Monday, March 10, 2008

The Second Amendment: We Keep Arguing Over Bearing Arms

On May 1, 1943, as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising raged, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels observed, "Of course this jest will probably not last long. But it shows what one can expect of the Jews if they have arms."

With that in mind, imagine what the Nazis might
not have gotten away with if they hadn't been so zealously in favor of gun control, or hadn't succeeded in implementing it. Imagine a Kristallnacht in 1938 during which, when faced with massive pogroms, threatened German Jews had the guns and ammo (and gumption) to shoot at those seeking to do their families and their property harm. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine a world in which the Nazis found it very difficult to herd Jews into train cars and gas chambers. Insofar as applicability in the real world goes, it should be sufficient enough to note that Israel is still around nearly sixty years after its founding, despite numerous Arab efforts to destroy it.

Next week, the Supreme Court of the United States will for the first time since the late 1930s wade significantly into the "gun rights vs. gun control" debate in America. At issue is a Washington, D.C. law dating from 1976 (drafted in 1975) which banned residents from owning handguns; the District of Columbia's government instituted the measure in response to alarming levels of gun violence in the Capital of the Republic. Whether the law has been effective is arguable, since D.C. is hardly America's safest city nearly 32 years after the ban passed the D.C. council. I'm sure the ineptitude of the District's leadership has nothing to do with this, even though D.C. has yet to even master the "simple" art of snow removal in the three decades since home rule was instituted.

However the high court decides will obviously shape the course of our national discussion on the Second Amendment far into the future; after all, if Roe v. Wade is still cause for passionate argument "for and against" 35 years after it was decided, it's a good bet that District of Columbia v. Heller won't be any different. Already, several officials in Montana - including the Secretary of State - are beating their chests and threatening to "pull a South Carolina" (my wordsmithing - see this article on the Nullification Crisis for more info) if the Supreme Court decides in favor of the D.C. handgun ban. Don't forget, we're talking about an issue which - unlike abortion - has been discussed and debated since the days when the Articles of Confederation first established that
'The Stile of this Confederacy shall be "The United States of America" '.

There are many people today who say that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was written for a different time and place, and thus no longer holds any meaning in today's world of rampant inner-city crime and Vice Presidential hunting accidents. I'm not talking about people who support Brady Law-type restrictions on firearm purchases. I'm talking about people who support the ACLU, who like to pick and choose which provisions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights should apply and which should be ignored simply because they don't fit in with their view of the world (which, I must say, is a view of the world not always wholly in touch with reality).

In my honest, humble opinion, the Constitution and Bill of Rights together constitute both a solid, firm set of rules and regulations as well as a flexible blueprint for dealing with future challenges and situations facing the American Republic. The Framers knew what they were doing in the late 1780s. With every oath taken to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," our elected leaders affirm that Constitution's status as a living document which guides us still today. And while Progress necessitates frequent reexaminations of the applicability of certain provisions from time to time, there is nothing "progressive" about attempting to repeal the People's right to keep and bear Arms.

Consider for a moment the fact that in their day, those who wrote the Second Amendment saw themselves as the defenders of a "Novus Ordo Seclorum" - a "New Order of the Ages". With the Constitution they created a new system of Government based on the idea, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that Governments derive their "just powers from the consent of the governed." Patrick Henry, that Revolutionary Virginian of "Give me liberty or give me death" fame, stated at Virginia's ratification convention for the Constitution that "My great objection to this government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights or of waging war against tyrants."

This, of course, was said before the Bill of Rights came into being.

At the Constitutional Convention, many State delegations refused to vote in favor of the new Constitution unless a Bill of Rights was drafted, a document of amendments which would spell out specific areas in which the new Federal Government would be legally restrained from trampling upon the rights and liberties of both the States and the People. Such worrywarts weren't, of course, against the sort of Government the Constitution spelled out per se. They just knew enough of human nature not to accept any arguments which said the Constitution provided more than enough protection as-is; they knew constitutional ambiguity could be used just as easily for evil ends as for good.

In "The Federalist" No. 51, published on February 8, 1788 in New York, the anonymous author Publius - now known to have been none other than the "Father of the Constitution" himself,
James Madison - wrote, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." (my emphasis - J.S.)

A recognition of "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms..." and the affirmation that that right "...shall not be infringed..." was not a throwback to an earlier, more primitive developmental era of human civilization. The Second Amendment represented a break from the past, a break from a world in which a Government could tyrannize, oppress and disenfranchise the citizenry with impunity. In that it put in words and codified - some might even say canonized - a recognition of just how far the People could go to not just "...provide for the common defence...", but also " the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity...", the Second Amendment was progressive in its day.

And it is entirely germane to, and progressive in, our day as well.

For if experience had taught mankind "...
the necessity of auxiliary precautions," then a Second Amendment which recognized that "A well regulated Militia..." was "...necessary to the security of a free State..." (note the word free, and the State which follows) provided such "necessary precautions" in the event competitive elections can't or won't, and Government can't or won't, secure the People their liberties and freedoms. The Second Amendment provides both a means of equipping a well-regulated State Militia (don't forget, those in the Revolutionary era feared standing National armies - for good reason, given their experiences), and clearly, straightforwardly protects "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms...".

Now, don't read me wrong: The Second Amendment says nothing about the right to keep M-16s in your boudoir, and should not be blindly or ignorantly interpreted as giving to the American people free reign to maintain a fully-equipped arsenal in their garages or storage sheds. Suffice it to say that whereas regulation is concerned, I am of the view that common sense should prevail, and that going overboard in our interpretations of the right to keep and bear Arms is just as bad, and just as dangerous to our liberties and freedoms, as trying to revoke that right.

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes."
- Thomas Jefferson

"Where and when did freedom exist when the power of the sword and purse were given up from the people?" - Patrick Henry; June 9, 1788

1 comment:

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