When it comes to discussing the Second Amendment, liberals check at the door their ability to think rationally. In discussing the importance of any other portion of the Bill of Rights, liberals can quote legal precedent, news reports, and exhaustive studies. They can talk about the intentions of the Founding Fathers.
And they will, almost without exception, conclude the necessity of respecting, and not restricting, civil liberties.
So why do liberals have such a problem with the Second Amendment? Why do they lump all gun owners in the category of "gun nuts"? Why do they complain about the "radical extremist agenda of the NRA"? Why do they argue for greater restrictions?
Why do they start performing mental gymnastics worthy of a position in Bush's Department of Justice to rationalize what they consider "reasonable" infringement of one of our most basic, fundamental, and revolutionary -- that's right, revolutionary -- civil liberties?
Why do they pursue these policies at the risk of alienating voters who might otherwise vote Democrat? Why are they so dismissive of approximately 40% of American households that own one or more guns?
And why is their approach to the Second Amendment so different from their approach to all the others?
Well, if conversations on this blog about the issue of guns are in any way indicative of the way other liberals feel, maybe this stems from a basic misunderstanding.
So, allow me to attempt to explain the Second Amendment in a way that liberals should be able to endorse.
No. 1: The Bill of Rights protects individual rights.
If you've read the Bill of Rights -- and who among us hasn't? -- you will notice a phrase that appears in nearly all of them: "the people."
...the right of the people peaceably to assemble
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects...
...shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people
...are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Certainly, no good liberal would argue that any of these rights are collective rights, and not individual rights. We believe that the First Amendment is an individual right to criticize our government.
We would not condone a state-regulated news organization. We certainly would not condone state regulation of religion. We talk about "separation of church and state," although there is no mention of "separation of church and state" in the First Amendment.
But we know what they meant. The anti-Federalists would not ratify the Constitution without a Bill of Rights; they intended for it to be interpreted expansively.
We know the Founding Fathers intended for us to be able to say damn near anything we want, protest damn near anything we want, print damn near anything we want, and believe damn near anything we want. Individually, without the interference or regulation of government.
So why, then, do liberals stumble at the idea of the Second Amendment as an individual right? Why do they talk about it as a collective right, as if the Founding Fathers intended an entirely different meaning by the phrase "the right of the people" in the Second Amendment, when we are so positively clear about what they meant by the exact same phrase in the First Amendment?
If we can agree that the First Amendment protects not only powerful organizations such as the New York Times or MSNBC, but also the individual commenter on the internet, the individual at the anti-war rally, the individual driving the car with the "Fuck Bush" bumper sticker, can we not also agree that the Second Amendment's use of "the people" has the same meaning?
But it's different! The Second Amendment is talking about the militia! If you want to "bear arms," join the National Guard!
The United States Militia Code:
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are—
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
Aside from the fact that the National Guard did not exist in the 1700s, the term "militia" does not mean "National Guard," even today. The code clearly states that two classes comprise the militia: the National Guard and Naval Militia, and everyone else.
Everyone else. Individuals. The People.
No. 2: We oppose restrictions to our civil liberties.
All of our rights, even the ones enumerated in the Bill of Rights, are restricted. You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowd. You can't threaten to kill the president. You can't publish someone else's words as your own. We have copyright laws and libel laws and slander laws. We have the FCC to regulate our radio and television content. We have plenty of restrictions on our First Amendment rights.
But we don't like them. We fight them. Any card-carrying member of the ACLU will tell you that while we might agree that some restrictions are reasonable, we keep a close eye whenever anyone in government gets an itch to pass a new law that restricts our First Amendment rights. Or our Fourth. Or our Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth.
We complain about free speech zones. The whole country is supposed to be a free speech zone, after all. It says so right in the First Amendment.
But when it comes to the Second Amendment...You could hear a pin drop for all the protest you'll get from liberals when politicians talk about further restrictions on the manufacture, sale, or possession of firearms.
Suddenly, overly broad restrictions are "reasonable." The Washington D.C. ban on handguns -- all handguns -- is reasonable. (Later this year, the Supreme Court will quite likely issue an opinion to the contrary in the Heller case.)
Would we tolerate such a sweeping regulation of, say, the Thirteenth Amendment?
