It’s not 1776 anymore. It’s not even 1976 anymore. Things have changed. Even if we accept the notion that the Second Amendment was written to protect us from our own government — a notion I reject when put into the proper historical context of what the British occupation of the continent put the colonists through — we don’t live in that reality. This is precisely what Jefferson meant when he wrote about Earth belonging to the living generation. It wasn’t just a commentary on Jefferson and the other founders being mortals, it was an acknowledgment that the world Jefferson left behind on July 4th, 1826, was much, much different than the world we live in today.
The Second Amendment is obsolete. And we all helped make it that way.
You want to know what made the Second Amendment obsolete? Our obsession with the machines of war, plain and simple. Here’s a chart that shows our defense spending as a nation from 1950, just after World War II ended, to 2010. In that sixty year period, watch the line just creep higher, and higher.
What does our ever-increasing Defense budget have to do with a constitutionally protected right to bear arms? It’s actually quite simple if you look at it from a historical stand point. When the Revolutionary War began, we didn’t have the world’s best Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. What we had was a Continental army cobbled together from the state militias. General George Washington led the army that was trained by Prussian General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. When victory over the British was finally secured, the colonies were tasked with formally creating the United States of America.
One of the biggest fights among those chosen to literally write the documents that our nation would be founded upon was what do about national defense. The threat of re-invasion and occupation from Great Britain was strong, and despite the loss, they were still the most powerful armed forces in the world at that time. Many of the colonists feared strong central government and a standing army was felt to be an overreach. So in lieu of a large national army, the Second Amendment was written, guaranteeing a right to own guns so that those guns and the citizens who owned them could be part of a well-regulated militia.
Yes, gun zealots, “regulation” in the sense that the Founders used it in the Second Amendment does not actually mean legal regulations — or laws — but rather a well-trained militia. But that doesn’t exactly prove your argument that Madison and the others wanted American citizens to own every gun under the sun. As Scalia said in D.C. vs. Heller, no Constitutional right is unlimited. We should be debating on where the limits are, not whether there are limits at all, but that’s a digression for another time.
So in other words, the Second Amendment was actually a national defense strategy. The idea was that in a nation where anyone who wanted to keep a firearm could do so, the threat of invasion from another country would be mitigated because those citizens would be party of a well-trained militia, able to become the nation’s army at a moment’s notice. But World War II changed all that. It was a fully-industrialized war, and the war effort itself has been largely credited for really restarting the nation’s economy in the wake of the Depression.
[one_third]In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. –Dwight Eisenhower[/one_third]
The problem for the Second Amendment came when we started spending more and more on defense each year. If the second World War started the Second Amendment on a path to obsolescence the Cold War killed and buried the need for it. The arms race between the former Soviet Union and the United States helped magnify a million times over the military- industrial complex’s role in our economy. Our armed forces take up such a large chunk of our government’s expenditures that it actually has become a wobbly leg that our economy is perched on. We didn’t heed President Eisenhower’s admonishments to keep the Pentagon’s budget in check, and in doing so we created an armed forces so large that even if the intent of the Second Amendment had been to help shield us from the tyranny of our own government (it wasn’t), it could crush any uprising of citizens anywhere. We managed to create a military strength so large, it renders our right to bear arms irrelevant.
Well, irrelevant outside the auspices of personal protection. Which is where you’ll find me getting off the anti-Second Amendment train. I’m actually not against the right to bear arms at all. But I am in favor of redefining it, or rather simply just refining the definition of what kind of arms citizens should have for personal protection. And therein lies the problem with the gun control fight these days. Every time someone like me suggests even discussing a look at what kinds of guns should be off-limits, you have the gun zealots screaming from the rafters about “gun grabs” and “infringing our rights.”
I’ve written extensively about how we infringe on all our rights every day, willfully, in order to have that more perfect union we’re always striving to become. We’ve had numerous discussions and debates in this country about what kinds of speech are protected by the Constitution. It’s time to have that conversation about guns. Or at least it was in the wake of Sandy Hook, Aurora, the Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin, or the other three spree killings we saw last year. But in just a few months, support for stricter gun control measures has dropped ten percent in the latest CBS poll. I personally place a heavy amount of blame on the fact that Congress — and particularly the useless bastard Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) — for the shift in the polls. As the CBS poll suggests, as soon as Reid announced he would not include the assault weapons ban in the gun control advanced out of the Senate, support started to falter.
The good news is that overwhelmingly Americans still believe in universal background checks for all gun purchases. Maybe we shouldn’t be just loaning guns to people, because you know, you can’t shoot twenty kids with a cup of sugar. So yes, if you want to loan your hunting rifle to your friend, you should have to prove your friend isn’t a psychopath. You can’t just loan your car to an uninsured and unlicensed driver, so what about treating guns with the same kind of respect for human life? No, driving isn’t a specifically-assigned constitutional right, but ostensibly it’s covered in the general promises of the Constitution and of our nation. And more importantly, no Constitutional right is unlimited. None of them.
Maybe it’ll take forty children dying. Maybe a hundred thousand. I don’t know what the threshold is for gun zealots. Clearly twenty small children and six teachers and faculty members isn’t that magic number. I’m assuming there is none. But we’ll never be able to have the conversations we need to have until as a nation we come to grips with the fact that our right to bear arms has nothing to do with governmental tyranny. It has nothing to do with an invading army. It’s now about personal protection from each other. And the question we have to ask ourselves is just how much protection we think sensible people need from other sensible people. We can’t continue to allow paranoia about the armed gunman to determine whether we let military-style weapons loose on the streets.
Keep the Second Amendment in place. Until those Americans who feel they need a gun to be safe don’t feel that way anymore, there’s no reason or point to attempt disarmament, which I don’t think is necessary if we force ourselves to find rational conclusions to draw from reasoned debate and discourse. We have to address our obsolete but completely entrenched and perhaps even necessary Second Amendment. It’s just time to redefine what we need it for, and how we’re planning on implementing it.