The Second Amendment in an Alternate Reality

By | Sunday, March 20, 2016 1 comment

The second amendment to the constitution of the United States states reads,
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.
Gun rights advocates vigorously support the Second Amendment. They point to writings by the founding fathers to bolster the argument that the amendment was well considered and precisely expressed their intent. These advocates maintain that along with the Constitution itself, the Second Amendment has helped this Democracy survive for over two hundred years. Consistently they use the Second Amendment to the Constitution as proof against regulating gun ownership. 

Meanwhile, those that support gun control suggest that the Second Amendment is flawed. That it is outdated. That the authors did not mean what it said, or were not in agreement about its content and how it was written. Gun control advocates maintain that the founding fathers could not have envisioned the power of modern weaponry – if they had they would not have used such strong and absolute language as, “shall not be infringed.”

As a thought experiment, I like to imagine an alternate reality, or parallel universe, in which the Second Amendment has different text. Let’s call it “Amendment 2A” (i.e. “Amendment 2 Alternate Reality.”)
Weapons, being capable of creating great harm and suffering, Congress shall strictly regulate the manufacture, possession, and use of arms, and shall enact and update laws from time to time to ensure that new weapons may not circumvent the regulations hereby compelled.
I wonder if, in this alternate reality, gun control advocates would support the 2A Amendment with the same kinds of arguments that gun rights groups use to advocate for the 2nd Amendment in our universe. Would people fighting for the rights of gun owners attack Amendment 2A, claiming that their founding fathers couldn’t have foreseen the dangers of the modern world – thieves, rapists, terrorists, and drug-lords. Would they suggest that Amendment 2A was outdated? That the authors hadn’t meant it to be so strongly worded? That gun rights should be expanded in spite of the 2A Amendment?

I ask this because there seems to be a strong correlation between conservatism, the belief in the fundamental rights of gun ownership, and originalism (the doctrine of interpreting the Constitution’s meaning as fixed at the time of its enactment.) Conversely, Liberals usually favor gun control and also tend towards loose Constitutional interpretation [except with respect to the first amendment, for which Liberals will fight to the death for the rights of the worst people in the world to say horrible things about them.]

I wonder to what degree these sets of corresponding attitudes are based on underlying beliefs. Is strict versus loose interpretation of the Bill of Rights simply a tool to defend or attack on this specific issue, or, do opinions on constitutional interpretation and gun ownership live within the people on the two sides of these issues, regardless of whether or not the constitution supports their position on guns.

If the Bill of Rights contained Amendment 2A, compelling gun control, instead of the 2nd Amendment that we actually have, would gun control advocates favor originalism and strict constitutional interpretation? Would gun rights groups call for loose interpretation? Or are attitudes towards guns, constitutional interpretation, and liberal vs. conservative values, connected at a deeper level. Would conservatives who favored gun ownership rights fight for strict interpretation of Amendment 2A, in spite of the fact that it would weaken their claims with respect to guns? Would liberals call for loose constitutional interpretation, even if 2A was the tool they used to compel gun control?

I wonder. What are your thoughts?
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1 comment:

  1. By echoing the usual "right vs. left" paradigm, you're missing the true distinction between those who advocate collective state power over the individual vs. those who advocate for individual freedom so long as it does not harm another.

    There are many on both the right and left (as you point out wrt the 1st Amendment) who cherry-pick the Bill of Rights to serve their own statist agendas. The bottom line is that the over-arching intent of the Constitution was to form a new government binding states across geographies, cultures and philosophies from the 13 colonies.

    The BoR was added to appease those who were concerned that "the new boss" would quickly be indistinguishable from "the old boss". The explicit and never wavering intention of the BoR is to limit government's power to restrict and abuse individual liberties. Many right-wingers LOVE the 2nd Amendment, but find the 4th to be an inconvenient burden on state security. Many left-wingers LOVE the 4 Amendment, but don't trust their fellow citizens with the 2nd.

    True Classical Liberalism embraces ALL of the the protections of the BoR against statist abuse, as well as those human rights (as noted in the 9th Amendment) that they didn't even consider articulable back then.

    To quote Thomas Jefferson: "Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem"

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