The Second Amendment wasn’t written to protect hunters. It also wasn’t written just to protect the rights of people to defend their own property from thieves. It was written to make it clear that individuals had the right to own weapons to defend themselves against tyrannical governments.
For too many years, supporters of gun rights allowed the lobbyists of the National Rifle Association to define the arguments of the pro-gun side. As a result, many people are fixated on the historically inaccurate view that the Second Amendment is all about hunters and individual protection. Instead, that amendment is far more radical than the NRA was willing to state.
The Second Amendment was written by people who were very serious about the notion that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of [individual liberty], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it….” The Second Amendment was written by people who had just finished fighting a revolution. It was intended as a guarantee that future Americans would have the ability to fight against a future government that had grown too powerful.
People on the Progressive left tell us that the Second Amendment wasn’t written for today. They say the amendment was written for a day in which weapons were far less powerful. For instance, CNN’s Piers Morgan recently tweeted, “The 2nd amendment was devised with muskets in mind, not high-powered handguns & assault rifles. Fact.” Let’s look briefly at his claim and its implications.
At the time the Second Amendment was written, muskets were the weapons used by individuals and by the government. There wasn’t any difference in the weapons the two could deploy. There wasn’t some high-powered musket technology that the government retained for its exclusive use. The people were on equal footing if it came time to revolt.
Today, government has exotic weaponry that individuals aren’t allowed to own, even if they could afford it. Try to buy a functioning tank or fighter jet if you don’t believe me. We’re supposed to trust them, not the other way around. Starting in the 1930s, it became almost impossible for individuals to own automatic weapons — commonly called machine guns — although governments can deploy them in any way they choose. Overall, it’s made it more and more difficult for individuals to compete with tyrannical government if they need to revolt.
The other issue that many people are overlooking is that they’re being inconsistent. Those who hate right guns and are eager to find a narrow reading of the Second Amendment love to take the most broad interpretation possible for the First Amendment. They tell us that the Second Amendment wasn’t written with modern technology in mind, but have they stopped to consider that the First Amendment wasn’t written with modern technology in mind, either?
The First Amendment refers to freedom of speech and of the press, among other things. Through various court decisions, that has been expanded far beyond the narrow text. Nobody says that government can stop television and Internet journalists from telling the truth simply because their technology is far more powerful than any press that was dreamed of when the words were written. We understand “speech” to be pretty much any personal expression. For instance, most of the porn that’s available today is covered by freedom of speech, even when there are no words involved.
The First Amendment wasn’t written with modern technology in mind, but we understand that the principles are what matter. We look to the intent of the people who wrote it and we understand that they intended to recognize the rights of individuals to have the maximum freedom to express themselves. We need to bring the same principles to bear on the reading of the Second Amendment.
You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to pretend that a constitution can limit a government, then you have to stick to what the text says and what it was understood to mean. Be consistent. Be intellectually honest. The First Amendment recognizes the freedom of individuals to express themselves in pretty much any way they want. The Second Amendment recognizes the freedom of individuals to have weapons that would allow them to revolt against their government.
If you’re still trying to live in the framework of the U.S. Constitution — because you believe that “limited government” is possible — be consistent in how you look at the freedoms of individuals. At least try. Or at least pretend to try.
And then when you finally figure out that there’s no such thing as limited government, let’s talk about how to go beyond the “one size fits all” system of today and set up something so that we can all pick our own rules. Those who’d like to live where nobody owns weapons are welcome to do so. Those who’d like to live where everyone is armed to the teeth is also welcome to do so. We need a system that recognizes the rights of people to do their own thing instead of being forced to obey rules handed down from above.
Nobody has the right to make up one set of rules and force them on all of us. Until enough people finally reach that conclusion — and quit trying to force everyone to agree with them — we’re going to be stuck with people who are selective in which freedoms they like and how intellectually honest they’re willing to be.