March 28th, 2015
An Argument for Repealing or Clarifying the Second Amendment
Before I begin, I hasten to underline that the chances of this happening are pretty much zero: there’s simply no way the Second Amendment will be repealed or clarified. But it should be, and I’m open to either possibility. In the debate about guns and control, everything comes back to the validity and applicability of the Second Amendment in our modern context. What’s its purpose? Why is it still necessary? Honestly, while I understand the arguments of the gun culture, I don’t grasp why firearms need to be an intrinsic part of our Constitution and therefore untouchable as a product. The only legitimate reason it exists in 2013 is to provide a disproportionately sacrosanct, nearly biblical cover for the corporate, for-profit gun manufacturing industry. There’s simply no other use for it, especially within a document filled with timeless and fully legitimate human rights.
Put another way: the Second Amendment is no longer a necessary means of self-preservation, as perhaps it might’ve been in a rural, agrarian, semi-hostile, slave-holding, post-colonial America. Absent the hazards of the late 18th Century, it’s strictly become a means of protecting the availability of a retail product. Hardware. A hobby. Guns are a product that we don’t absolutely have to own in order for democracy and liberty to flourish — and, in fact, owning a gun is statistically bad for you, that is unless you earn your living manufacturing and selling them.
Therefore, I have no hesitation declaring that the original intention of the Second Amendment is dead. And, based on research by Thom Hartmann and others, the original intention to provide a means of patrolling slave quarters and putting down potential slave revolts (more on this presently) is as antiquated as the slave economy of nearly 150-plus years ago.
So what are the justifications for the Second Amendment? Specifically, what are the perceived reasons for the Second Amendment often cited by gun enthusiasts? (Incidentally, I assure you that James Madison, George Mason, Patrick Henry and the framers of the Bill of Rights never intended to codify an enthusiasm or a hobby as a human right.)
–The Second Amendment is a necessary bulwark against tyrrany. Nonsense. It’s easily the biggest myth surrounding the Second. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, no gaggle of gun-toting rednecks or even a trained backwoods militia is any match for the American government and its military. If anyone is responsible for the exponential growth of the American government’s military might, it ought to be the far-right goons who wallow in These Colors Don’t Run! jingoism whenever the United States launches a war. I don’t care how badass you think you might be, if the government wants to take you by force, it will. Certainly this isn’t a comforting notion, but if you’re worried about the unprecedented strength of the military-industrial complex, blame a conservative — they’ve been foisting it upon us for decades.
–The Second Amendment protects our ability to defend ourselves against criminals. Statistically speaking, you’re less safe if you have a gun in your house. And numbers don’t lie. Via Mother Jones, an Emory University study concluded, “For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.” So basic math obliterates self-defense as a valid justification. But if self-defense is a matter for the Constitution, then what about burglar alarms? Should ADT get an amendment?
–The Second Amendment is necessary in the absence of law enforcement. This is the NRA’s popular Mad Max post-apocalyptic scenario suggesting that when society breaks down and complete anarchy sweeps the land, we’ll need guns or die. Okay sure. And we might need guns to help President Bill Pullman fight off space aliens, too. This argument redirects back to the previous point, which is that an amendment to protect something that’s statistically more dangerous for the average homeowner in the event of a home invasion (before the cops arrive) is completely ridiculous. And, while we’re here, what kind of shoot-outs are occurring during home invasions that require extended magazines and no time to reload? Going back to Hartmann as well, there was, in fact, a connection between this “absence of law enforcement” notion and the too often unspoken intention of the Second. Patrick Henry and other architects of the Second wanted to preserve the southern institution of state militias which were tasked in part with guarding against slave revolts. Given how slaves often outnumbered slave owners, you can imagine why they were terrified enough to work something into the Bill of Rights, and use southern political muscle as a means of getting what they wanted. In the absence of a federal police force, therefore, a “well-regulated militia” became necessary for preserving the institution of slavery and the lives of the wealthy white landowners who benefited from it.
