WASHINGTON, DC, February 18, 2013 ― Opponents of gun rights seem to be frustrated by the Constitution.
The Constitution is a flawed document, they claim. The founders weren’t infallible. What passed for rights in an 18th-century context can’t possibly stand muster in our modern society.
Their arguments are based in rationality, they say. After all, guns kill people, right? It is time to reassess the Second Amendment.
Opponents of gun rights, then, immediately stipulate that owning firearms is constitutionally protected. They just don’t believe that particular part of the Constitution is relevant in the 21st century.
One recent column asked whether guns were necessary. Self defense, defense of the nation, sport, and a check against government tyranny are all reasons why the signers of the Bill of Rights secured the right to bear arms in ultimate law. But those reason are no longer valid, according to gun rights opponents.
Yet the anti-gun Left has continued to call for its amendment, or reinterpretation, at least. Because the Constitution is outmoded, don’t you know?
The founders surely couldn’t have foreseen the efficiency with which firearm manufacture would allow people to kill, goes the argument. Guns are more deadly now than they were in the 1700s by several orders of magnitude.
Not really. Sure, rifled bullets travel faster than balls shot out of muskets, but the latter were just as deadly, if only more painful. Yes, automatic weaponry has increased the frequency with which rounds could fire from a weapon, but the technology for repeated fire was not undreamed of at the time of the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress requested a bid for the manufacture of the Belton Flintlock, a repeating rifle, in 1777. Even so, automatic guns are illegal for civilian use under current law.
So far as we know, the Belton weapons were never built, but legislators and military planners were certainly aware of their possibility. The idea that the First Congress (over half of whom served in the Revolutionary War) couldn’t have fully appreciated the deadliness of firearms is preposterous.
But if those who ratified the Second Amendment (making it, in effect, untouchable by legislation) knew full well of the potential deadliness of weaponry, they severely overestimated their need as a check upon government. Our Republic is so stable and secure that the need for an armed militia ready to muster against a corrupt tyranny is the stuff of right wing paranoia.
On those grounds, why not abolish First Amendment free speech or free press rights? The notion that our government, at any level, should be trusted totally, is antithetical to its entire formulation. The founding generation constituted the federal government on the assumption that it should be distrusted.
Moreover, we can’t celebrate its stability and its beneficence without acknowledging the causes for such. In other words, the United States has been so enduring and self correcting precisely because of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The right to use arms is part of the foundation upon which this nation is built, just as a nation of expressive, freely speaking and freely worshipping people are part of that foundation.
This is largely theoretical, of course. Gun owners, enthusiasts, collectors, and advocates are not on guard for the coming revolution, despite the caricatures promoted by the Left. Make no mistake, the founding generation appreciated that aspect of an armed population, but the greater effects are more subtle. Legal gun ownership encourages civility, responsibility, self-dependency and respect for rights, all ingredients in a citizenry up to the task of self government.
Our notions of rights change, though, says the Left. It is time to reassess which “rights” are truly fundamental versus artifacts of parochial political concerns.
Their favorite analogy is with slavery, which was also enshrined in the Constitution, they say. It is the perfect answer to any aspect of the founding ideals they dislike.
Slavery was recognized as a fact of eighteenth-century American life, to be sure. But to own a person as property was never expressed as a right. The fact of slavery was construed in the Constitution as a structural reality with which any government had to deal.
Oddly, most anti-second amendment folks can’t admit outright that they think the Constitution is ridiculous. After all, the right to free speech is placed right alongside the right to protect oneself with arms. (That those two things might be connected is completely lost on Second Amendment critics.)
So instead of bashing the Bill of Rights, they make excuses for its limitations and shortsightedness.
They ought to consider that the oldest operating constitution in the world which has produced the freest people in history might just still be relevant after all.
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. In addition to writing the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities, he is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative.
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