Rights and Restrictions

This week the Supremes are coming out of a 69-year long hibernation and taking up the issue of Gun Control. Dahlia Lithwick’s coverage over at Slate has been both about the court and about the dubious activities from the Bush administration. I don’t get a good feel for where she stands on the issues, but she tends to be liberal, so I’m guessing she’s for gun control. I happen to be for *some* gun control, but not for eliminating them entirely. Which is a much harder stance than it should be. But that’s not what I want to discuss. I want to discuss the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, so let’s first quote that mutha:

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.

Now, I’m not going to get into the debate about the commas and capitalizations, you can read up on that yourself. It’s worth it, but only academically, as it serves to incredibly cloud what is, in reality, a very clear issue.

As Ms. Lithwick states, the problem comes from interpretation. Which is a nice way of saying it’s a PEBKAC error. Or an I.D.10t error. Ok, fine, it’s the reader, not the words, and whether the reader comes to the conclusion that the militia is a group right or that having arms is an individual right. And this is where it’s good to point out that this bit of inked flotsam is a fucking amendment, and therefore follows the tenor and impressions of the document that is amended by it. And since that document is the Constitution, which only does two things, we should first look to those things.

The first thing the Constitution does is establishes the rights of people. Why? Because it’s the people who then, as a group, determine the functions of government. The only other task that the Constitution does is restrict the rights of government. Those are the only things that the entire document does. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t believe me? Read it. And all those places where it outlines the branches of government and all that jazz – that’s where it explicitly tells other branches what they can’t do, and who has what power and how it’s all balanced. That’s more restrictions on government. Rights are for people – period.

Now, is this always followed? Nope, but any amendment that does the reverse and takes away people’s rights while giving more power to the government, like the one about “Thou Shall Not Drink” are reversed.

Which leads me back to the lovely Second Amendment. While I am certainly a child of the last 69 years, having only been alive for about half of that time, I’m not a pawn of the NRA. I have my own brain, I choose to use it every once in a while. Like now.

The Second Amendment gives people a right to bear arms. Nothing more, nothing less. The “well-regulated militia”, the reason given, is just that, a reason. The states’ ability to form and keep militia is outlined earlier in the Constitution itself, along with all the responsibilities of it. But remember the time this was written. It took 20 days for the Continental Congress to recess and reconvene when delegates from South Carolina needed to confer with their leaders. There wasn’t a telephone, and certainly no way to drop lift in a battalion at any of the battlefields. Citizens had to defend themselves, and they needed to keep guns to do so. Which is why this is patently obvious as just a reason for the next bit.

Now, to be clear, I’m not one of the nutjobs that advocates getting rid of the government because they suck, but if the U.S. were attacked and I were forced to protect those I love, I’d rather not do it with kitchen utensils. Sporks aren’t nearly as effective as guns when faced with Hamas. Do I honestly believe this will be needed? Not in my lifetime, I hope, but why not be prepared?

As for those nutjobs? They are why I think some gun control is good. How to do this is harder than it should be, but there’s got to be a way. And we should keep striving for it.

To me, the Second Amendment is clear – the people have the right to bear arms because the people may need to become a militia to defend themselves. In modern terms it would be worded different, but the meaning would be the same. Probably something like

People may need to gather and become a local militia if the infrastructure of the USA and/or their state is compromised or destroyed. Because of that potential need, people have the unrestricted right to bear arms although they are never absolved of the responsibility of ownership of such lethal, powerful items.

It all boils down to people have this right so that government, our own or another, can’t take any rights away through force. “Live free or Die” isn’t a bumper sticker, my friend.

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