Repeal The 2nd Amendment

This one sentence has caused more trouble than it’s prevented.

I propose that it be repealed.

I spend a lot of time and energy on this blog discussing religion. Most religions are simply cults that feed on the natural and historical, yet ultimately irrational desire of humans to find meaning and comfort in an uncertain and uncomfortable world. But in secular areas, there are cults too. The cult of guns and gun worship is one that I think people also flock to because of uncertainty and fear in a fearful world.  Bogeyman galore are propped up to rationalize the need for guns, and even a hint of regulation  causes mass hysteria among the gun worshipers in the cult. Think of the attitude that fosters  “…not until you pry it from my cold, dead hands“. Really?

It makes common sense that in the face of statistics showing that America is close to the top in countries with excessive gun violence, something needs to be done. Everyone from the NRA to The Policeman’s Benevolence Society would agree with that, albeit with radically different perspectives on the solution side of the argument. Those opposing any, or even minimal, regulation have one powerful argument in their camp – The Second Amendment. It is touted as providing a right, rather than a privilege, to own a gun, and any regulation smacks of infringement on that right. The word “right” is right there in the language.  We have a right to bear arms, and no less than our Founding Fathers endorsed that right. And the Supreme Court has provided its imprimatur.

Of course, there is the rest of the language of the Amendment that tends to be ignored, or glossed over, when declaring the individual right (as opposed to the collective right) to own a gun as sacrosanct. That niggling little bit about a well regulated militia, for instance. There is even a good argument that the Second Amendment had nothing to do with protecting anyone, other than slave holders in the South, in order to win their votes for ratification of the Constitution.

But, even if, for the sake of argument, one assumes that there is an individual right to bear arms, it still presents an impediment to rational gun regulation. I doubt the Founding Father’s could have possibly foreseen what the Industrial Revolution, which came later, would do to the technology of creating lethal weaponry, nor could they have predicted what the rise of populations and societal changes engendered by massive urbanization would do to the proliferation and use of guns. The Second Amendment has not grown with civilization; it’s locked in the 18th century while we try to apply it to the 21st.

I think this is why we need to seriously consider repealing the Amendment, or at a minimum, revising it.  Here is why:

  • It seems somewhat incongruous to place the right to own a material thing like a gun in the same category as those rights we attribute to the essence of humanity, i.e. human rights, like those enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right to vote, the right to be free from unwanted constraints, the right to due process of the law, etc.  To say that we also have a right to a gun diminishes those other really important rights. There’s really no logical equivalence. Had the Founding Fathers known about cars, trains, airplanes, computers and refrigerators, would they have declared the possession or use of those items a right also? We certainly have far more need for many of them, if not all of them and others, than we do guns. It’s the rare American who needs a gun, but try living without your car or your refrigerator in the 21st century. Ascribing gun possession as a right makes no real sense, not compared with actual human rights or material items we need.
  • So, owning a gun, given its lethality, should be a privilege, not a right. It should be a privilege that we should earn with a combination of financial wherewithal, stability, and need. We should not be born with the right to own one. (Do we put one in every bassinet at the maternity ward?)  The Second Amendment prevents that, by making it a right. Once we remove its status as a right, we can license and regulate the transfer, shipment and use of guns in a more rational manner, without the hysterical backlash we see every time there is even a hint of gun control. The Amendment sets up not only a practical block to effective regulation, but also a psychological impediment to rational discussion. If we didn’t think we had the right, and treated guns like we do cars, we could create societal fixes for the problems guns create without the sense that we were losing something.

This is something that will take time. We need to take a generational approach to the matter. It will require some time to enact and ratify the Amendment through the Constitutional process. There are an estimated 300 million guns in this country alone, and it will take time to reduce that supply, because it’s that supply that is causing the problem. People who have not yet been born will need to be brought up in a society thinking they have only the privilege of gun ownership, in order to create the attitudinal shift that will be required to wipe out this cult of gun worship. Only after that can we have enlightened, rational discourse about gun regulation.

I hold no illusions that it will happen in my lifetime. In fact, it may never happen, because the attitudinal shift needed to get it done will have to happen, in part, before the repeal, not after. Without repeal, though, I can see only more unnecessary death and destruction of families and lives. I fear we will need not one, or two, but dozens of Newtown-like massacres before people wake up and agree.

3 thoughts on “Repeal The 2nd Amendment

  1. I share your sentiments and agree with your arguments. I take exception only with the premise that the Second Amendment guarantees a general right for individuals to own guns. If the Amendment be read according to basic grammatical rules (and James Madison demonstrated more-than-adequate facility with grammar in his other writings), it proposes “a well regulated militia” as the expression of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The primary subject of the sentence is “a well regulated militia” and every comma-separated phrase after that subject stands merely to clarify and qualify that subject. If it were not the primary subject, the sentence would be meaningless. If the primary subject were “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” there would have to be something in the sentence to connect the militia phrase to it; something that would clarify that militias are merely an example of the right to bear arms. The sentence as it stands contains no such connecting element. The only way the sentence can make any grammatical sense is to read it with “a well regulated militia” as the primary subject. Thus,
    a “well regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state,” it is the prescribed means of satisfying “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” and this right (to organize militias) “shall not be infringed.”

