Mass shootings by deranged individuals are coming dangerously close to replacing MacDonald’s as the first thing the word “America” brings to mind in the rest of the world.
Many say it’s time now to have a serious debate about gun control—a debate we’re having every other week, it seems, each time kicked off by yet another whackjob playing Rambo at a school, a mall, or a movie theater.
The nature of the debate never changes, of course, with the left calling for for more gun control in order to reduce the number of firearms in circulation, and the right calling for more guns and less gun control, each camp insisting that their respective approach would bring about a reduction in gun-related violence.
The right’s solution to gun violence may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but these people argue that if everyone had a gun within reach at all times, any crazed gunman would end up with a bullet in the head before he could get off his second round.
Besides, conservatives are fond of pointing out that it is people, not guns, that kill, and that if resorting to firearms were not an option, anyone bent on perpetrating carnage would simply avail themselves of alternative means, such as mowing people down with a motor vehicle, clubbing them to death with a baseball bat, or choking them with a pillow.
Conservatives also like to remind us that the right to bear arms was embedded into the American system as a guard against government oppression, as disarming the citizenry ranks supreme on every tyrant’s to-do list. Ergo, being armed ensures freedom for the people.
The trouble is, at the time the Second Amendment was written, if you and your neighbors owned front-loading muskets, you were actually in a position to offer meaningful resistance against government oppression, since the standing army of yore didn’t have much more sophisticated weaponry, either.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where the government, if it were to turn tyrannical, could pummel our neighborhood with remote-guided drone strikes from the sky, and not even the most fervent Second Amendment devotee will argue that individuals ought to be allowed to possess the kind of hardware that would be necessary to ward off an onslaught by the most powerful military in history.
And since tanks and fighter jets cannot be stopped with handguns and rifles, advances in military technology have rendered the Second Amendment obsolete.
Putting forth the notion that the Second Amendment merely secures people’s right to possess non-military-style firearms for personal self-defense against common criminals or to go duck hunting makes no sense whatsoever, as it squarely violates the principle known as nocitur a sociis, which says that meaning is to be established by examining the surroundings of a potentially ambiguous word, phrase, or provision.
In a sequence like “meow, bark, moo, and neigh,” for example, the word “bark” obviously refers to the sound a dog makes, not to the external covering of a tree.
Likewise, it seems highly counter-intuitive that a sequence of provisions, such as the Bill of Rights, specifically designed as safeguards against government oppression, would contain one lone clause whose purpose is utterly unrelated to the purpose of the clauses that surround it.
The argument that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms for any purpose other than to be used in the context of a struggle against oppressive government becomes particularly bizarre in light of its militia-related preamble. To insist that because a well-regulated militia is necessary for the security of a free state, people shall have the right to possess firearms to deter burglars or to shoot quails in the woods, is preposterous beyond measure. By what logic can the Second Amendment be the only provision in the Bill of Rights that expressly secures the people’s freedom to engage in activities like hunting that have nothing to do with offering protection against the government overstepping its bounds?
The fact that this type of “well-regulated militia,” which depended on the people reporting for duty and bringing their personal firearms whenever the need arose, doesn’t exist anymore—the closest modern-day equivalent, I suppose, being the National Guard, whose arms are provided by the state, not by its members—is a different story.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms, alas, still exists as part of the supreme law of the land, and one cannot simply ignore a constitutional provision because it has outlived its usefulness or its stated purpose, for people will always differ on which parts of the Constitution ought to be heeded and which ones should be disregarded or re-interpreted to suit their personal views. A cafeteria constitution whose provisions are optional or malleable amounts to no constitution at all.
Although repealing the Second Amendment on grounds of obsolescence couldn’t hurt, I’m not sure how much of a difference it would make, given Americans’ firearm fetish. After all, there is, for instance, no constitutional right to possess recreational drugs—in fact, their sale and possession is expressly prohibited—yet people who want them don’t seem to have much difficulty getting their hands on them anyway.
Indeed, our liberal friends tend to argue that “drug control laws” are not only ineffective at reducing the amount of drugs in circulation, but that these laws exacerbate rather than ease the situation, primarily by paving the way for a humongous black market and all its unsavory side effects. Yet then liberals apply the reverse logic to guns, arguing that tougher gun control—a “war on guns,” as it were—would stop the madness or at least effect non-trivial improvement.
And liberals do have a point in that stringent gun control appears to work quite well at keeping gun violence to a minimum in other countries.
Of course, owing to cultural differences, those other countries aren’t that gun-crazy as is the U.S. with its lingering frontier mentality:
Real Americans love their guns, because guns offer protection against guns.
You can’t beat this logic, can you?