The Right to Weapons

I.  On the Constitutional Freedom of Americans

Regardless of other customs, international laws, or even natural laws, rights, and duties, the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees to her citizens the right to bear arms.  This is well-known: it was established by the Second Amendment, which I quote:

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.

It is often quoted and recorded with two additional commas, after “militia” and “arms”: I believe that any difference in meaning in somewhere between insubstantial and non-existent.

The context of miltia (and an era in which privateering was an accepted part of warfare, for instance) indicates that at the very least this provision guarantees to each American citizen the right to own and handle any weapons up to whatever would be regular for an infantryman.  Common-sense, I think, dictates that this does not include a right to own an Abrams, an A-10, or an Apache.  Consider, as an analogy, that the Colonial militias seem to have been short on cannon (an 18th-century analogue) and immediately went to get some when they had to fight a real war.  However, given the modern conditions of war, it does mean that the long-standing ban on private ownership of automatic weapons is, on a strict reading, probably un-Constitutional.

Further, the Fourteenth Amendment extends all Constitutional protections – including, logically, the right to arms – against State authority.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Again, on literal interpretation, various state gun-control laws are probably un-Constitutional: given the widespread activism of various groups, I am surprised that more have not been challenged on these grounds.  (The bans enacted by more local authorities – cities or counties where applicable – I think have to be considered Constitutionally valid, as more local authorities are almost universally unrestricted by the Federal Constitution.)

II.  A Short Note on the Most Recent “Gun Control” Attempt

Recently a measure S.150 – Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 was introduced and promptly defeated in the Senate.  There was significant backlash against those who defeated the bill – everything from accusations of “cowardice” to allegations that they had been “bought” by the gun lobby (given Washington culture, not improbable; but again, given Washington culture, there is a “lobby” for just about everything: the accusation is without significance in any but an absolutely moral, Day of Judgment, sense even if true).  Not involved in such name-calling was any investigation into what was actually in the bill.  Here is the short version, the bill’s subtitle:

A bill to regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.

“To ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited“?  What is this, a direct assault on the freedoms in the Second Amendment?  What part of “shall not be infringed” did we not understand?  Alright, that was fake outrage and cheap shots: I will instead be charitable and suppose that the writer was more considering himself to be making a point similar to mine about artillery above, but his choice of words was poor.

What is actually in the bill?  I have read through it, and it consists of essentially three points:

1. A lot of legalese justifying the decision and defining or re-defining terms and objects limited by previous legislation.  These parts mostly focus on “assault weapons” and defining legal magazine capacities.

2. A long list of weapons now to be banned or regulated.

3. A longer list of weapons not banned or (as heavily) regulated – I think these are older (“grandfathered”) models, but I am not familiar enough with arms to say for sure.

The whole thing is basically an un-Constitutional publicity stunt, further expanding restrictions which, as explained above, are themselves illegal.  The only worthwhile provision comes at the end, and would have established a study to report on conditions around mass shootings.  And that, really, should have been a separate bill and would have passed without comment.

And “background checks”?  Not mentioned at all, except that the relevant portion of US law – which already requires such checks, as best I can make out – would be amended to reflect the new provisions.

III. The Limits of Rights

While I am talking about background checks, let me make it clear that there are cases in which the rights which the ordinary innocent citizen enjoys are in fact not rights at all for some in unusual circumstances.  I believe it is self-evident that criminals – especially violent criminals – have committed acts which include the penalty of forfeiture of some rights, and the right to arms is one of the most obvious which is forfeited by the guilt of a violent act.  The insane, as well, by reason of medical unfitness, would rightly not be guaranteed any right to arms.

If the violent criminal or the insane man is not in possession of a right to arms, then it also follows that a dealer has not only a right but a duty not to sell to such persons, and some system should be in place so that it can be avoided.  The exact methods I have no strong opinion on.  If given carte blanche to install whatever laws I see fit, I would probably come up with some sort of national ID system, which would note relevant restrictions, but maybe I just read too much science fiction.

IV.  Is the “Right to Bear Arms” Actually Wise or Just?

I noted in the beginning of this post that the Constitutional rights of American citizens are not necessarily identical with natural rights.  I noted immediately above this section that even in a normal and healthy society, certain persons might justly be deprived of rights that are normal and natural.  Do either of these caveats apply here?

It seems to me inarguable that a right to personal self-defense exists; that if weapons exist, then aggressors may use them, and that principles of proportionality indicate that the same weapons may therefore be used in defense.  Carrying of personal weapons – at whatever level of technology exists – is therefore just.

The state of American society – the sheer number of violent crimes, and the frequency of mass-victim crime – suggests to many that there are problems which the existence of these rights may be exacerbating.  But this does not hold up to inspection – the problem appears to be more specific than that.  Chicago’s crime rate – and its draconian gun laws – are well-documented; in general the problem might be summed up as, “There are lots of guns, a few violent idiots, and then we set up these ‘target areas, I mean gun-free zones‘.”

It is no doubt true that the removal of guns completely from American society would result in fewer shootings.  It is also true that the complete removal of pigs from American society would result in fewer people eating bacon.  I see the two as approximately equally likely to happen, and – despite my own essentially complete disinterest in firearms of any sort – both attempts are equally problematic.  The removal of pigs would probably be the smaller problem.

V.  The Test-Case for Tyranny

We should not forget, as well, that the American system of government was set up in full consciousness that government tyranny is possible – even an historical tendency – and that government overreach sometimes can grow to an extent which demands resistance.  It is a lasting irony that the current Federal government has become practically as removed in all ways except geographically, and probably more interfering in all ways, than the British crown which the colonies disowned.

