Dec 21, 2012

The Second Amendment and Your Own Personal Nuclear Arsenal

After the Sandy Hook shootings, yet again the Constitutional rights of individuals becomes a central feature of the public's (very short) attention span. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA has just issued its response to the shootings (full transcript is here) and blames violent video games and films, and the media, for the shootings. Curiously, though, he does not mention the Second Amendment. However, they argue using the 2nd Amendment in their website.

For the curious, here is the text of the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
There is actually nothing there about "Arms = guns." This is simple interpretation of what is meant by "Arms." However, clearly in the modern era, "Arms" means a great deal more than "guns." We have weapons capable of eliminating swaths of people in the blink of an eye. We have weapons capable of delivering biotoxins. We have weapons that allow you to kill people without even being present! However, they're still "Arms." If you're reading into the 2nd Amendment that each individual has the right to bear "Guns," then you are actually forced into a position (Constitutionally, at least) that you're comfortable with individuals owning such weapons.

Can you own one of these to exercise your 2nd Amendment Rights?

So while you may be thinking about "hunting rifles" or "handguns" or even "assault rifles," from a strictly Constitutional standpoint, you may as well be thinking about "thermonuclear warheads," "GPS-targeted drones," "F-16 aircraft," and "stealth bombers." Do we have a reasoned debate about whether or not a thermonuclear warhead is something that needs to exist among the citizenry of a society? Of course not. There's no reason for someone in the general population to possess one of them.

Now, what does this say about other weapons? An assault rifle can kill dozens of people in half as many seconds. I think that this classifies as "mass destruction," myself. Do any of these assault rifles really have a veritable role in society? I think their purpose is spelled out quite carefully in their names. They're not for hunting, nor defense. They're for assault.

The 2nd Amendment is clearly a thorny legislative issue. However, as with other Constitutional issues, bringing examples in that are, a priori, just as valid, can elucidate the actual issues at hand.

While no one argues that thermonuclear warheads should be kept out of the general population, the difference between that, and a gun, is only a matter of degree. Therefore, even the staunchest gun-rights advocate must admit that there are cases where the Second Amendment, as written, is ALREADY broken in the US.

It's time that this was recognized in the debate about gun violence. It is a constitutionally-protected right for a militia to bear "arms," but it is also reasonable, and already even exercised, that this right should be limited to use cases that actually have a bearing in society.

For my part, it then boils down to statistics, evidence, and reasoned solutions that are part of a multifaceted strategy. However, let's not leave part of the argument off-limits by hiding behind a law giving protections that don't actually exist. Does the 2nd Amendment protect some gun usage? Yes, it does. Does it protect ALL gun usage?

Only if you think it protects your right of holding a thermonuclear warhead in your basement.

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