Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Second Thoughts on the Second Amendment

Metis Meets Mittington is not supposed to turn into one of those tiresome Polemic Blogfields, of which there are already too many, with too many participants, and too much waste of good pixels. Nevertheless, I will for once make an exception, and add some comments and thoughts to the running discussion on gun control that has surged over the last few days in the wake of the Connecticut shooting, simply because the subject is so very serious. And I propose to do so in the most respectful manner possible towards all sides, simply so as not to antagonise or provoke anybody into harsher, more unrelenting positions.

Let me make a thing or two clear from the start. I am not an American citizen. I no longer reside in the USA. As such, my opinion on such matters counts for little, and must be understood merely as the thoughts of a well-educated member of the human race, gifted with a goodly bit of common sense and a large experience in life.

Let me make another thing clear right away. Like any superpower nation, America, and the Americans, have their faults and their weaknesses; faults and weaknesses which are inevitably inflated and made worse by being on top in the geopolitical reality. Nevertheless, the place is a functioning democracy with a solid base. And I wish to make clear, from the very start, that I have the highest regard for the American Constitution, which – much as it is imperfect as anything that Man makes – has done an admirable job over the last two hundred and thirty-four years.

Does this imply, however, that I squarely support the Second Amendment, which forbids the government to stop its citizens from bearing arms? Well, yes and no. As long as it is in place, and interpreted the way it is presently being interpreted, one must, when in America, abide with it. But constitutional law is not wholly writ in granite, dear reader. An amendment, and – yes – even an original article, may be changed or repealed; as was done in the case of the amendment forbidding the drinking of alcohol, for instance, and in case of the shameful article which counted Afro-Americans as only 3/5 of a human being (when allotting seats to Congress) and as unworthy of the vote at all (in the electoral rules).

Would there be a reason to change or repeal the Second Amendment? Well: it is my firm opinion that there is certainly reason to update it, to bring it better in line with the changed reality in the USA today. Let us be frank. What, do you think, would fellows like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Ben Franklin, to name but a few of the ‘Gods’, think if they were to return to the USA today? Don’t you think they’d be aghast at the spectacle of disturbed citizens shooting up kindergartens, schools, movie-houses and hospital waiting rooms with sub-machine guns bought in a local drug store on the corner? And would they not be shocked to see that half the nation is willing to condone and accept such massacres, in the name of constitutional rights? If you answer this question in the negative, I wonder if you understand the nature and character of your own admirable Founding Fathers, who were not only great thinkers, but men of deep feeling and common sense.

What exactly does the Second Amendment stipulate? Well, it says this:

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

That text is pretty clear as to the plain intention of the authors. It does not say: anybody has the right to possess any sort of weaponry he fancies, to do with as he pleases, for fun or self-defense or intimidating his neighbors, or – even – to defend himself, his family, and the rest of the community, against the evil hordes who soon will invade suburbia. It speaks clearly of the intention to maintain a ‘well regulated militia’, i.e. a military force consisting of the free citizens of the country, with a stake in the survival of the state, able and willing to stand up to foreign invaders. That, and that only, was the intention of this amendment.  

The inspiration for this was, of course, the American Revolution, in which those same Free Citizens stood up against the standing army of England sent to subdue them and bring them back into the colonial fold. America, dear reader, was something new in the 18th century. It was a country run by Burghers, by commoners, by folk like you and I. And this was the essence of the thing. In the old continent, ever since medieval times, commoners were forbidden to bear arms, which was a privilege of the nobility, meant to guarantee aristocratic hegemony. The Second Amendment clearly meant to break ruthlessly with the vestiges of that tradition. This made plain sense. It was what the times demanded, for the survival of the nation.

But do modern times still demand the same thing? Hmmm… Not really. Let us face it once again. The world, and America, have changed. Today, what is left of a Militia in the States plays a very minor role. National defense no longer depends upon it. America now has its own professional, standing army. And weapons have changed considerably. What the founding father envisioned was the honest citizen or pioneer, with a one-shot musket or rifle, mounted, at the most, with a bayonet. They certainly were not thinking of rapid-fire weapons that kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds, in the hands of any disturbed adolescent.

Why are these modern weapons allowed today? Only because of a most arbitrary criterion, dear reader. For, as I explained in my last posting, in a somewhat sarcastic manner: one might as well accept that ICBM rockets or battle tanks are weapons whose possession ‘shall not be infringed’. However, I have no doubt that no judge anywhere in the US would uphold that right; and I have no doubt that even the Supreme Court would rule that he was right to forbid private possession of nuclear warheads. Ecco: there are weapons whose possession, even under this constitutional amendment, the state may indeed ‘infringe’. And that is legal precedent. It opens the door to a stricter interpretation. One that forbids all assault weapons, all automatic and semi-automatic guns. Everything, in fact, more powerful or destructive than a handgun or a hunting rifle.

I still had some other thoughts I wanted to elaborate on, but this post is already long enough and time is short before I set out for my yearly Christmas destination off Madagascar. So let me just close this discourse with a simple reasoning which I hope you will all consider:

A madman with his bare hands, may kill one person. A madman with a knife may kill three. And a madman with a gun kills dozens of people before he can be stopped. Yes: it is people who kill people. But a person with a gun kills many more people than a person without one.

My apologies for a lengthy, and awfully earnest, post. And Peace On Earth to you all!


  1. Great post, as always! And good points made. I am however, more intrigued by your Madagascar trip :D Have a wonderful, safe journey!

  2. The last two paragraphs form an article in the Telegraph.

    "Recent years have seen a series of often-deadly attacks on Chinese schools. Among the worst was a March 2010 attack, when a man used a knife to kill eight students outside a school in Fujian province.

    Two months later a man armed with a meat cleaver killed seven children and two women at a nursery in Shaanxi province. He then committed suicide."


  3. Thank you, Ms Azra. In due time I will let you know about my (relatively insignificant) excursion to the Indian.

    And my gratitude to you as well, Perry, for your various contributions to the discussion (even if you and I do not look fully eye to eye on the subject). It is of course impossible to stop all tragedies and all violent madmen at all times. Even in Europe, where we have strict gun control legislation, and no Second Amendment to shore up the right to bear arms, we have suffered several massacres in recent years; in Finland, Toulouse, the Netherlands, Germany, and - still longer ago - in Britain. And that is not even mentioning the Breivik freak. This shows you that gun control legislation is not the whole story, and how hard it is to get the toxic toothpaste back into the tube. But it is the duty of every decent person, on both divides of the question, to contribute to the solution - even if it is a partial solution!

    Yours, Alfred B Mittington

  4. My solution:
    There is a National Guard, so that is the 'well-regulated militia', thus covering the rights of US citizens to bear arms. The remainder of them will only be allowed to keep single-shot weapons (eg muzzle-loaders).


  5. Dear Mr Holt-Wilson,

    Much as your idea appeals to me, the Second Amendment does not say that only Militiamen have the right to bear weapons, nor does it stipulate clearly what is supposed to be understood by 'arms'. Which is where the whole problem starts.

    Personally, I would prefer the National Guard to arms themselves with slingshots. but that is also somewhat beyond the range of serious possibilities.

    Yours, Alfred Mittington