpose the Second Amendment as it was laid down, and as you have so eloquently explained.
Could you tell that the bolding was a WordPress glitch, or were you just being nice? Because it WAS WordPress. I had to remove all the coding and links and reload the damn thing to get rid of it. That’s never happened before—there was no indication on the draft that everything from the quote would be bolded.
I suspect Jake Tapper…
I’ve seen it before. It’s usually a typo that looks like an unclosed bold or strong tag. It happens in most CMS systems from time to time, and it can often be hard to detect and fix. I haven’t used WordPress that much, though, so I can’t speak to the details.
Jake Tapper doesn’t have enough integrity to have done it. 🙂
If I can get up the other languishing Comment of the Day in time, Glenn, this is one. Thanks.
I often wonder how the history of this issue would have played out differently if the founders hadn’t included that “militia” clause that hangs so many people up. If the 2nd simply read, “The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” would citizens have a better understanding of it? Is there some other language that could have been used to encapsulate everything Jack wrote here in a concise, clear way?
Several states have in their constitutions provisions like Wyoming’s “The right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the state shall not be denied.” Would the explicit declaration that it is an individual right that encompasses both self-defense and communal defense have saved a lot of litigation and ink-spilling over the centuries?
The other problem is that so few people understand that the DOI is still a living document, through the Constitution. The Constitution has no meaning without it.
I don’t think it would’ve mattered. The arguments claiming that “all firearms” weren’t in the meaning would still be there, because cannons, tanks, etc.
So no, the same arguments would still be presented absent that one, and perhaps it would be, anyway. The omission of the militia aspect from the amendment’s text would not erase the militia from history, which was the primary means by which states defended their sovereignty. The leftist historians would still raise the argument, I fear.
When arguing that the 2nd amendment only means muskets and other contemporary equipment of the time, you should counter argue, that the 1st amendment only applied to the printed press, such as books, pamphlets and newspapers and nothing else, since all this radio, tv and internet didn’t exist back then, so it’s not included as well. I’m sure there are court ruling that would say those are protected, but for arguments sake, the Founders never “really” meant to include all that new stuff.
It would seem that semi-automatic weapons were proposed to the Founding Fathers as a possible new weapon to introduce on the Revolutionary War battlefield.
The writers of the 2nd Amendment understood fully that technology changes, and therefore if their wish was to leave the American Citizenry hamstrung by contemporary technology, they would have written it so.
But they didn’t, because they didn’t wish to leave the American Citizenry hamstrung.
Look up the first machine gun, the Puckle gun. Invented in 1718.
Didn’t DaVinci also have the concept?
Yep, there’s that.
I specifically like the John Compton example, though, because it links the Founder’s directly to wanting “higher tech” firearms or clearly considering “higher tech” firearms to fall under the definition of “arms”.
But even then…Puckle Guns and “improved Small Armes”…only seem to be medium strength arguments. Inevitably if we all agree to a very narrow definition of what the Founder’s meant by “arms”…a definition centered around time-bound technologies, then we’re still surrendering to a 2nd Amendment interpretations are out of date argument.
Ultimately, it needs to be seen that the “arms” of the 2nd Amendment are an open definition that molds the meaning of “arms” to whatever an infantryman typically carries into battle or what a citizens could reasonably bear into battle.
By using even the Puckle Gun or the John Compton gun as a proof text that the Founders were cool with automatic firearms, we leave an opening to be limited to that technology when the next advancement in individual arms, whatever it may be, comes out.
I want those cool electric bolt guns from the ‘V’ miniseries. Work like a laser without the cliche!
Here is a better example.
since the founders could not have imagine same-sex marriage, the Constitution does nor protect same-sex marriage.
I suspect that the militia part is more a tool to argue with than anything else. If I read jacks post correctly the Supreme Court has said its an individual right, for people to continue to push the point says to me they don’t care and just see it as a persuasive tool to use on the uninformed.
Thank you Jack, there are a lot of fragmented thoughts and and arguments out there and also on this site and it’s extremely nice and very helpful to see some of them pulled together into a cohesive well thought out post like this. Helps a ton to bring clarity to some of the matters being discussed.
