Read What the 2nd Amendment Actually Says!

2ndAmendmentIf there is one thing that really gets me about gun fanatics, it’s these silly 2nd Amendment arguments that don’t actually take the 2nd Amendment into account.  These people tend to be mostly Libertarians, who, as we all know, aren’t all there intellectually, but there are plenty of neo-cons too and the less said about them, the better.

Now I’m not anti-gun by any means, I’m entirely fine with people lawfully owning firearms, I always have been and always will be.  What I am is pro-reality and pro-rational argument, which a lot of these gun nuts simply do not have.

I bring this up because, as usual, I got into a pissing contest with one of these delusional Libertarians who kept claiming that the 2nd Amendment gave him the right to own any weapon he wants, up to and including nukes.  So I pointed out to him that the actual language of the 2nd Amendment never says that and he tells me, wait for it… that what the 2nd Amendment actually says doesn’t matter, only how it is interpreted in the modern courts.

Um no.  I know this is hard to understand but the 2nd Amendment is the only gun-related document that was actually ratified by the states and made an official part of the founding documents of this country.  Your interpretation, whatever it happens to be, was never voted on by the majority of American citizens, as required to make it an amendment to the United States Constitution.  If you want to try to get the Constitution amended, knock yourself out but we both know  you have no shot in hell of actually doing so.

I don’t want to spend a great amount of time explaining the history, I’ve done it before and therefore I’ll just touch on it briefly.  At the time the Constitution was written, the fledgling United States did not have a standing military.  In times of conflict, every able bodied white male was expected to come to the aid of their town, state or nation, providing their own arms, and fight against the threat as a representative of the country.  That’s really what the 2nd Amendment was about, it was a guarantee that people would have the weapons available to them should the need arise to fight off a threat.  That’s specifically why it mentions a “well-regulated militia”.  You know, that first part that the NRA and gun nuts never mention in their arguments?  That’s blatantly dishonest, but hey, what can you expect?

Personally, I don’t think the 2nd Amendment has much meaning anymore.  The situation that existed when it was written and voted upon simply does not exist anymore.  You don’t get to just twist it into something that it was never intended to cover.  If we want a new Constitutional protection for gun ownership, we need to put a new amendment on the books.  That’s what the Constitution was intended for, to  be a living document that could be changed by the people.

Anyhow, getting back to this Libertarian nutbag, I kept pointing out that he couldn’t justify his position using the only legal founding document ever ratified by the people and he didn’t even try.  Instead, he kept linking to opinions given by the NRA and other Libertarian sources, forgetting that people’s opinions on the matter have no bearing on the actual  text of the 2nd Amendment.  It went on for a while and then, after realizing he had nothing but his opinion, I gave up.

But as I said, I’m not against gun ownership, I just don’t think there’s a justifiable national permission slip for it.  When the Supreme Court has ruled that people have a right to own firearms without being part of a well-justified militia, a decision I disagree with, I suspect it’s because they realized that the genie is already out of the bottle and there’s no cause to produce political hay when a decision going the opposite way couldn’t possibly be carried out.  After all, if they ruled that Americans do not have a Constitutional right to own a firearm, there are millions upon millions of guns out there in the hands of people who aren’t going to turn them in regardless, therefore why make that ruling?  The Founding Fathers might have understood the same thing, that the citizens of their new nation both needed and wanted firearms regardless and wouldn’t be turning them in no matter what the law of the land said, thus they focused that desire for gun-ownership to national defense as well as a means of justifying it.

And let’s be honest, the Libertarians only conveniently read the 2nd Amendment anyhow.  We forbid the insane and former felons from owning firearms, that’s certainly not something that appears in the 2nd Amendment.  Not only do they leave out the first 13 words entirely, they add a bunch of words that say it’s okay to deny some American citizens access to firearms.  Imagine that.

I just wish people would learn to read and be rational when it comes to their opinions but, as we’re unfortunately aware, that kind of thing just doesn’t happen very often.  It’s also a shame that very few have the courage to call out the irrational on their nonsensical beliefs.  I do.  Do you?

12 thoughts on “Read What the 2nd Amendment Actually Says!

  1. While I agree with your interpretation of the second amendment, this is not what is currently the law of the land. After more than two centuries of treating the language of the second amendment as you have described, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (2007) that the language of the Second Amendment does not limit the right of gun ownership to the sole purpose of serving in a militia or the military. They ruled there is an individual right to own a weapon.