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
What if a politician -- say, a Republican from a red state in the south -- were to introduce a bill that permits enslaving black women? Would we consider that reasonable? It's not like the law would enslave all people, or even all black people. Just the women. There's no mention of enslaving women in the Thirteenth Amendment. Clearly, when Lincoln wanted to free the slaves, he didn't intend to free all the slaves. And we restrict all the other Amendments, so obviously the Thirteenth Amendment is not supposed to be absolute. What's the big deal?
Ridiculous, right? We'd take to the streets, we'd send angry letters to our representatives in Washington, we'd call our progressive radio programs to quote, verbatim, the Thirteenth Amendment. Quite bluntly, although not literally, we'd be up in arms. (Yeah, pun intended.)
And yet...A ban on all handguns seems reasonable to many liberals. Never mind that of 192 million firearms in America, 65 million -- about one third -- are handguns.
This hardly seems consistent.
No. 3: It's not 1776 anymore.
When the Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, drafted the Bill of Rights, they could not have imagined machine guns. Or armor-piercing bullets (which are not available to the public anyway, and are actually less lethal than conventional ammunition). Or handguns that hold 18 rounds. A drive-by shooting, back in 1776, would have been a guy on a horse with a musket.
Of course, they couldn't have imagined the internet, either. But do we question the right of our gracious host, Markos, to say whatever the hell he wants on his blog? (The wisdom, perhaps, but not the right.)
Similarly, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined 24-hour cable news networks. When they drafted the First Amendment, did they really mean to protect the rights of Bill O'Reilly to make incredibly stupid, and frequently inaccurate, statements for an entire hour, five nights a week?
Actually, yes. They did. Bill O'Reilly bilious ravings, and Keith Olbermann's Special Comments, and Bill Moyer's analysis of the corruption of the Bush Administration, and the insipid chatter of the entire cast of the Today show are, and were intended to be, protected by the First Amendment.
We liberals are supposed to understand that just because we don't agree with something doesn't mean it is not protected. At least when it comes to the First Amendment.
But as for the Second Amendment? When discussing the Second Amendment, liberals become obtuse in their literalism. The Second Amendment does not protect the right to own all guns. Or all ammunition. It doesn't protect the right of the people as individuals.
Liberals will defend the right of Cindy Sheehan to wear an anti-war T-shirt, even though the First Amendment says nothing about T-shirts.
They will defend the right of citizens to attend a Bush rally wearing an anti-Bush button, even though the First Amendment says nothing about buttons.
They will defend the rights of alleged terrorists to a public trial, even though, when writing the Sixth Amendment, the Founding Fathers certainly could not have imagined a world in which terrorists would plot to blow up building with airplanes. The notion of airplanes would have shocked most of them (with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson. He was always inventing things.)
No. 4: It's not like you can use it anyway.
Fine, you say. Have your big, scary guns. It's not like you actually stand a chance in fighting against the United States government. The Army has bigger, badder weapons than any private citizen. Your most deadly gun is no match for their tanks, their helicopters, their atom bombs. Maybe two hundred years ago, citizens stood a chance in a fight against government, but not today. The Second Amendment is obsolete.
Tell that to the USSR, held at bay for about six years by pissed off Afghanis with WWI rifles.
Tell that to the Iraqi "insurgents" who are putting up a pretty good fight against our military might with fairly primitive weapons.
The Second Amendment is obsolete?
What other rights might be considered obsolete in today's day and age?
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
When was the last time a soldier showed up at your door and said, "I'll be staying with you for the indefinite future"?
I'm guessing it's been a while. But of course, were it to happen, you'd dust off your Third Amendment and say, "I don't think so, pal."
And you'd be right.
And hasn't our current administration made the Sixth Amendment obsolete?
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Shall we ask all of those "unlawful combatants" whether the Sixth Amendment still applies?
The President merely has to categorize you as an "unlawful combatant," and whoosh! No more rights to a speedy and public trial, an impartial jury, or even knowledge of the charges and identification of the witnesses who will testify against you. With one fell swoop of the pen, the President can suspend your Sixth Amendment rights.
Since it has no effect, whenever the President feels like it, why do we even need the Sixth Amendment anymore?
What about the Twenty-Sixth Amendment? How much use does that get?
The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
We all know the youth vote is typically pretty abysmal. Those lazy kids can barely get out of bed before noon, let alone get themselves to the voting booth. If they're not going to use their Twenty-Sixth Amendment rights, shouldn't we just delete the damn thing altogether?
