As per usual in the aftermath of a shooting, the debate is over what restrictions should be placed on gun ownership. And even gun rights advocates essentially concede the point that there should be restrictions – the only thing being debated is what sort of restrictions there will be. We have to get away from that. We must, that is, start insisting that words mean what they mean and that written law is obligatory. Because we’ve allowed words to be twisted and permitted the written law to be optional we’re in the mess we have today. Time to take that stand: draw that line.
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.
Our liberal friends like to concentrate on the first four words: asserting that firearms ownership is tied to militia, with the National Guard, essentially the Army reserve, being now the only legitimate place to bear arms. But that is just obvious drivel – anyone reading the sentence can see that the author was merely explaining the reasoning behind the amendment…and the militia is not the National Guard: it is, essentially, all adult citizens capable of bearing arms. It most emphatically is not the military – that is why it says “militia”. The Military is a permanent force raised and armed by the State. The militia is an ad hoc organization of self-armed civilians called into service in an emergency. Very different species! But even if you want to assert that the Militia is now the Military, you can’t get around the last fourteen words – the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. Even if the author meant to write that you have to be in the Militia to bear arms, the sentence doesn’t assert anything like that – but it does clearly state that the right to bear arms is something that government can’t infringe upon.
Infringe is an important word here – because it means to transgress, to violate, to invalidate, to encroach upon. The author could have used all sorts of words here, but he choose “infringe” because he wanted to make clear that there were no circumstances where you could deny the people the right to keep and bear arms. The government, per the Second Amendment, can do nothing to prevent or even so much as hamper the ability of the people to keep and bear arms.
No exceptions! It doesn’t say “shall not be infringed, once you pass a background check” or “shall not be infringed, except in a gun-free zone” no “shall not be infringed except for reasonable safety regulations”. It says shall not be infringed and then, literally, period. End of sentence. Nothing to add, retract or modify. We’re done here: the government cannot infringe upon the people keeping and bearing arms.
Now, lets move on to the next very important word in the sentence: arms. What is an “arm”? Well, it is anything you choose to arm yourself with. It doesn’t say the right to keep and bear muskets. Nor the right to keep and bear swords. Or keep and bear arms as long as they aren’t too lethal. No, it says “keep and bear arms.” It secures our right to keep and bear anything you wish to use as an arm – as a weapon. The author could have been specific but he wasn’t – he merely wrote the word arms. Even if in the author’s mind something else was meant, the word “arms” means what it means: it means weapons in general. Anything from a Swiss army knife to a thermonuclear device.
Hey, Mark – you’re not saying that the people can keep and bear nukes, are you?
I’ll bite: yes. Technically, you have a right to keep and bear nuclear weapons. Now, in practical terms, the chances that any person will obtain the necessary materials, skills and funding to build a nuclear device is nil. But the way the Second Amendment was written does not provide any exclusions. You might want exclusions in there. The author might have thought there was still exclusions in there. But the words of the law – which is what we must adhere to – makes no exclusions. It says “arms” and that people can keep and bear them.
In practical terms, what we’re really dealing with in keeping and bearing arms is arms that one person or, at most, a small crew of people can maintain, deploy and operate. And to drill down further, 99.99% of the time we’re going to be talking about small arms. But small arms does include things like automatic weapons, grenade launchers, anti-air and anti-tank missiles. And it must include those things because the clear intent of the author was to ensure that the population, without exception, was able to be armed sufficient to shoot back at an oppressor. It isn’t like no exceptions are placed into the Constitution. There’s lots of them in there – heck, even habeas corpus, the primary legal defense of free people, has exceptions. Arms do not. And the people who enacted and ratified it could read. They knew what they were doing. They were members of government who were ensuring that their fellow citizens could shoot them if they got out of hand. They were, of course, a much braver bunch than our current Ruling Class…and I’m pretty sure they had our current Ruling Class in mind as they wrote and ratified.
But aside from the crucial need to shoot oppressors, there is a larger issue at stake here: the rule of law. For many decades now, we have allowed the Ruling Class to say the law says something it doesn’t say and/or ignore what the law clearly says. The whole mess we have right now was allowed to happen because of this practice of law becoming really just whatever the bosses wanted it to be at the moment. It can’t be that way. Well, it can’t be that way in a Republic. You want that sort of thing, get yourself a monarchy where the King can decree suddenly that the law now says this or that. For us, the law says what it says and it won’t say anything different until we change it via Constitutional means. No short cuts. if you don’t like what the Second Amendment says then you can’t just ignore it and start infringing on keeping and bearing arms. If you want to place restrictions on keeping and bearing arms the only path you have is via Amendment: you’d have to change the law.
And that is the way it should be and must be because we must get back to Rule of Law. If we want to live in a Republic then the law, even when its stupid, must be enforced. After all, we made the law and must be bound by our own actions. It is the only way to safety. We’d be safer under the most draconian but strictly enforced laws we made than we can be under the most liberal legal regime that has people ignoring the law when it suits them. If I know I’ll have my head chopped off for doing A, I won’t do A…but what am I supposed to do when whether or not I’ll get my head chopped off for anything depends on the whim of an official? Because for a free people, in the law lies our only safety.