Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Constitution: The Bill of Rights - Amendment II

Yesterday we started our discussion of the Bill of Rights - the first ten amendments to the Constitution - with Article I, which guarantees our freedoms of worship, speech, free press, and peaceable assembly. Those are probably the most important and most fundamental freedoms guaranteed to us as Americans, but if you really want to get people hysterical about infringement of their rights, start a discussion of Article II.

The Second Amendment reads as follows:

"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."

There are exactly 27 words in the Second Amendment, and over time, an estimated 737,219.8733 words have been written about it in the Federalist Papers, newspaper editorials, court decisions, and impassioned op-ed articles. One of the largest and most powerful lobbies in the country - the National Rifle Association - exists for the sole purpose of ensuring that rights under the Second Amendment remain supreme and untouched. Almost nothing will incense the average American more than the dreaded spectre of loss of his beloved guns.

Why do we have this national love affair with firearms?

If we go back to the time of the writing of the Constitution and the drafting of the Bill of Rights, we see that the Founders lived in a difficult time, and had their opinions shaped by a dangerous world. They'd just finished fighting for their independence against one of the world's largest professional armies, and the American forces were composed largely of individuals and local militias armed with the weapons they used for defense (against wild animals, "Indians," and other threats in the days before police departments) and for putting food on the table (this being a time before you could drive to the local Safeway and pick up a shrink-wrapped package of pork chops for your supper). At that time, it was important to own a firearm, because you might have to defend your home against attack (from "Indians," or from ... yes ... the government), and you needed to be able to feed your family.

At that time also, the cutting edge of personal weapons technology was the muzzle-loaded, single-shot musket, which a trained marksman could load, aim, and fire about three times per minute.

Fast forward to the year 2012. Cutting-edge personal firearms technology is now represented by the assault rifle and the 9mm pistol with high-capacity magazine. Where a trained marksman in 1787 could fire about three rounds per minute, an untrained shooter today can accurately fire dozens of rounds per minute and reload in seconds.

That's a lot of bullets flying around, and you don't need to be a trained marksman to set them flying.

Let me just say this about the Second Amendment: it's the law of the land. For all its grammatical and punctuational (?) shortcomings (did they really need all those commas?), it guarantees you and I the right to own deadly weapons, and I don't have a problem with that.

But, as I noted in yesterday's discussion of the First Amendment, we have lost sight of the difference between freedom and responsibility, between what we have the right to do and what's right to do. Do we have the right to keep and bear arms? You bet. Is it the right thing to do in all instances? Probably not.

Defenders of the absolute right to keep and bear arms maintain that we are safer when we have the ability to defend ourselves against threats. This may be true. There may not be a policeman available at hand to protect you against a mugger, or to arrest the burglar or rapist trying to break into your home. I understand all that. But somehow I'm more afraid of getting caught in the crossfire between a bunch of heavily-armed thugs.

Should we have the right to keep and bear arms? Absolutely. Should we open a rational discussion about what that means in a time of high-powered weapons and irrational beliefs? Absolutely.

Because, as I often say, freedom - whether of speech, religion, or firearms ownership - doesn't equal freedom of smart. And we're not showing a lot of smart lately.

Besides, I'd rather see bare arms on beautiful ladies any day.

Have a good day. Don't shoot anybody. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

A reasonable person would accept a balance between ownership of a pistol or rifle and carrying one around routinely. Also, thr ownership of assault rifles seems to be unnecessary.

for some people, ownership of a gun has some kind of mystical meaning. I cringe when I see those gun advocates' slogans on bumper stickers. Those people can be scary. I don't won one.

And this "one man, one bullet, one gun" thing -- it's stupid as a political solution and a non-starter in logic. Anyway, it puts the decision of who is a tyrant into any jerk.

Mike said...

New rule. If you own a gun you have to join the national gaurd.