The Second Amendment

Some problems are so big and so complicated and so drenched in emotion that we forget sometimes to think critically about them. Even opponents of a point of view often fail to see basic flaws in the opposition argument, which is why we so often resort to the ad hominem: attacking the arguer rather than the argument.

Gun control is a good case in point, because the spin-meisters on both sides have really gone to town on this one. The problem is that the debate is so fiercely polarized nobody's thinking straight anymore, and the arguments are starting to spin off into irrationality.

The bottom line is, one side wants to be able to carry guns around, and the other side doesn't want people to be able to do that. One side says, "Take away the guns and fewer people will be killed." The other side says, "Guns don't kill people: people kill people."

Both of these points of view are equally inane, and totally worthless except as soundbites.

Part of the pro-gun lobby's pitch is that the right to bear arms is guaranteed by the second amendment, and that's the reason we ought to be allowed to have guns. That's absurd on the face of it.

People don't advocate gun ownership because of the second amendment – they use the second amendment as a legal theory supporting something they want for other reasons.

There's an easy proof of this: if the second amendment were legally repealed, do you think the NRA would cease lobbying?

But I digress. The point I was heading toward here is that, as we listen to the second-amendment-based debate, few of us stop to closely examine the premise itself. As it turns out, the second amendment is not a good premise for allowing unfettered gun ownership.

The word "gun" doesn't appear in the second amendment. It doesn't appear anywhere in the entire constitution. Only "arms" appears in the constitution, which doesn't have anything at all to say about caliber or rounds per minute or penetrating ability.

All it says is "arms." That's it. Everything else you've heard is made up.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that organizations like the NRA have been holding themselves out as strict constitutional constructionists, and the gun control people let them get away with it.

If you're going to strictly construe the constitution, then the second amendment has only two possible interpretations:

1- The standard what-were-the-founders-thinking? approach. According to this, the only arms citizens are constitutionally permitted to own are muskets, swords and horse-drawn cannons, because that's all the founders could possibly have had in mind when they used the word "arms."

2- The purely literal interpretation. According to this, your neighbors should be allowed to own nerve gas, Sherman tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, flame-throwers, B-1 bombers and thermonuclear weapons, all of which are "arms."

All I'm saying here is that I have no problem if you want to lobby in favor of gun ownership, but if you're going to use a strict construction of the second amendment as the basis for it, anything other than these two positions is horsepucky.

You're just making it up.

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