Monday, May 30, 2011

The Second Amendment and militias

So if the founders would have laughed if you talked about unorganized individuals overthrowing a tyrannical government, why *does* the 2nd Amendment exist?

The main reason the 2nd Amendment was added to the Constitution was that George Washington's disdain for state and local militia, who he called "useless", was well known and it was feared he was going to disband them. That caused a palpable shudder amongst Southerners, who like all slave societies lived in constant fear of slave rebellion and who wished to keep and bear arms in order to deal with slave revolts, and Westerners, who as with all conquerers who have not yet exterminated the native population had to deal with revolts of the native population ("Indians", they called the natives, even though the natives were more American than the "Americans"). In short, there was a fear that Federal power, dominated by the wealthy and populous New England states which had neither slaves nor a remaining population of Native Americans, was going to be used to disarm state and local militias which were needed to keep slaves and native Americans subjugated. Thus the "A well regulated militia being necessary to the safety of a free state" that starts out the 2nd Amendment -- you know, the clause that people always seem to leave out for some mysterious reason (hmmmm).

But what of this "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" thing, that's not about state and local militias, is it? Uhm... the first three words of the Constitution are "We The People". The word "People" doesn't mean one specific individual. It means the majority in a democratic society. Government in a democracy isn't some dictatorship imposed upon us. Government in a democracy is *us*, We The People, a collective "People", not individual people. Thus why the minority who don't want to pay a tax have to pay that tax in a democracy -- because the right to decide to pay a tax or not is a collective right in a democracy (i.e., a We The People right), not an individual right in a democracy.

That said, the Second Amendment's wording is vague enough that I do support an individual right to keep and bear arms for purposes of self defense against criminals, for hunting, and general fetishism (hey, some guys get it off by stroking inflatable dates, some guys get it off by stroking their guns, different strokes for different folks, right?). I support reading the Bill of Rights expansively regardless of which item of the Bill of Rights we're talking about. If we want to clarify that there is no individual right to keep and bear arms, there's a way to do that: amend the Constitution to say that. Just ignoring it is plain ridiculous.

But to say that the Founders intended individuals to be in possession of military weapons to use to overthrow the government is just plain balderdash. Even the Westerners didn't believe that weapons in their possession were useful against the U.S. Army. Thus the fizzle that the Whiskey Rebellion became once George Washington led the U.S. Army against them -- rather than fight the U.S. Army, the rebels threw down their guns and went home, leaving the ringleaders to sway in the wind.

- Badtux the Constitutional Penguin


  1. I would like to add my 2 cents in regards to the "militia" part of the amendment. It is very likely that they are meaning an organized military there. If one would read the first few federalist papers (as opposed to the five or six that conservatives use to rationalize their ideology), you would see the term militia used several times and very often it is in reference to British army.

    However since they then use "the people" in the amendment, it then becomes an individual right otherwise, you get the case where "the people" of that amendment is not the same as "the people" of the rest of the document.

    It is almost as it is saying, that guns should be in the hands of organized armies but we promise not to take them from individuals.

  2. So you're saying that "We The People", the first three words of the Constitution, are referring to individual people rather than to the collective People as a whole and the government created by them and embodied by the Constitution?

    I support an expansive reading of the Bill of Rights because that's most likely to result in the desired results. That is why I state that the 2nd Amendment should be construed to also imply an individual right as well as the rights of state and local governments (what the militia clause implies), because that's the most expansive reading of the 2nd Amendment. I similarly support expansive readings of the 1st Amendment when it comes to free speech and freedom of (or from) religion, 4th Amendment when it comes to warrantless searches in public places such as airports and the right to privacy in one's choice to have an abortion or not, and so on and so forth. But that doesn't mean I'm an idiot who's going to put words into the mouths of the founding fathers -- which, apparently, describes the NRA and their groupies to a tee.

    - Badtux the Expansive Penguin

  3. Whenever you hear a gunnut talking about how they needs 'em some guns to stop the tyrannical gubbermint (which you almost always hear in writing on teh Internets tubez, because idiots like that don't utter such bollocks person-to-person, unless they're hanging out with their fellow barrel fondlers) you can be assured you're hearing from someone who does not have a firm grasp on reality. How's that "hand-held weapons overthrowing an evil government" thing working out for ya in Libya, gunnutz? All the AK-47s and RPGs they can handle, plus NATO jet bombers and guided missiles, and they still can't stop a screwball mad dog dictator.

    Honestly, I wish these NRAssholes would just rise up to overthrow the Kenyan Muslim Socialist right now, so they could be shot into gobbets of red meat and we could be done with 'em. DO IT, ALL YOU BIG BOLD BADASSES!

  4. I see the "the people" as being a collection of individuals much in the same way a murder is a collection of crows. In other words, as an individual of the collective "we the people", I have certain rights. Localities and states are a part of this collection as they are made of those individuals which grants them these rights as well.

    You say tomato, I say tomato.

  5. Interesting take on "forced carry" laws going on here in Maine: in the midst of debating a bill to allow CCW permit holders to carry in the state Capitol, a state rep -- Rethuglican whackjob, of course -- drew down on a news photographer. The politician is now in a state loonie bin, and the Rethugs are saying "maybe we don't need guns in the Capitol."


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