Political Issues are like Ogres – they have Layers
Well, it’s 2016, an election year, and with distressing predictability the Democratic and Republican political war machines have started drumming up their bases by calling into question one of the most divisive topics in American politics, the Second Amendment. They could have fired the opening salvo on Abortion, but with as popular as the Pope is these days, I suppose neither side wants to alienate all those Hispanic Catholic voters.
My guess is that we will all see Abortion be the hot topic issue within a week of the Democratic candidate being decided.(1) Make a mental note and let’s see how it goes.
Politicians love to get us pissed; it’s the quickest way to public office. If you can identify someone’s ideology on a subject, put fear into their hearts that said ideology is under attack, then you can reliably expect that person to turn out in defense of it. Both sides do it, in their own way, and do it well. Any attempt at responsible entitlement reform is met by Democrats as just another attempt by the ultra wealthy to squeeze the downtrodden masses. Any effort at firearm regulation is met by Republicans as tantamount to an imminent nationwide Federal gun seizure by jack-booted thugs, whereby some mysterious Gestapo take everything from your Grandfathers’ WWII service pistol to Daddy’s shotgun, kicking the family dog on the way out.
Full disclosure, the right to bear arms is an issue I take seriously. I’m an avid shooter and 1911 enthusiast. I spent many years with an M4 in the Army and look forward to my first AR purchase this year. Nevertheless, as I have grown a little more seasoned in life I have begun to become increasingly worried about how conservatives approach political issues, the defense of the Second Amendment in particular. Don’t get me wrong; I do believe there are some elements in America that truly want all firearms taken from free, law abiding citizens. There are also large numbers of people that want firearms restricted to the most basic hunting and sporting weapons, which was never the intent of the right at it’s inception. It’s a legitimate issue.
What bothers me is all too often the defense of the Second Amendment comes off in my mind as not only juvenile, but almost petulant; emotionally and ideologically based rather than based in real solutions. We can do better, and need to acknowledge there are very serious consequences to the way we realize our right today in America. The dangers of an under-regulated industry become self-evident when we examine the increasing lethality of mass shootings as well as an increasingly barbaric criminal element that it fully prepared to shoot you even after you give them your wallet.(2) There are simply members of our society that want to hurt people, and do so in callous, calculated manner. Right now these people – whether mentally ill, criminal actors, or Islamic extremists – have as much access to firearms as law abiding citizens do.
That’s fact, ladies and gents.
This fact is largely dismissed by many defenders of the right to bear arms with the “criminals don’t follow laws” argument (more on that later). It shouldn’t be. It’s an issue, and one that needs to be addressed if we want to continue to enjoy our freedoms as guaranteed in the Constitution. What I’m seeking to do here is remove the politics from the issue, examine the history of the 2nd Amendment, and offer some suggestions to preserve the intent of an 18th Century right for the 21st Century.
One thing is sure – people are gonna be pissed after reading this.
The Second Amendment: Collective and Self Preservation
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.(3)
Our right to bear arms is built upon English tradition and the fear the Founding Fathers had of tyranny at the hands of a central government backed by a professional Army. In the English tradition, the keeping of Arms was not only a right, but a communal responsibility. As far back as 9th Century and the “Laws of Alfred”, Saxon freemen were expected to provide arms for their own protection, and for the protection of their community:
“armed defense, particularly against robbers and burglars, a right and duty, levying fines upon those who failed to answer a call to arm.”(4)
The natural right to self defense is more plainly explained by John Locke:
“one may kill an aggressor where there is insufficient time to appeal to the law, for the law could not restore life to my dead carcass.”(4)
In our tradition, the right to bear arms therefore has both collective and individual connotations, and it is this dual nature that is at the heart of the traditional gun control debate. Liberals tend to focus on the common defense aspect of the discussion (the word Militia), whereas Conservatives focus on the last bit: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
As a self proclaimed moderate, I don’t think you can separate one from the other. At first glance, the collective reason for bearing Arms has by and large become a thing of the past since the duties of the traditional fyrd or militia has been replaced by the modern National Guard, and only the individual right remains. My perspective however, is that we still have this collective duty to combat “robbers and burglars,” and part of that duty in the modern era is making it difficult for such people to get their hands on one in the first place. We seem to forget that first part of the amendment: “well regulated.” Those two words can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Disciplined is one. As both a former Army officer and a entry level historian however, I think a better interpretation is “ruffians need not apply.” The Second Amendment was never intended to allow firearm purchases to the mentally ill, criminals, former felons, or those espousing an ideology contrary to enlightenment principle and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.
A Poor Defense
It is my sincere belief that if we continue with our current methodology of protecting the Second Amendment, we will lose our right and responsibility to bear arms. To quote Bruce Lee:
Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
We can’t get stuck in the mud with our arguments as the world changes, if we don’t adapt, we lose. The biggest issue I have with how we protect the 2nd Amendment is that it’s based on:
- A Logic Fallacy (Slippery Slope)
- Inarticulate Reactionary Arguments
- Sandy Hook
- Argument: Firearm regulations already exist in Connecticut, so they are therefore useless. Criminals don’t obey laws.
- My Answer: Well, yes but you can’t fix crazy (as I have learned through multiple ex-girlfriends), so how about we just keep them from buying a gun? Clearly someone who is mentally confused cannot accept the responsibility of gun ownership. Also, I know criminals don’t obey laws. Criminals will always seek opportunity, that’s why most gun crimes are committed with stolen firearms, and that’s why they drive the ten miles from Chicago to Gary, Indiana and buy them there. If you argue that point, you are basically telling an anti-gunner that they are right, we need more restricitons everywhere, not just in city enclaves. Your not helping, so please stop.
2. Chattanooga Tennessee/Charlie Hebdo/Garland
- Argument: Lone Wolf terrorists will find any means to commit terrorists attacks.
- My Answer: 100% Correct. Absolutely they will. So as responsible gun owners and citizens, let’s not make it easy for them. I’m pretty sure Thomas Jefferson would be just fine with us preventing someone on a terrorist watchlist (not sure if perpetrators were or not but you get the point) not getting a gun.
Preserving Inalienable Rights for the Next Generation
If we want to preserve our rights, we need to be accountable for them. Just as the Second Amendment is both a collective and personal right, so too is it a collective and personal responsibility. In my mind, when you buy a firearm you are taking a small step not just towards personal protection, but towards protecting the community at large. You are becoming a part of the fyrd, part of the unspoken militia. That comes with the obligation of not just responsible personal conduct, but collective responsibility to not let thieves, murderers, Islamic extremists, and the insane into our ranks.
This is where we need to focus our arguments. Not on asinine backlash against misguided anti-gunners, or on slippery slope dogma, but on the true intent of the Second Amendment. That we are a body politic unto ourselves, that we can both respect responsible ownership and prevent irresponsible ownership in the same breath.
We are a well-regulated militia, and we should act as such.
To close, don’t get pulled into emotional arguments by the politicians, whatever side of the issue you are on. They seek to exploit your emotions on this issue and others. They do not care about you, they care about power. Approach every issue with a level head and free citizen.
See you on the range.
(3) The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of The United States. Bantam Books Publisher, 1998.
(4) The Second Amendment Primer, Les Adams, Palladium Press, 1996.