Of course not! I voted when I was eighteen, and I was proud to do so. In fact, most liberals will argue for greater enfranchisement. They support the rights of convicted felons to vote. Liberals are all about getting out the vote and rocking the vote. They sit at tables at their local farmer's market, trying to register new voters. They make calls to likely voters, even offering to give them a lift to the polling station.
For liberals, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment (for teens), the Fifteenth Amendment (for blacks), and the Nineteenth Amendment (for women) barely scratch the surface.
But the Second Amendment?
Crickets. Or, worse, loud calls for greater restrictions. More laws. Less access. Regulate, regulate, regulate -- until the Second Amendment is nearly regulated out of existence because no one needs to have a gun anyway.
And that, sadly, is the biggest mistake of all.
Because, to paraphrase a recent comment by mlandman:
The Second Amendment is not about hunting or even guns anymore than the First Amendment is about quill pens and hand-set type.
We do not quibble about the methods by which we practice our First Amendment rights because that is not the point. And red herring arguments about types of ammunition or handguns versus rifles (even scary looking ones) are just that -- red herrings. They distract us from what is at the true meaning of the Second Amendment. And that brings me to my final point.
No. 5: The Second Amendment is about revolution.
In no other country, at no other time, has such a right existed. It is not the right to hunt. It is not the right to shoot at soda cans in an empty field. It is not even the right to shoot at a home invader in the middle of the night.
It is the right of revolution.
Let me say that again: It is the right of revolution.
Consider the words of that most forward thinking of Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson:
The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
Tyranny in government. That was Mr. Jefferson's concern. And he spoke from experience, of course. He knew the Revolutionary War was not won with hand-painted banners or people chanting slogans. It was a long and bloody war of attrition where the colonials took on the biggest military machine in the world.
And we all know how that turned out.
Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.
To alter or abolish the government. These are not mild words; they are powerful. They are revolutionary.
Mr. Jefferson might never have imagined automatic weapons. But he probably also never imagined a total ban on handguns either.
The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.
We talk about the First Amendment as a unique and revolutionary concept -- that we have the right to criticize our government. Does it matter whether we do so while standing on a soapbox on the corner of the street, or on a blog? No. Because the concept, not the methodology, is what matters.
And the Second Amendment is no different. We liberals tend to get bogged down in the details at the expense of being able to understand, and appreciate, the larger idea.
The Second Amendment is not about how much ammunition is "excessive." Or what kinds of guns are and are not permissible. We should have learned by now that prohibition is ineffective. That's why we repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." It didn't work.
That's why our War on Drugs has been such an utter failure. Prohibition does not prevent people from smoking pot; it just turns pot smokers into criminals. (And what would our hemp-growing Founding Fathers think of that?)
And so it is with gun laws. They certainly don't prevent gun crimes. A total ban on handguns in DC has hardly eliminated violent crimes in DC. Although it may be correlation, rather than causation, crime tends to be lower in areas with more guns. After Florida and Texas passed concealed carry laws, crime rates went down.
What is the point? Is this a rallying cry for liberals to rush right out and purchase a gun? Absolutely not. Guns are dangerous when used by people who are not trained to use them, just as cars are dangerous when driven by people who have not been taught how to drive.
No, this is a rallying cry for the Constitution. For the Bill of Rights. For all of our rights.
This is an appeal to every liberal who says, "I just don't like guns."
This is an appeal to every liberal who says, "No one needs that much ammunition."
This is an appeal to every liberal who says, "That's not what the Founding Fathers meant."
This is an appeal to every liberal who says, "Columbine and Virginia Tech prove we need more laws."
This is an appeal to every liberal who supports the ACLU.
This is an appeal to every liberal who has complained about the Bush Administration's trading of our civil liberties for the illusion of greater security. (I believe I’ve seen a T-shirt or two about Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on that.)
This is an appeal to every liberal who believes in fighting against the abuses of government, against the infringement of our civil liberties, and for the greater expansion of our rights.
This is an appeal to every liberal who thinks, despite some poor judgment on the issues of, say, slavery or women's suffrage, the Founding Fathers actually had pretty good ideas about limiting government power and expanding individual rights.
This is an appeal to every liberal who never wants to lose another election to Republicans because they have successfully persuaded the voters that Democrats will take their guns away.
This is an appeal to you, my fellow liberals. Not merely to tolerate the Second Amendment, but to embrace it. To love it and defend it and guard it as carefully as you do all the others.
Because we are liberals. And fighting for our rights -- for all of our rights, for all people -- is what we do.
Because we are revolutionaries.
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