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Article > Second Amendment
Description :: (to the constitution of the United States of America, that is)
I just got done watching Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" -- if you haven't seen it yet, you really should. What I found most interesting was how the NRA, through Charlton Heston, wasn't doing much to defend itself. Perhaps that was all on the "special features" disk, or maybe it wasn't included at all ... or maybe they missed a fine opportunity.

Here we have a documentary (of sorts) that tries to show that gun ownership, by itself, is not a direct cause of gun violence. (Germany, France, England, Australia, and Canada are cited as examples of countries that don't have this problem, and in particular Canada is selected because there are plenty of guns in homes there -- yet they're not used the same way as they are here.) Yet Mr. Heston doesn't really seem to bring this up, and doesn't offer what seems (to me) the obvious counter to people being offended that the NRA would hold meetings in towns that have suffered from gun violence: what better time to remind people that gun ownership doesn't directly cause violence than right after something tragic? The rest of the time, nobody cares ... and if you miss your opportunity, people will do things while caught up in the emotion of the moment. Meaning no offense to the memory of the victims, but it seems like we should know better than to make legislation in a "shooting from the hilt" manner.

I don't personally own a gun, nor do I intend to. But I was interested in Mr. Moore's question about ownership of, say, nukes because it echoed thoughts I've had too. To explain that, let's look at the second amendment to our great and wonderful and brilliant and so forth consitution. (Hey, I didn't say holy, okay?)

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The constitution itself, in section 8 of Article I, gives Congress the power:

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repeal Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

In Article II, section 2, it goes on to say that the president is commander-in-chief of armed forces including the militias.

Up to now, it looks like this means that the constitution lets you keep weapons in case you (and your weapons) are needed to defend the homeland against itself, subsets of itself, or others. It makes sense for you to keep your own weapons, so that you'll be familiar with then in times of need. (Training an army at the last minute seems like a bad idea.)

On the other hand, we have:

From Thomas Jefferson: I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. [...] forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. [...] And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. [...] The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. [...] The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.

From Abraham Lincoln: This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their 'constitutional' right of amending it or their 'revolutionary' right to dismember or overthrow it.

It seems like a natural step for a nation founded by people fleeing oppression (whether justified or not), if they're sane of course, to allow themselves an "out" by letting "arms" (unspecified) remain with the people. They'd already had enough trouble not having the means to fight off the last oppression they were subjected to; assuming themselves not to be perfect, it seems reasonable to expect they might someday oppress others and, in their mercy, preemptively give those poor souls the right to have on hand the means by which to defend themselves.

Even assuming this to be true, however, defense of self from your own government, defense of your government from rebellions (note how the two might be simultaneous) and defense of your government from other governments (or now rogue terrorists) do not equate with the right to bear arms so you can shoot your neighbor if he trespasses.

In any case, mention of militias does not bring to mind the idea that the right to bear arms is useful only for keeping deer-hunting equipment about the house. This was about war -- possibly war with your neighbor, but war nonetheless. If you don't agree with the government giving you the right to keep weapons in order to fight that same government, then you have the option of saying that guns intended for war should be kept in a safe place by your local militia leaders (at whatever "level of detail" is appropriate) until such time as they're needed. If you don't think we need militias at all, then have a talk with your congress critter about having those provisions removed from the constitution entirely.

So what about nukes? In "Bowling for Columbine", the answer is given by the brother of one of the Oklahoma-City bombers (as determined by trial.) There are crazies out there. Who knows who might get a nuke? Being an anarchist, I take the irony differently. Rather than seeing "so, if nukes are dangerous, why aren't guns seen as dangerous" I'd rather ask "so, if we can have guns to defend ourselves, why not nukes -- our government, and others, has them." Would our own government use nukes on us to quell a rebellion? Would a grass-roots nuclear response (that was fun to say) make sense? I don't know. But it's worth thinking about, really.

The film also heavily suggested that a large part of america's problem was that we live in constant fear, and that fear brings about panic, and that panic (in Yoda style) brings about unnecessary violence. Our radio, tv broadcasts are filled with reports of violence, and though we don't necessarily suffer it ourselves, we feel vulnerable. September 11th attacks can't have helped with that. We arm ourselves in an attempt to be safe, to feel like we may be vulnerable, but not helpless. (Of course, if you never get attacked, you won't know whether or not you're right ... so you might just stay in a state of panic forever.)

I really wonder if we're afraid of each other (moreso than necessary) because we believe ourselves to be free. We're the free-est nation on the planet, right? We have more rights than everyone else (that is, fewer restrictions) ... which also means we have more to be afraid of, coming from our neighbors. They have a right to bear arms. If they have a right ... and like some people interviewed in the movie, make use of the right just because it's there ... shouldn't we be afraid enough to buy our own weapons? Just in case? Are other nations less dangerous because people aren't afraid of each other, knowing that, in general, the population is less free? (Sure, there are the rogue agents. But no matter what your laws may be, they'll find a way if they want to.) Does our freedom drive us crazy, to the point of restricting our freedoms? Is that a good thing? (That is, does it show that we're mature to the point of realizing how much freedom is too much, or are we just insane?)

In related news... I noticed today (July 17th, 2004) something in the French news about the changes in power going on in the Palestinian Authority. What was interesting to me was that some of the same groups blamed for attacking Israeli citizens were also warning the Palestinian government that they would take action (directly) to enforce the laws themselves if the government didn't do it. Part of the reason for the kidnappings recently was a sense that the PLA had some deep-seated problems of corruption which the Palestinians wanted solved. I may be reading too much into this, but as much as these groups may be terrible in regard to their tactics against the Israeli, they also have good intentions when it comes to protecting their own people, and in some way fighting for their own people against their government. I find that interesting. This would be equivalent (partially) to our own militias rising up against our government to protect citizens from corruption, oppression, etc. So long as the militias have the support of the people, they can be a force for good. It's a thought.

I often hear as justification for gun ownership the "danger" in the streets. Criminals have guns, and citizens need equal protection, right? If criminals might carry biological weapons or nukes, do citizens need them too? We're obsessed with guns as the only form of "arms" we have for our defense. We've had the damned things for how many centuries now, and still can't get over how cool of a concept they are? We're just sure they're the only solution to insecurity. Or, for that matter, bad governments. [Editor's note: thoughts trailed off at this point.]

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Owned by Unordained - Created on 06/03/2004 - Last edited on 01/26/2005

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