    "In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self- defense within the home. The Court based its holding on the text of the Second Amendment, as well as applicable language in state constitutions adopted soon after the Second Amendment." (http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_07_290)

    You can download a pdf copy of the decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290

    Scalia said in the decision that there are limitations that can be placed on the type of weapons that can be owned. So in this regard the libertarian to whom you were speaking is wrong in asserting that the Second Amendment permits ownership of any weapon. But he is right in that an individual does have a fundamental constitutional right to own a weapon for purposes other than military service. I don't agree with this decision nor the interpretation of the Second Amendment upon which it as based. But until some future U.S. Supreme Court overrules the Heller decision, an individual right to own a weapon is the law of the land.

    As for your analysis of why the Supreme Court decided as they did and why the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment in the Constitution, it is in inaccurate. I suggest you read The Second Amendment: A Biography by MIchael Waldman. He does an excellent job of presenting the history behind the Second Amendment.

  2. While I agree with your take on the libertarian extremist, I cannot say the same for your reasoning. The second amendment, like others, does not confer rights; it recognizes them and at least erects a paper barrier against violations of them. Sometimes a look at the first state constitutions, the original laboratories of republicanism, can provide insight into the thinking of the founding generation. For an example on this question, the Pennsylvania constitution reads . . . "XIII. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; And that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."

    Ownership of firearms is understood as a natural right, not one conferred by government.
    My recent post Diabolical Diets

    1. That's just a load of nonsense libertarians tell themselves to feel better about their position. Rights don't magically exist, floating around invisibly in the ether, waiting for people to come along and claim them. Rights are granted by society to their members. Rights are conceptual, they don't have any meaning until people come along and define them and decide that they want them to apply. It really doesn't matter what the founding fathers thought on the matter, it only matters what what the reality is. The whole natural rights nonsense is one of the biggest failings of the libertarian mindset, I've yet to run into one who could justify thinking that rights are anything more than a societally-assigned thing.

  3. First, I would think that our mission as conservatives is to "conserve" the constitutional order created by the founders, which means "what the founding fathers thought on the matter" is very important. No, they did not provide much philosophical justification for "rights." (I will try to do so tomorrow; it is getting late here in the eastern time zone.) But they believed that rights existed and that men established governments to protect those rights. One of them was the most fundamental of all–the right to defend oneself. If someone tried to force their way into my house, I will shoot them. How's that for " what the reality is."

    Second, do not mistake me for a libertarian. I am a conservative. Libertarians are "fellow travelers" of the conservative movement. Smoking pot and listening to the Grateful Dead while the wife brings home big bucks as a sex worker may appeal to some; not to me.
    My recent post Diabolical Diets

    1. We can't live in the past. If being a conservative is never changing, then conservatism fails. The founding fathers could never have foreseen the modern world in their wildest dreams and certainly, they couldn't have planned for it. They weren't the prophets of the gods like some people want to think, they were just men who did the best they could setting up a system that worked in their day. It doesn't work quite so well today. There are things that they believed was moral at the time, like slavery, that today, we think is immoral. From our perspective, they were wrong. From their perspective, we're wrong. Morals are subjective like that. As far as gun rights, the weapons of their day were nothing like they are today. Again, it's nothing they could have possibly foreseen. They also couldn't have foreseen the formation of a standing military, something that wasn't the case at their time. They had a different set of problems that they were dealing with at the time, problems that are no longer an issue in ours. We need to look at what they wanted, in the context of the time that they wanted them. If someone tried to force their way into my house, I wouldn't shoot them but I do have some very sharp swords on the wall that I can take down and whack their head off with pretty damn quick, I have nothing against self-defense at all.

      And honestly, it isn't so much that libertarians are fellow travelers because libertarianism is such a huge concept, most libertarians have little in common between themselves. Lots of true conservatives, and I hate using that term, moved over to the libertarian party once the liberals took over the GOP. That's largely why the libertarian party got started in the early 70s, the same time as Nixon's Southern Strategy. I probably share a good portion of my beliefs with rational libertarians for that reason but there are plenty of things that I absolutely will never agree to that is rampant in that party.

      I look forward to seeing what else you can come up with, it's rare when I get a really good discussion. Thanks for commenting.

