Dumb Arguments About Guns is a series devoted to examining the (il)logic of the modern debate over gun rights, gun laws, gun ownership and gun possession. The purpose of the series is to help people focus their arguments and avoid falling into the many pitfalls within gun debate in this country. In the interest of full disclosure, my own position is that current gun laws are far too permissive. I favor greater restrictions (but not elimination) on the types of guns private citizens should be allowed to own, carry and use.
I ask that people remain polite and on topic in the comments of this diary. Please ignore overly dickish and/or excessively repetitive participants in this diary, we can only be derailed if we let ourselves get derailed.
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.Ah, the second amendment of the US Constitution, the centerpiece of most modern debates about gun rights. People scream and fight, with some arguing it gives them the individual right to bear arms, with others claiming that right only comes with membership in the militia (National Guard). Amateur lawyers (and I am as amateur as they get) start arguing over commas, original intent and the definitions of commonly known words and just how regulated "well regulated" means. But oddly, none of this matters--because the 2nd amendment really has no value in modern debates about gun laws, gun rights, gun ownership and gun use.
Follow me below the fold to learn why.
Whether someone favors loose gun laws or more restrictive gun laws, the text of the second amendment does not really provide any justification for his/her position. The reason is simple. The text of the second amendment, much like the other amendments, is intentionally vague and general. Its a general statement of principle, not a detailed outline of what is and is not permissible. It requires interpretation and much legal footwork to bring into practice. This is not an accident, the amendments in the Bill of Rights are not laws, but rather guiding principles for the evaluation and construction of laws.
To begin, we must first recognize that, just like the right to free speech, the government can limit people's right to bear arms. For example, only the most extreme nutjob would argue that a paroled violent offender with a standing restraining order to keep away from his ex-wife has the right to carry a fully-automatic machine gun. Similarly, only the most extreme anti-gun advocates believe that people should not be allowed to carry single-shot rifles when hunting deer on their own land. (Note: If you believe either of the these two statements, this diary is not for you. You can continue screaming about the 2nd amendment to your heart's content).
So, pretty much everyone agrees that there are reasonable and unreasonable restrictions on people's ownership and use of guns. It is also clear that the 2nd amendment, in no way, spells out what those reasonable or unreasonable restrictions are. It makes no mention of violent felons, restraining orders, hunting, single-shot rifles or machine guns. All of the laws that currently exist to regulate firearms are the product of people working to creatively balance the general principal expressed in the 2nd amendment with the danger that guns will be used for illegal ends--the question is not whether a restriction does or does not violate the 2nd amendment, the question is whether a restriction is reasonable or unreasonable in light of the principle expressed in the 2nd amendment.
What does this mean in practice? Its actually fairly simple. If someone claims that the 2nd amendment gives them the right to carry a concealed weapon, they are full of it. You should ask them to point to the language in the 2nd amendment that specifically allows for concealed carry but prohibits violent felons owning machine guns. It ain't there. The 2nd amendment simply lacks the specificity to determine where reasonable and unreasonable gun restrictions lie. Seriously, it doesn't even mention the word reasonable. The reasonableness of gun laws can only be determined through logic and arguments unrelated to the 2nd amendment, because the 2nd amendment provides no guidance on what reasonable is.
So, unless you are advocating banning the possession of all arms except for members of the military or National Guard, the 2nd amendment is not an issue. Unless you are advocating that all people can carry any weapon at any time, the 2nd amendment doesn't preclude specific gun control regulations.
In the modern gun control debate, the question is about reasonable and unreasonable restrictions. Thus, if we are talking about a ban on assault weapons, or a ban on handguns, concealed carry with or without a permit or what type of bullets are or are not legal...the second amendment, oddly, just doesn't factor into the discussion, for the very simple reason that it has nothing to add to the discussion.
So, while it might seem odd, if you are planning to engage in a debate about gun control--for or against--you can leave your copy of the constitution at home...it won't help you make a good argument.
11:31 AM PT: Unrelated Update: To whoever just gave me a 1 year subscription, thank you. Don't know who it was, but its a whole new world without ads for ballet tutus and IR night vision goggles (seriously, I get those two a lot--why I couldn't begin to guess).