Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Case Against The Second Amendment

There is one, and only one, flaw in all attempts at the imposition of normal control on guns & gun ownership: the Second Amendment. It is the fly in the ointment that degrades any reasonable discussion into shouting pedantry and veiled threats. It is at once the crux of the issue and the thing that bars any movement in any direction. Its semantics have been decompiled, deconstructed, dismissed, and devalued, and in the end, its shadow still lies endlessly across the peace of our nation.

I am reticent to touch it; it is like a clinging, clutching vine that no amount of cutting and trimming may successfully dislodge. As part of our Constitution, I am honor-bound to defend it, but so am I also required to see that its precepts are properly followed. That's where the problem lies: the intersection of the then, from whence it was spawned, and the now, wherein we must live with it two centuries later, in a world radically different from the one the Founding Fathers lived in at the time of its conception.

You and I may speak of clauses and commas, intent and introspection, but at the end of it, the Second Amendment is an enigma, both plain to see but bounded in mystery, a monolith that rises among us and programs us to fear and to fight. The amendment itself is plain enough, despite what we take to be a crude & confusing wording. At its simplest, it means that government may not take away all rights for citizens to maintain arms; the caveat is -- and this part is often glossed over -- that the reason for this particular allowance, above any other, is that States must be allowed to maintain the necessary strength to form militias.

Look at the world and the circumstance that led to it. The United States was a swaddled, newborn nation, had just fought a war of independence, and was heavily indebted to others to supply the necessary firepower for us to gain that independence. Having so gained it, those who agitated for revolution were now faced with a difficult task: pry that independence from under the thumbs of any potential adversary. At the moment, with no large standing naval forces, land forces that were demobilizing to a greater degree after the war's conclusion, and a nation still not fully constructed in law, The United States was in a precarious and vulnerable position, should Great Britain or any other sovereign nation choose to make a play for it.

This leads, inevitably, to finding ways to secure a nation from foreign threat that allowed for quick mobilization of forces in the advent of attack, and placing such forces in close proximity to every possible entry point on a significant landmass. And doing so, possibly without a strong central government to coordinate defense. The answer was obvious: State militias, built up of citizen soldiers brandishing their own weapons, fighting for their own ground, concentrated in cities and town near possible invasion points. When rallied, such militias would be the first line of defense, hopefully able to hold an invading force at bay long enough, for Federal government to coordinate the fight and bring larger forces to bear.

So when the Bill of Rights was crafted, it seemed appropriate to codify this necessity. After all, the British were not keen on an armed citizenry in their midst, and were wont to strip the average Colonial of weapons if they thought that would protect them from exposure to attack. Having just lived through that war, and having seen how hard it was to gather sufficient forces quickly to counter British thrusts, it made sense to the Founding Fathers to enshrine the principle of home defense in the newly-minted Constitution, not simply as an organizing principle, but as a warning to other nations: we will defend ourselves and if you seek a fight, you shall have it.

As men of The Enlightenment, the Founding Fathers knew that their work, like the world, would not remain static, but would need to be reshaped to meet the challenges of new times and new technologies. The Constitution was meant to be altered as circumstance warranted, when conditions called for a new approach to the organization and functioning of the country. Secretly, they must have sensed that by not dealing with the issue of slavery, that alteration would have to come sooner rather than later, to make up for their lack of courage at the time. So, the document was formed, it was built to be amendable, and the very first amendments were made as a first set of guiding principles to be shaped. That freedom of speech, press, and worship should be the first guiding principle should come as no surprise; in line with that, the second being the right to maintain arms should not shock us either. Having established freedom and liberty for all, it was important to ensure its defense.

Now, we look upstream from the 1780's and 1790's to the start of the 21st Century, and we see that a necessity of the previous era is no longer such at our current point in time. The United States of America is the sole, preeminent superpower on Earth. Our arsenal of weapons, our standing ground,  sea, and air forces, our bases strewn across the face of the globe, make us unrivaled and unmatched. What was true in Lincoln's time, for he foresaw it even then, is clearly true now: no foreign power could take a drink from any river in our nation, nor trod one foot upon it, save where they could eliminate every single American at a stroke, a formidable and seemingly insurmountable task.

Where does that leave the Second Amendment? Dying. It dies of necessity, decaying through the inevitable shift of our nation from shaky confederation to powerful unity. Two world wars armed us, and every conflict since has honed us. Thus, an amendment born of necessity for defense, now lies withering on the vine of liberty. It is kept feebly alive by a faction among us who still believe in inevitable tyranny, though they believe it preparing to strike from within and not from without. They are certain that their government will soon be battering down their doors and marching in to strip them of their only defense. These are not the hunters and sportsmen we are talking about; these are people who see shadows on every street and eyes peering around every corner.

Our nation is supreme in its ability to defend itself; for that purpose, the Second Amendment is now obsolete. Does that of necessity mean we should not be able to bear arms? No. What it does mean is that unfettered, unregulated access to weapons is now a greater threat to us than all our "enemies." Like a seemingly mighty tree, our outward appearance is of strength, but the core is slowly rotting away, chewed up by the increasing frequency and devastation caused by the carnage of military grade weapons in the hands of people who have no business having them. They have these weapons, because the Second Amendment has been elevated to the status of a Commandment by a minority of Americans who feel threatened by their own government. Tapping the power of their sycophantic paranoia to wield legislative power on a national scale, unchecked and unopposed by rational Americans, they leave us all vulnerable to the vagaries of those unwilling or unable to control their rage.

Now, however, perhaps the slumbering mass of Americans awoke, stirred from its torpor by the horror of one person slaughtering innocent children in a school. We may be forgiven for momentary skepticism, because why should it have taken this horrific moment to finally change the direction of the narrative, given the number of such horrible events before now? We cannot belabor that point, though; we must now work on focusing the outrage and ire of the American citizenry over this into a laser-like beam, scouring our nation of the forces that would continue to plant the seeds of slaughter in our midst while turning their back on the carnage such a crop reaps.

The Second Amendment no longer does what it was intended to do. We must now have the courage to fix it.

No comments:

Post a Comment