  4. On the issue of firearms, we must acknowledge, as you say, that weapons today are very different than those owned by Americans in the 18th century. Unlike the libertarian you mentioned in your original post, I have no problem with the government maintaining exclusive control over weapons designed for military use. Such a restriction can coexist with a person's natural right to keep arms.
    My recent post Diabolical Diets

    1. But you know that a lot of libertarians out there do. We've talked extensively about this on the podcast, there are libertarians who want to be able to own F-16s, an M-1 Abrams tank or a nuclear weapon. There are people out there who think they've got to stand up against the combined forces of the American military by themselves or their rights are being violated. We both, I think, recognize how ridiculous that is. Beyond the fact that I don't think there is any such thing as a natural right to keep arms and we have never treated it as such in this country (do we hand an M-16 to an infant? What about their natural right to keep arms?), we have to look at things rationally and decide what kinds of arms make sense to be in the hands of the American public and which ones do not and those people who want to go down in a blaze of glory with an AK-47 clenched in each hand can go blow it out their asses.

  5. As to a philosophical grounding for natural rights, here it goes.

    First, let me note your correct observation that you have made several times in several posts that rights are granted by society or the government. You are correct in that rights are a human construct like government, religion, marriage, money, etc. They do not exist independently in "reality." But rights in that sense do rest upon or at least recognize certain aspect of "reality." As human beings, we have certain species specific natural needs. Physical needs like food, clothing, shelter; psychological needs like esteem, friendship, and love. And without animal instincts to guide us, we depend upon two other species specific characteristics–reason and free will–to meet those needs individually or in cooperation with others–family, friends, etc. And within organized society, the necessity of securing those needs for ourselves can be construed as rights or, to get more exact, "right claims." We claim the right to meet our needs against the interference from others. Such "rights claims" are reciprocal of course. Because every other human being has the same species specific needs as me, they have the same "rights claim" against interference from me. 'And of course, society must erect rules or laws to regulate matters when rights claims lead to conflict.

    So then I would argue that while rights are as you say a social construct, they are rooted in the reality of our specific human needs.
    My recent post Diabolical Diets

    1. But that's the thing, you're confusing "needs" and "wants". What we need is very limited and rarely covered by so-called natural rights. We need air, we need food, we need water, we need shelter. We need, at least at the species level, to reproduce. I don't see people claiming that everyone has a natural right to a house. Then come desires, things that people want to have, but are not necessary to their survival. There are a lot of people who conflate the two and they shouldn't. Wants are not universal. They differ significantly between different cultures and even between individual people. What you want, someone else may not and what they want, you might not. Therefore, to declare this universal set of natural rights that apply to everyone, everywhere, is absurd. Just because you find a particular idea compelling, or because Americans find a particular idea compelling, that doesn't give them the right to impose their beliefs on others who do not share them. It's like saying that the Muslims find Sharia Law compelling, therefore everyone on the planet ought to be forced to comply with it.

      Generally what you're arguing for is enlightened self-interest, which is fine, it's the basis for all rights claims, but it only works so long as everyone shares the same desires, which we know isn't the case. Going back to the Muslim example, they don't value women's rights. Therefore, demanding that the women have rights because of this silly "natural rights" idea isn't going to fly. Far too many people who hold that idea are convinced that everyone, whether they want to admit it or not, believes the same things they do, values the same things they do and wants the same things they do.

      That just isn't the case.

      1. I do not see where I conflated needs and wants. As you say, what we need is very limited. That's why I noted that my list of natural needs is minimal. Needs are basic and are universal. Another way of defining needs is "real goods." They meet real needs. Wants are unlimited. and again, as you say, are not universal. They also can be described as "apparent goods." They "appear" good to us and can be innocuous or actually harmful. Needs, real goods, in a biological sense become natural rights in a political sense. Wants, or apparent goods, never can. Wants can become only "civil rights" granted by some governing authority.
        My recent post Diabolical Diets

  6. Now having written all that, a few footnotes. First, you'll notice that any list of rights based upon natural needs is a pretty short one. I am sure their are others, but it is minimal. Second, liberals create a problem with rights in that they assert that rights claims mean society must PROVIDE those needs rather than just create the conditions that enable people to exercise their rights to secure their needs for themselves (such as rule of law in matters of property, contracts etc.) Finally, the idea of rights has been debased these days in that in our public discourse, "rights claims" becomes the last resort of any argument. In every argument these days over public policy, someone puts out the "rights" card, which basically ends discussion. If it is my "right", what "right" have you or society to oppose me, whether its my right to drug use, ss marriage, or even the right not to be offended by contrary views? It kind of puts an end to public debate.
    My recent post Diabolical Diets

  7. Finally (and it really is finally as I am heading to work) we can as conservative non-theists (I am strictly speaking an agnostic) we can assent to Jefferson's claims in the Declaration that "We endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" when we note that we are endowed by nature with those rights. They are after all, natural rights not supernatural rights.
    My recent post Diabolical Diets

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