Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Amendment Solutions

In my old age, I've become a rabid radical.  I just don't respect anything anymore.  Lately, for instance, I've been "disrespecting" the Constitution, particularly the Second Amendment, which seems to me to have been one of God's mistakes.

Like avocado pits.

Because, according to the vast majority of NRA true believers, the Second Amendment (unlike, perhaps, the Fourteenth), was granted to Americans, not by civil authorities drafting a social contract for a particular place and time, but by Yahweh Himself, speaking for and from All Eternity.  The Second Amendment, intone these zealots, enshrines the God-given right of each and every American to bear arms.

Rubbish.  Rubbish.  Rubbish.

The Constitution is a man-made document, establishing or affirming MAN-MADE values.  I find absolutely repulsive the notion that some "loving" God would want, indeed decree, that we should tote around lethal weapons in order to compensate for His inability to design and actualize a secure environment for His Chosen People.

No, a constitution is made by men, for men--and, most pertinently, for a specific society of humans. For as long as it works, this social contract binds a group of people to a distinct political structure and to guidelines for acceptable behavior.  Obviously, the document--both as a whole and in its various parts--is intended to ensure and advance the prosperity, security and overall well-being of that society.

It is NOT intended to negate or impede the achievement of those very goals.

The writers of our Constitution--themselves imperfect men (and NOT Yahweh)--soberly recognized their unavoidable inadequacies and, accordingly, clearly specified a means (albeit a very "prudent" one) whereby their document could be amended to suit changing circumstances or needs.

(Surely the very inclusion of an amendment procedure is proof positive that the Constitution is not in any way an expression of divinely immutable principles.  God's laws, if such exist, presumably could not be changed by anyone under any circumstances.  And yet, the Second Amendment is itself just such a "change," brought about by an act of Congress and approval of three-fourths of the states.)

In any event, it's pretty clear that the country's circumstances and needs HAVE changed since 1789 (or 1791, when the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution).  And even more significantly, popular thinking has evolved--not always in directions foreseen by those who drafted the Second Amendment.

Even the most cursory glance at the language of the Amendment reveals that the Framers were primarily focused on providing "security" for a "free State." People should have the right to bear arms in order to organize themselves into a "well regulated militia" and thereby protect themselves against invaders or, perhaps, a tyrannical government.  In other words, it is the interests of the STATE and the COMMONWEAL that must be served (not those of particular individuals).

But precisely because the remainder of the Bill of Rights, enforced by an elaborate legal system, has worked fairly well, citizens no longer have any desperate need to use firearms to protect themselves against tyrannical government or abuses of authority. Indeed, the gun collectors and hoarders have only very rarely organized themselves into "militia" in order to defend their liberties against agents of some despot--foreign or domestic.  Instead--with the notable exception of hunters and sportsmen--they seem to regard their guns as a legitimate means of advancing their own subjective interests--a "God-given" instrument for intimidating, threatening or coercing "lesser" citizens into a certain course of action--or else.

I fear that increasingly our American definition of freedom is both simplistic and anarchic:  "Shoot any son of a bitch who doesn't agree with me or pisses me off!" (So much for the FIRST Amendment, BTW).

This, I hasten to point out, is NOT the defense of the Commonweal spoken of in the Second Amendment.  Rather, it is aggression in the service of selfish interests or private grudges--Commonweal be damned.

Let us note here that the language of the Amendment says nothing specific about employing weapons for self-defense (against a personal attack) or for hunting or sport.  I assume that the Framers, living in late 18th Century America, would have considered such practices both reasonable and proper.  And, if  "well regulated," similar gun use seems appropriate for our modern world as well .


I very much doubt that the Framers had any such purposes in mind.  Unfortunately, their vague language has all too often been so interpreted, much to the detriment of our collective security. Statistics leave no doubt about the fearsome prevalence of gun deaths in America.  Indisputably, we own more guns than any other people--and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, we kill each other with guns at astonishing rates (14.2 per 100,000 vs., for instance 4.3 for Canada or .41 for England).

So, the Second Amendment, which was originally intended to ensure domestic security (NOT God-given rights to kill people we don't like), has, to paraphrase Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, become destructive of these very ends.  It therefore behooves us, again as Jefferson asserted, to "alter or to abolish" the offending writ.

Not by armed uprising, not by violent revolution (as advocated by Jefferson), but by the very prudent amendment procedure that established the Second Amendment itself.

I realize that this will be a very long process, especially given the pro-gun culture that now prevails in the U.S. And I am not naive:  perhaps we have grown so fond of our guns and/or so afraid of defying the NRA that we will be forever powerless to remedy our current Old West environment and restore some measure of domestic tranquility (the language of the Constitution's Preamble) to the general citizenry. Still, I continue to hope. Perhaps people of good-will and good sense will ultimately triumph.

So MY Second Amendment Solution is to trash the whole confusing and misinterpreted thing.  Replace it with a clear-cut set of rules appropriate for life in  21st Century America--rules governing the sale of weapons and permitting duly licensed/registered firearms for sport and self-defense. Period. Maybe then--sometime in the distant future, I suppose--we will begin to resemble the safer and more civilized democracies of the world--none of which (true believers please take note) seem to have the slightest yearning to share our "God-given right to bear arms."

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