A Gun Hater’s Lament
Feb. 10, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — I’ve made no bones about the fact that I do not like guns, do not have guns, do not want people around me to have guns. Fault Lines has seen two very thoughtful posts about the Second Amendment, against it by Ken Womble and for it by Josh Kendrick. The discussion has, by and large, been substantive and informative, though the schism is huge.
The debate arose from a post by Ken White about the Bundle of Rights. I had made the same point earlier, which I note only for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. Ken just made it better. But if we were to put the efficacy of the Second Amendment on the table, thus raising the question of whether it still reflects a right worthy of protection from government fiat, and thus allowing us to adhere to the principle that the Bill of Rights is worthy of respect, as amended by current sensibilities, would Ken’s and my concern still make sense?
Just to be clear, it’s not that my personal distaste for guns matters a great deal to anyone else. It doesn’t. It’s not that I disagree with the arguments in favor of gun ownership, but I don’t trust people with guns and I really love my kids. I fear that one of you may someday pull out your weapon and fire it, thinking that it’s an appropriate time to do so whether to stop someone else from committing harm or because an agent of the government has crossed a line you refuse to allow.
So you shoot your gun. My son is walking down the street, minding his own business, and ends up with your bullet in his head. No, I will not be understanding about your having missed your mark. Or worse still, he’s running out of a store while someone yells, “thief, thief,” and you decide to play cops and robbers and plug him. Except he’s not the thief. Maybe there is no thief. But he’s still got your bullet in his head.
And before you point out the obvious, it would not be any more acceptable to me that the bullet came from a cop’s gun. So no, I don’t like guns.
To get to Ken’s argument, the Founders didn’t suppose that their handiwork was so perfect as to never need tweaking, and crafted a means by which the Constitution could be amended. It’s a long, difficult process, but it exists. And it’s been used. Why, if there is enough support for the proposition, right or wrong, should it not be raised with regard to the Second Amendment?
No matter how much I hate guns, it would be delusional to think that everyone else shares my aversion. There are polls about such things, but there are also strong feelings in play on both sides of the issue. If someone called for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Second Amendment, the outcome would by no means be certain.
But when we put one of the Bill of Rights on the table, subject to popular whim, we put them all on the table. The fight over the Second Amendment might be brutal, but the fight over the First, the Fourth, others, likely wouldn’t be nearly as fierce. There are some fans of the First Amendment around, but there are an awful lot of people who feel it needs some serious work, since, you know, hate speech.
And repealing the Fourth Amendment is damn near a no-brainer, since it’s just a technicality that lets criminals go free. Ask anybody. They watch TV. They get it.
Ken raises a question of why the Second, as opposed to the First, is the only amendment that addresses our right to possess a “tool.”
The 2nd Amendment is one of those incredibly complex issues. It is also, as a right, very, very different. Most of our constitutional amendments establish human rights, like freedom of speech, assembly, due process, voting, etc. A smaller number deal with procedure, such as presidential succession, prohibition of the poll tax, senatorial election, etc. But then there is #2. In our nation’s almost 240 years of existence, the 2nd Amendment is the only time our leaders have granted a constitutional right to possess tools.
Is this really the distinction? Will this distinction be sufficient to protect free speech and the warrant clause, the right against self-incrimination and double jeopardy, from the politicians and the public?
When the Constitution was ratified, for better or worse, we made a deal with the devil, to give up our authority to do as we please in exchange for rules by which to conduct our society. But in doing so, some rights were reserved, and it was agreed that the ones we gave away would be in exchange for the ones we kept for ourselves. Whether we made a good deal is a matter of argument, but that was the deal.
If we had it to do over again today, the likelihood of making as good a deal as back then is slim to none. There would be some gains, at least in some people’s minds, but there would be some losses too. Based upon the political climate, the losses would far exceed the gains. It’s not clear if this is because our Founders were smarter than we are today, or because their experience was different. Clearly, some of their compromises fell below three-fifths of good, but times were very different.
If we were to put the Bundle of Rights on the table today, put the Second Amendment at risk, but the rest of the Bill of Rights as well, it’s unlikely that America would repeal the right to keep and bear arms. Despite my view, a great many people support it. On the other hand, there is far less support for the rest of the bundle.
The idea that one of you yahoos will discharge your weapon into one of my kids scares the hell out of me. The idea of the United States without the full panoply of rights set forth in the Bill of Rights scares me more. If the price of a free nation is guns, so be it.
But if you see one of my kids around, please keep your weapon holstered. Please?