My own Anti-Gun position.
I never “liked” guns and my own youthful exposure was the kid’s games we would play with our toy weapons. I had zero interest in expanding beyond that. I grew up in a rural community in the 1950s, so guns were available, and kids would go hunting. Was it fear? Probably not – I just didn’t get “excited” by the concept. My father had a handgun since he often had large sums of cash and was trained to use it. I was given rudimentary instruction and told never to touch it. He kept it locked in a case.
I have five sons and four have military experience. One is heading for retirement as a USAF Col. Another is 25 years army retired. Neither have the slightest interest in guns. A third is 100% military disabled so he has seen enough of guns. The last has far more interest and has several handguns. Being an airline captain, he is also certified to carry on the flight deck.
There we no guns in my house. None. Never allowed, but then comes the caveat. Those that were interested had access. My children we active in scouts and shooting was the highlight. Every camp session that was the centerpiece. Where I live there are several rod and gun clubs and they had access if they wished. The idea was if you were going to do this you would do it right. Your training and understanding of the potentially lethal tool would be paramount. If I took you to a club I would expect every possible certification you could get. I am a firm believer in giving kids choices an encouraging them.
Two sons bought guns, or I should say I bought them as presents. Funny – a devout anti-gun person buying guns for their kids! Anyways, the parameters were set. Guns stayed at the club and locked up. Never in the house nor taken away from club grounds.
My wife is a political conservative and I am self-classified as a part-time Libertarian. Both of us are anti-gun. I am a zealot on the issue and she is also. I would outright ban them all (100% unrealistic) and she is close to that.
I can understand the concept of law-abiding gun owners being punished for the actions of the deranged, but I really don’t care. If the government wishes to impose restrictions I’m all for it – the more draconian the better. Are there inconsistencies in my position? Most certainly, but the gist of it is “I don’t care.”
But I am not a one issue person. Gun legislation is not a deal breaker when I vote. I am also highly suspicious that the latest series of marches are just a cloak for anti-Trump and anti-Republican street brawl.
I can understand the concept of law-abiding gun owners being punished for the actions of the deranged, but I really don’t care. If the government wishes to impose restrictions I’m all for it – the more draconian the better. Are there inconsistencies in my position? Most certainly, but the gist of it is “I don’t care.”
This is a percent example of an emotional position rather than a rational one. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I hope you recognize it.
Of course, I do and may have included that in my post. Emotions cannot and should not be ignored nor should just bumper sticker slogans. Sometimes there is a nugget of truth.
So you really do care, even when you claim not to. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t mind less draconian restrictions but instead claim to prefer more severe limits. That is inconsistent with your suggestion of indifference.
I can understand why people support concept of the government restricting hate speech. I can understand the same about wanting to retry people like OJ Simpson who escape justice. I can understand the concept of why some people support “justice” at the expense of due process. I can understand why some people would be okay with seeing their constitutional rights abridged or denied in the name of security.
But I do care, and I’m willing to offer up my life to ensure it doesn’t happen, even to defend the rights of those who would willingly sacrifice some or all of same on the altar of comfort, security, or personal safety.
I care enough to defend your rights, even if you don’t.
This is just one issue and not any other nor do I even give a hoot about “connects” to other issues. I explained my position and to you, it is as irrational as yours is to mine.
– ” I am self-classified as a part-time Libertarian.”
-” If the government wishes to impose restrictions I’m all for it – the more draconian the better.”
That would be a VERY part-time Libertarian, indeed.
Clearly, political labels are inadequate. Libertarianism is very tough to do part-time. The commonly accepted definition: “an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens”, pretty much precludes one from holding your opinion about draconian government restrictions. Although many pot enthusiasts I know espouse a libertarian position about their hobby, they seem to mostly want legal weed, and there ends their dip in the libertarian pool.
Very curious what positions you hold that are considered libertarian?
