The Second Amendment

Why do people support the second amendment?

I’m going to try to avoid straw man arguments here. And the first straw man argument to avoid, I think, is: “because it protects us from tyranny: if the government becomes corrupt, we can rise up and overthrow it.” Perhaps I’m being naive, but do people really believe they could overthrow the US government through violent means? Perhaps they do; belief without evidence (or belief in the face of evidence to the contrary) is far from rare and even perceived as a virtue and called “faith”. The defence against tyranny argument is also appealing; it’s a fantasy people would like to believe, fuelled by the movie industry and no doubt the NRA. But can people really be fooled by it? I move on.

A second, slightly more nuanced argument which I’ve heard from some, hinges (I think) on the purpose of the Bill of Rights: to frame the (moral) context for the law, viz. “it’s important to preserve the right to rebel against a corrupt government.” This is a logical absurdity. If one is rising up against a corrupt government, one is undoubtedly breaking many laws. Overthrowing a corrupt government is (almost by definition) a choice of the moral over the legal. It doesn’t matter whether your right to overthrow a corrupt government is recognized by that government!

A third reason to support the second amendment, which I’m not going to bother arguing against, but I can’t help thinking is real for some (unfortunately) is the argument from authority. These amendments were written by the founders of the US. And the fact that it’s amendment #2 and not #22 lends it extra gravitas, I’m sure. But again, I’ll move on.

A fourth argument (and I’m afraid another straw man) is the old chestnut “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” This argument has always mystified me because, well, so what? This is already the case in many countries, all of which have substantially lower gun death rates than the US.

In the end, I think the only really understandable position to take is simply that of a gut feeling that this is enshrining an ancient, basic individual right, that extends from the right to life and protection of one’s person. According to Wikipedia, this is the position taken by the SCOTUS. and it is consistent with the purpose of the Bill of Rights, being not to define or grant rights, but to recognize and protect those rights which are accepted as being ancient, “natural” and fundamental to the human condition. This is why the language of the amendments is not, “people may do X” but rather, “the right of the people to do X shall not be infringed/violated.”

I don’t agree that people have a right to arms: one might as well say that people have a right to drive. To me, this would be at least as defensible here in LA: nevertheless we recognize that driving is a privilege and not a right. But even though I don’t agree with this last argument, it is at least understandable that people feel this way. I just hope that people are able to critically examine their beliefs about the second amendment and be honest about why they support it.

One Response to “The Second Amendment”

  1. Sam Lantinga says:

    I think that really it’s the founding fathers realizing that at some point the government they were founding might no longer have the interests of the people at heart, and leaving a reminder that people should always think critically and if enough people agree that the government isn’t serving them and democracy no longer exists then they have other options.

    Realistically it’s not effective anymore. Between the amount of surveillance possible today and the advances in crowd control and anti-personnel weaponry, a serious police state would be almost impossible to fight internally today. But the amendment was written when a group of misfits with rifles an ocean away from an empire could make a difference. 🙂

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