A militia was considered necessary to a free state, not merely to resist the enemy foreign but also the tyrant domestic – and the effectiveness of this protection of the People’s arms was demonstrated depressingly effectively by the length and bloodiness of the American Civil War.  Whatever your opinion of Confederate complaints – in my understanding, they were insufficient to justify the secession – the issue of the resulting war was very much in doubt for several years and – personal pet opinion! – very likely resolved in the Union’s favor as “quickly” as it was due only to superiority in naval force.

The destruction the Civil War brought is likely a reason that United States has not yet faced another secession or rebellion of significance.  There are other more important reasons: the growth of Federal power, the restrictions noted above on armaments making such revolts impractical, and (perhaps most importantly) the growth of national feeling as a result of foreign wars.  It will take significant and positive oppressions, I believe, before citizens of the United States will be willing to separate themselves en masse.  It is not a good sign that such infringements are being enacted (or extended, depending what other complaints you may have).  There are times when weapons control arguments might carry some weight, even with me: times like these when I see our government drifting into tyranny are not those times – again, even though I currently own no weapons myself.

VI.  A Final, Vaguely Related, Thought

I sometimes wonder whether a draft would actually be good for the United States.  Then I think about it again, and realize how far the possibility of the question means we have come from the founding.  A Federal draft?  Would any of the original States have stood for it?  Now, of course, we have the Selective Service program, and even though it has not actually been activated as a draft in quite a while its existence does not make anybody I know particularly happy.

Why even consider a draft, though, under modern conditions?  Three reasons:

1) It would alleviate much of the fear of weapons we see in the culture today.  Perhaps it would intensify some people’s dislike – on seeing what weapons really can do – but it would be a more rational opinion.

2) One recurring theme I see in history is that a free nation defends itself.  The closest I have come to being invested in the national defense is having relatives in the military.  Probably I would not make a particularly good soldier – but might it not be better if I and everybody knew at least what “be a soldier” really means?

3) It would increase the capacity of The People for self-defense.  Under this heading, what I suppose I would really like is to see a revival of state militias, and a state-based draft.  But, although there are still twenty-odd organizations which might be a step in this direction, I guess that adding new ones is not likely to happen at this point without Federal action – which is commentary on our situation in its own right, I suppose.

An Astonishing Lack of Concern

The other day, I saw popping up in my facebook feed a picture bearing the following quotation:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life.  In fact, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.  That’s not pro-life.  That’s pro-birth.” – Sister Joan Chittister

Without any significant attempt at research, I will merely mention that the sister is a Benedictine nun, and so I assume she is herself an advocate for the right to life as taught by the Roman Catholic (and, one is to sincerely wish, every Christian) church.  Making this assumption about her own moral views, this is a statement that should be heeded by us all.

If this were it, it would not have provoked this blog post.  If it had been shared by a fellow pro-life friend, it would not have provoked this blogging escapade.  No: I saw it shared instead by a few people who to the best of my knowledge defend the legality of abortion.

To which I have this to say: You have no right to post that.  You would perhaps clothe and feed a child lucky enough to be born alive, but you have no problems with denying the child his or her life before he has a chance to cry or suffer – and before he has the chance to live freely, love, serve, work, play, babble, talk, make friends.  You are like the man on trial for murder defending his action by explaining that his victim was homeless and hungry.  You do not kill the homeless, the injured, the “useless”, the Untouchables, the helpless – or do you now?  You are no better than the “eugenicists” of the early 20th century, and you post this quotation?  Either you completely lack self-awareness, or you are attempting to stir up guilt in someone who might be human enough to feel some to deliberately turn the issue away from your own failing.

So much for that.  Worse, the quotation is without a target.  Is there anyone who actually desires to see children unclothed, unfed, ignorant, hopeless?  You might find a very few such depraved men if you searched hearts, and a much smaller number who might admit to it.  And if I received this admonishment from a trusted source, one whose own morals were humane, I would I hope accept it as a call to further charity on my own part.  Even coming from someone who does not believe in the worth of life, it is a welcome reminder.

But I have a sneaking suspicion this was not what was intended.  I find myself thinking that this is one more straw man, that what is really being implied here by the posters, is, “If you do not think that government-backed “social” action is the correct thing to do to relieve children’s suffering, you are misguided”.

I do not myself believe, but will admit that others likely better than myself have held to, the thought that government should be a chief motivator for public charity even beyond common goods.  It may turn out – I doubt it completely – that these men and women are right.  But in the mean time, may I not pursue these goods without having motives assumed to be wrong because my methods differ?

And I ask you, after all, who is doing more for children than those who are also generally pro-life?  Which politically and morally-motivated population is the group working to teach their children well and rigorously at home; or to found solid schools outside the grip of bureaucratic incompetence (and anyone who has ever visited the DMV must, if honest, admit that bureaucracy is incompetent).  Which side of the argument tends to back voucher and charter programs to give students in failing schools more choices?  (And I admit we can argue the efficacy of some of these attempted solutions: but the effort is there.)  Or if we must look to the Establishment, No Child Left Behind may go down in history as a failed bill, but on a scale of disaster from 1 to “Obamacare”, it rates about a 3 – and, to quote that favorite idiocy of FDR’s, at least something was tried.  As I said, in all but the most dire straits, an idiotic approach, but one much beloved by Progressive.  I suspect, though I am not as familiar with the situations, that this could be carried out across the spectrum of needs Sister Chittister was crying out to help meet.  And from her, without more solid information, I can take the advice.

But from you, defender of abortionists, worrier about a “woman’s right” to “her own body” (but apparently not about her responsibility to use that body wisely, or to protect the body of another which is developing inside), from you this just makes me angry.  It is not an opinion you have a right to voice – even if, deep down, I am grateful for the Grace common to humanity which allows you to recognize some right when you see it.