–The Second Amendment is liberty! Sorry, but protecting the availability of firearms does nothing to foster a healthier democracy or perpetuate the existence of the United States. Nothing. The freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights and the further amendments beyond it generally augment the sustainability of basic human rights and American democracy. Gun ownership, however, does not — at least in the modern context. Yes, we’re a nation founded upon liberty and freedom, but the freedom to buy a specific product, in this case, firearms, no longer has any bearing on those values (if it ever did in the first place). There aren’t amendments pertaining to the freedom to purchase any other product, yet our freedom to buy things is as healthy as ever. In fact, more than anything else we’ve become a consumer nation — and without any constitutional amendments protecting the right to consume. Oh, and by the way, isn’t it ironic that the same political faction that’s the most hell-bent on protecting gun ownership and, in their words, “liberty,” are the same people who are making it more difficult to cast a vote — heaping new layers of government regulations and restrictions upon our most vital human right.
–And finally, the Second Amendment protects hunting. First of all, there’s nothing in the Second about hunting, either for sport or for food or as a tradition. Secondly, why should a “sport” or tradition enjoy its own constitutional amendment? As for food, I actually agree that sustenance is a basic human right and so perhaps hunting for food within sustainable limits and regulations should be protected in some way. However, very few people would take seriously an amendment protecting the retail grocery store industry — yet the gun industry gets a constitutional line-item somehow.
This last item is a solid jumping-off point for what I would consider to be a compromise position regarding the status of the Second Amendment. I’ll concede the gun culture’s Second Amendment argument, even though I disagree with it, if the gun culture were to embrace the notion of ratifying a Universal Healthcare Amendment. Sample text: No citizen, regardless of age or personal health, shall be denied access to quality, affordable medical care. When in the event medical care can not be afforded, the government will provide full financial coverage for that care.
If the Second Amendment is ultimately about self-preservation, either as a means of self-defense or for attaining food, and, thus, ought to be codified in the Constitution because of it, then so should the right to affordable healthcare. In fact, the availability of affordable medical care should go hand-in-hand with the availability of firearms, given how gun injuries account for a decent chunk of medical spending. And if attaining food, another pro-gun argument, is necessary sustaining life, then how is medical care any different?
If we’re going to protect important industries in America, industries that manufacture a product or provide a service, then it’s difficult to imagine an industry that’s more important to our survival than healthcare. Sure, healthcare is mostly a for-profit industry in America. But so is the gun industry. Everyone needs healthcare to survive. Not so with guns. Under the current system, healthcare is expensive and costs are rising out of control. Guns are eminently affordable, and there isn’t an epidemic of bankruptcies due to gun purchases.
Whether there’s a Universal Healthcare amendment or whether the gun people are consistent and decide to support it doesn’t change the fact that the Second Amendment is antiquated and should therefore be repealed or, at the very least, clarified. Again, it’ll never happen, but this hypothetical notion speaks to the ridiculousness of the amendment in our modern context.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that all guns be summarily abolished. Like any product that carries certain dangerous consequences, I’ll concede that guns should still be available for purchase but regulated accordingly, not unlike automobiles, tobacco or liquor. In terms of revising the amendment, I would suggest coupling the notion of constitutionally-protected firearm ownership with military service, assuring proper training and use of firearms. Plus, military service provides a specific and unquestionable need for firearms: combat in the name of national defense.
Otherwise, and to repeat, we’re only talking about a constitutional amendment that protects your right to buy a (dangerous) retail product that ultimately carries no value to the perpetuation of the United States and American-style democracy. For all of these reasons, and in the absence of other amendments protecting other retail products, there’s simply no need for an amendment protecting firearms in modern America. Take away this sacred justification, and we’re left with a product, like any other, that falls squarely into the realm of government regulation for the benefit of public safety, just like everything else — food, transportation, healthcare, housing — even water and electricity. Guns shouldn’t be allowed special latitude, especially based on an obsolete line in the Constitution.
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March 28th, 2015