19 03 2008

For those of you who may not live in the US, the Nine Worthies heard arguments on the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution yesterday. Here is the Amendment in its entirety:

“A well-regulated Militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the People to own and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

There are some minor disputes about random capitalization of certain words and the appearance of an additional comma after the word “Militia” in various copies of the original Bill of Rights, but the actual text is simple and direct.

Sadly, Americans can’t seem to handle simple and direct. A great many heated words have been exchanged over the 2nd Amendment. Politicians have used the various disputes over this or that interpretation of the Amendment to curry favor with one or another faction of the electorate.

A great many people- for whatever reason- take the position that the first part of the Amendment (the bit about a “well-regulated Militia”) is the predominant clause in the sentence. For those people, I have a question: Why do you believe this? Is there any historical evidence which shows that your interpretation of the Amendment is most in line with the intent of the authors? I have asked variations of this question many times, and no one has ever provided a response. I don’t mean that no one has provided a satisfactory response. I mean that no one has ever responded.

For other people, the second part of the Amendment (the bit about “the right of the People to own and bear arms”) is the dominant clause. When I have asked those people the same question, I have received many responses, most of which identify as source material public statements, letters, and journals from the authors and their contemporaries. These arguments have a great deal of weight in my opinion, but that may be from a lack of counter-argument.

Back to the Supremes. I listened to the proceedings on CSPAN last night, and I was impressed with the clarity of vision and opinion on both sides of the argument. This is to be expected, because morons are rarely permitted to perform before the Nine Worthies. What really blew my tiny little mind were the cogent questions asked by the Justices themselves.

In place of the senile old nannies-in-drag I had subconsciously expected, all of the Justices were well-versed in the briefs filed for and against the defendant. They were also very familiar with the history behind the cases cited in those briefs. I learned more abou the history behind the arguments while listening to the Justices quiz the attorneys than in years of High School, College, and personal research. I actually found myself feeling less pessimistic about the future of the country after listening to the Justices.

For those unfamiliar with the issues, the case in question was a lawsuit against the city of Washington DC seeking to overturn the blanket proscription against handguns. The plaintiff- a security guard named Dick Heller- wanted a handgun for self-defense at his residence. The City told him it was against the law, so he filed a lawsuit citing the 2nd Amendment. The DC Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, so the City appealed to the SCOTUS.

People on both sides of this issue have been wanting and fearing a case like this for a long time. At the extreme ends of both groups are those who want a ruling granting sweeping authority to get rid of all firearms (and knives, bb guns, slingshots, and anything else more dangerous than a crayon) and those who want no restrictions on any citizen’s right to own and bear nuclear weapons.

You just wish I was joking.

Afterwards, the interested parties ran the gauntlet of the media Hell-Hounds outside the Court. I claim no ability to guess how the Justices will rule (in June or July), but the body language of the people around attorneys was telling. The attorney for the City was smiling and waving to the reporters, but everyone around him was frowning and seemed to be slumping. By contrast, the attorney for Mr. Heller had a friendly smile and spoke lightly, but he (and everyone on his team) seemed to be fighting hard to hold back broad grins of satisfaction.

Note that I did not mention the substance of their statements to the Press. With only a minor variation or two, the statements by both attorneys were identical. Practically word-for-word. One of the reporters even called them on it.

The only person whose statement I actually paid attention to was Heller. One of the reporters asked him why he had pushed this fight for so long. For a moment, he seemed honestly baffled on the best way to answer that. To me, his expression was that of a man trying hard to explain a concept so basic that words do not properly express it. He finally misquoted Robert Heinlein and then said that his job required him to carry a handgun to protect important officials, but he wasn’t permitted the same privilege for his own defense.

Unlike many people on both sides of the argument, I do not demonize those with whom I disagree. I thought that the City made a good case for their side- despite my disagreement with their interpretation of the Amendment and the relevant case law. In contrast, I profoundly disagreed with the Mayor and Polic Chief, both of whom cited incomplete statistics to justify their side. I understand their position, but I do not like it or approve of their tactics.

Far too many people on the anti-gun side have stated- in so many words- that they are afraid of what might happen if their fellow citizens had guns. Guess what? There are more than 80 million legal gun owners in the US, with an estimated total of 270 million guns. You read that right- there are nearly as many guns in this country as citizens. If you are one of those people terrified that your neighbor might have a gun, your worst fears are realized. A lot of your neighbors (roughly one in four, statistically) do have guns.

One person commented that most people would never need to fire a gun. The quick retort from another particpant in the discussion was that most people would never need to have gay sex either, but they should have a right to do so.

I wish I was the person who’d said that. I don’t even know the guy’s name. One of the funniest and most cogent arguments I’ve ever heard, and it happened in passing. By the time I stopped laughting, both parties were gone.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with a quote on the subject of Gun Control:

Gun Control: The idea that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her own pantyhose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound.”

By the way, here is a very good article on this subject from Reason magazine.

Current status: Surprisingly positive

Current music: Velvet Green by Jethro Tull



4 responses

23 03 2008

The Constitution shall never be construed… to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.
-Samuel Adams

I would say that there is gun control. Peaceable Citizens can buy guns, the people who are not peaceful and/or not Citizens can’t.

-The “choir”

23 03 2008

I practice gun control. I hit what I aim at.
– Anonymous Marine Gunnery Sergeant

Don’t think of it as `gun control’, think of it as `victim disarmament’.
– Jeff Snyder

When only cops have guns, it’s called a “police state”.
– Claire Wolfe

The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.
– Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers

One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offense to keep arms.
– Joseph Story, Constitutional scholar and Supreme Court Justice, 1840

Taking my gun away because I might shoot someone is like cutting my tongue out because I might yell `Fire!’ in a crowded theater.
– Peter Venetoklis

The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.
– A. E. Van Vogt

The right of self-defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and when the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.
– Henry St. George Tucker (in Blackstone’s Commentaries)

Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of arms.
– Aristotle

And a great many more here:

24 03 2008
The Barefoot Bum

“Don’t think of it as `gun control’, think of it as `victim disarmament’.
– Jeff Snyder”


“Unlike many people on both sides of the argument, I do not demonize those with whom I disagree.”
– Archvillain

Yeah right.

“Is there any historical evidence which shows that your interpretation of the Amendment is most in line with the intent of the authors?”

This is an irrelevant standard. The intent of the founders can perhaps shed light on the meaning of the Constitution (usually unnecessary; the Constitution is a model of clarity), but it is irrelevant to the legal force of the Constitution. We are bound only by the text itself. The founders are no more authorities than any priest or prophet.

I consider both clauses to be equally important because they are both in the actual text of the Constitution and that’s the end of the argument. The citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, and the Constitution-respecting government has the power to regulate that right to ensure that the arms are used to protect and defend the Constitution… against, perhaps, even some future unconstitutional government.

24 03 2008

The Barefoot Bum: I agree that the Government has both a right and a duty to regulate the use of arms, but the text of the document says that the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Going strictly by the text, all regulation of gun ownership is un-Constitutional. I don’t think that would be a good idea. The common quote about an armed society being a polite society essentially ignores the carnage that would ensue with unregulated use of weapons.

Keeping and bearing arms should not be infringed. Using those arms should be.

My brace of small copper coins.

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