    Moreover, if the Amendment be read according to legal precedent, the opening phrase, the “preamble,” must be understood to be the definitive “key” to the rest of the statute. “A well regulated militia” is the legal, as well as grammatical, subject of the rest of the sentence.

    Though the sentence contains no legal or grammatical flaw–it means what it says–it does have a stylistic flaw: it’s a run-on sentence. It has too many qualifying phrases and by virtue of that, can be confusing. That element of confusion is enough for people who really want to believe it says something different to convince themselves that it says what they want. And the confusion goes back to the very time of its authorship.

    The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, afforded sovereignty to the 13 states. The Constitution of the United States, which replaced the Articles in 1887, shifted sovereignty from the separate states to “we the people.” The Federalists, whose priorities won out in the final draft of the constitution, insisted that the sovereignty was collectively shared; the Anti-Federalists, who lost the constitutional argument, felt that sovereignty should rest with individuals or, failing that, with the states. They continued to make this pro-individual/anti-collective argument even after ratification and they tried to apply it to the Second Amendment. In spite of the clear grammatical interpretation, they insisted that “the right of the people” had an individual application, not merely a collective one. Chief Justice John Marshall, generally considered the greatest and most important Chief Justice in U.S. history, disagreed with the Anti-Federalists in 1803. Nevertheless, these two competing interpretations have competed ever since; the arguments over interpretation continue to the present.

    • Jeff

      I agree with you completely, and hope what I wrote didn’t give the (mis)impression that I believed there was an individual right to bear arms. I simply assumed for argument’s sake that even if that was the original intent, it’s archaic, outdated, and inapplicable to the present times, and should be repealed.

      Frankly, the individual/collective rights dichotomy is a false one. There is a third possibility, which I find convincingly argued in the Davis law review piece I linked to in the post (relating to throwing a bone to the Southern slave holders in order to obtain their votes for ratification of the Constitution)

  2. I believe the 2nd Amendment is both collective and individual just as We the people is collective and individual. It’s collective in that the subject, being the Militia, has the right to bear arms as a Necessity for the security of a Free State. The Militia, however, is made up of the people, in other words, US, who are trained from time to time. “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike especially when young, how to use them.” (Richard Henry Lee, 1788, Initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights, Walter Bennett, ed., Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican, at 21,22,124 (Univ. of Alabama Press,1975)..)The Governor is the one who calls forth the Militia and in a case of invasion, the president calls forth the Militia from the many states. These militias are to be similarly trained and similarly armed as outlined in Article 1 Section 8 in order for the Militia of the many states to perform as one. This is NOT an army. Article 1 section 8 of the US Constitution says Congress has the power “to raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years”. But Congress does have the power to “provide and maintain a Navy”. So the Navy is our first line of defense against invasion. The founders of our Country knew the dangers of a standing army. “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty…. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.” (Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment [ I Annals of Congress at 750 {August 17, 1789}]) A standing army would eventually be used against the people, therefore, the 2 year limit. For an example of abuse, you only need look at the 3rd Amendment which prohibits the quartering of soldiers without consent. The founders saw firsthand what happens when unarmed people are made to house armed soldiers. So when you read the 2nd amendment, envision yourself as the unarmed homeowner who has been forced to allow armed men into your home, with your family, your food and your possessions; all of the fruits of Your labor. And don’t think it won’t happen here; it already has – hence the 2nd amendment.

    It also further prevents the president from using the army, which has only a 2 year term, to go to war without consent of Congress. The founders knew of the abuses of war. Kings commonly went to war for personal and frivolous whims. The founders wanted to prevent the president from sending our young men to die for any reason other than the protection of this Nation. Congress being of the people would carefully consider the cost, both economically and otherwise. BTW, all of the wars that had congressional approval were won and ended in a timely manner. The ‘wars’ without congressional approval had no measured win and no exit strategy. Also, there’s a common misconception that wars are profitable to the nation. That’s not true. War only profits the war profiteers. War doesn’t build wealth it destroys it. And wealth that can’t be maintained isn’t really wealth. But I digress.

    The Militia is for the purpose of executing the Laws of the Union, suppressing insurrection and to repel invasions as described in Article 1 Section 8. The Army is for the purpose of war which has a 2 year limit. The Militia is Of the people and for the purpose of protecting the people and since it is made up of friends and relatives it helps to ensure the Militia is never used against the people. “A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms.” (Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer (1788) at 169) So in this way the 2nd amendment is both collective and individual.

    It’s a brilliant system and I wish we would get back to following the Constitution. Our Founders were very enlightened and they knew the dangers of NOT having the 2nd amendment. It is Necessary for Securing a FREE State. And any infringement of the 2nd amendment is a violation of “shall NOT be infringed”. “The right of the people to keep and bear…arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country…” (James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434 [June 8, 1789])

    On another note, there are already laws that make it illegal to kill people. If murderers ignore those laws what makes you think they’ll obey gun laws? So how will legislating gun ownership make the people safer? Further, most mass shootings happen in gun free zones where the shooter knows the people are unarmed. Will we ban cars because some people drive drunk?

Comments are closed.