I could have said part-time conservative or part-time liberal/progressive/democrat or whatever they call themselves. And not all Libertarians follow a textbook or Wiki definition. I may be off the reservation (apologies to Liz) on gun issues but return on many fiscal issues. And I fully realize that my position on guns can easily be dismissed as being conflicted with other issues regarding individual tights. This is, again, a stand-alone issue for me. And as Bill Belichick would say “It is what it is.”
This is probably the best argument on this issue I’ve ever seen. (I appreciate when an argument uses angles that people neglect.) Most people who are calling for a ban on firearms seem to be forgetting that the principal-agent problem even exists when it comes to government, probably because it isn’t taught in schools. (The principal is someone who delegates a job to an agent, and the problem deals with how the principal ensures that the agent does what the principal wants. In this case, the principal is the American public, and the agent is the government.) The Bill of Rights was the founders’ answer to the principal-agent problem. Somehow the public seems to have forgotten that those who seek the highest power are often the ones corrupted by it, and that the government can’t just automatically be trusted to have the people’s interests in mind. Politicians do a good job of promising to validate people’s complacency, so that might have something to do with it. Populism is an insidious and contemptible concept.
People also want to ignore the inevitability of tradeoffs. In order to make tradeoffs much harder to ignore in future national issues, I intend to split the government into four separately elected sections, each dealing with a particular threat to society. Each section would have to bargain with the others for permission to trade vulnerability to one threat for security against another. Of course, the first resort would be that citizens do something about a problem themselves, and if that would be infeasible, the solution would go up the chain of authority until it got to someone who could do something about it. That way power would only be used when necessary, and the main job of the government would be to make sure someone was doing something about the problem. As with all systems of government, without a responsible and mature populace, it wouldn’t work, but I expect it would be more in tune with what government is actually needed for, compared to what it promises to do now.
Extradimensional Cephalopod wrote, “This is probably the best argument on this issue I’ve ever seen.”
Weapons of War”
The anti-gun lobby knows damn good and well that that phrase is a slippery slope that has absolutely no ending. That’s exactly what these people want, a way of defining any weapon they don’t like as a “weapon of war” is their means to an end – it will be their new go-to phrase for the foreseeable future.
I raised this “weapons of war”issue the other day…
I asked above, “How far are these anti “assault weapon” extremist willing to go with their “assault” terminology?” in my opinioni, they are willing to go all the way to 100% disarmament for the public – yes 100%.
Until these anti-gun people fully understand that “the Founders intent in the balance of force is that the common man certainly at a minimum has the right to bear an equal firearm to the standard infantryman” (texagg04) this continuing effort to disarm the public will continue. I’ve heard some of these wackos say things like feel free to die with your firearms when we come to take them, that’ll just be one less murderer we’ll have to put in prison for having firearms – yes they think we’re all either murderers or potential murders. I’m going to state it outright; I think these anti-gun-anti-Constitution (AGAC) advocates will not stop trying to disarm the public ever and at some point in time these AGAC wackos are going to gain power and try to force their twisted totalitarian ideological anti-gun-constitution ideas lots and Lots and LOTS of people will die.
They won’t stop until you are dead beside your weapon and they can pry it from your cold dead hands.
Have these people ever asked themselves why these tactics were never used to disarm criminal gangs?
Come to think of it, the anti-gun cult pretend that gang violence never existed.
You should aggregate all the 2nd Amendment posts and on-point discussions into a single Opus…
You should read the comments I left on this post on another blog.
I’ve always put it to my friends:
With the first amendment, the founders made sure we can speak out against the government.
With the second amendment they made sure we would be heard.
Great explanation of that, Jack.
I really like that one, Emily.
If the Founders were so concerned that the People should have the means to rebel, I wonder why they just asserted the right to bear arms? Why not for instance also the right to maintain transport, surely also essential to rebel or fight tyrants?
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep horses, carts and carriages shall not be infringed”.
You could then argue that speed limits were unconstitutional, and maybe a lot of other road safety regulations ? It might be a bit of a stretch to use it to challenge aviation regulations and presumably that would have to go to the Supreme Court?
And maybe even more wildly, could it be argued that the Founders intent to protect the People’s ability to rebel is clearly shown (in the 2nd amendment) so I shouldn’t in any event have to pay my last speeding fine?