Guns, amendments, insurrections

Brian Sun, 2013-01-27 12:14

Of all the arguments for the peculiarly American "right" to arm themselves to the teeth, one is the most specious. That is the fervently held belief that American citizens have the "right," due to the second amendment of the US Constitution, to gun ownership to protect themselves against rapacious governments.

When I say "fervently held," I mean doggedly, religiously held, in the face of all argument to the contrary. This is because it is an irrational belief, and irrational beliefs are the most difficult to argue against. They are held in faith; reason has nothing to do with it.

Growing up in the US, I too was taught this belief: if it weren't for citizens with guns, the government could do anything. I believed it, as did most of my peers, and a great number of Americans still believe it, unquestioningly. No argument against will suffice to change a mind; destroy one argument, and one will rise to take its place.

Perhaps unfortunately, at some point in my life I was infected by rationality, and the notion that one's beliefs must be tested against evidence, much as scientists test their theories. If data that "test" the theory mounts to the point that the theory cannot be sustained, well, then a new theory must be found to explain all the data. (My insistence on rationality, by the way, has from time to time wrought havoc on my social/love lives. The data rule, but faith conquers.)

So, at the risk of completely wasting my time, here are the rationales which I believe put the boots to any argument that the right of individual Americans to own individual firearms is guaranteed by the second amendment.

  • First, as we have recently (and valuably) been informed, the second amendment was not placed in the Constitution to guarantee individual right to gun ownership (whether to protect oneself against rapacious governments or for any other reason). Rather, it was placed in the Constitution as a sop to the southern states, in order to assure them that they could continue to employ militias to suppress slave revolts. (See, for example, "The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery.") Since slavery has been abolished, the second amendment, arguably, is de facto if not de jure, null and void.

  • If the second amendment is not null and void, then its legal meaning is more likely that the states' right to arm militias to come and take away the guns of individuals is protected by the Constitution.

  • The argument that a Constitution that provides for democratic elections would also have a clause allowing its citizens to undertake armed insurrections against those elected governments is completely, utterly absurd. No constitution-drafter in her/his right mind would provide for such a thing. In a democracy, you address your problems with representation by political action, and, most important, voting in new governments. Once a government is elected, the government represents the citizens no matter what the wishes of any gun-toting minority might be.

  • Finally, armed insurrection is illegal everywhere, and the idea that it should somehow be protected, in uniquely American fashion, by constitutional imperatives, would not only be unusual, but unthinkable. If American gun owners are concerned about rapacious governments, and if the situation calls for armed insurrection, then they'll just have to "bite the bullet," accept the illegality of their actions, and fire away. And they'll also have to accept one of the other truths about armed insurrections: if you start one, you'd better win; otherwise, they'll shoot you down with no mercy, and none deserved. (Instead of whining about one's founding-fathers-given rights to shoot government officials, soldiers, and militia members, one might want to take solace in the possibility that one's otherwise ignominious death will spark a wave of revulsion in the populace that will aid the insurrection. See Ireland, 1916; Egypt, 2011; and many others.)

The belief that householders of Peoria have a constitutional right to keep assault rifles in their homes as "protection" against governments they're entirely free to elect is utterly without foundation. Unfortunately, it's unlikely to be cast aside by the true believers, no matter for these or any other rationalities. These beliefs must be maintained, or the believers lose something close to their core sets of beliefs, also unthinkable for many.

But if reason is to prevail, gun advocates would be well advised to address their more ridiculous arguments, and cast them aside.

They've got plenty of others.


mean-person's picture

I really enjoyed your thought process here. My subject title is really an indictment of myself. I deactivated my FB account recently because I could not reconcile the idea that "otherwise rational people" could hold beliefs as you have succinctly described above. Now I realize that I was holding on to a fantasy myself, the fantasy of a person being rational who holds at least one irrational belief. I now argue that rationality is not something you pick and choose, but something that is just practiced and you either practice rationality or you don't. Now my job is revealed to me and that is to reactivate my account and de-friend anyone who posts irrational dogma (and is not just stirring the poo, but believes it). I think I will whittle my 300+ friends down to the teens if I do that,... sigh, so what's the point.