Sunday, June 29, 2008

SCOTUS ratifies individual right to bear arms

Actually, that opinion is correct. The entire Second Amendment to the Constitution 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."

The language is clear, and proclaims that "the people" have a pre-existing right to keep and bear arms. It does not grant the right; it prevents the Republic from snatching away a right which Great Britain could not stamp out, a right which now "pre-exists" (did it pre-exist in England?) and which, by the way, the ratifiers of the Constitution will insist shall remain permanent.

And why? Principally, because the right existed by force of Revolutionary arms, and the framers wanted to keep that hard-won right intact. In the service of this elephant in the room, an excuse is also offered, namely, that now and then "the people" may form a militia, essentially a largescale vigilance committee, to ensure the security of a free state, the example of 1776 looming large in everyone's imagination then as now.

Those who have sought to ameliorate the bad effects of guns in private hands have generally done so by reinterpreting the Second Amendment to mean what they aggressively hope it means. These unhappy supplicants have just had their arguments shoved down their throats by an unsympathetic Court, and frankly I share the view.

It may well be that the right of Americans to own weapons is anachronistic. Certainly, governments in particular exercise extreme caution about extending that right to cover arms sufficiently puissant to conduct an insurrection, or say, to resurrect a dormant civil war.

But the Second Amendment, unfortunately, is the Second Amendment, and the logic of the framers is inarguable. It is, in fact, the right of individuals to own weapons capable of successful armed conflict — AK-47 assault rifles, howitzers, Stinger missiles — that is specifically protected.

There are two resolutions for this perceived dilemma provided in the Constitution itself: First, AMEND the Constitution to repeal the second article of the Bill of Rights. Somewhat aghast, because it is the right solution, I can only say, "Be my guest."

The second solution, the wrong solution, so closely akin to what has been called America's Original Sin (i.e., slavery), is one the Founding Fathers had absolutely no problem whatsoever recognizing and even practicing: Simply delineate who is a member of "the people," as Justice Scalia coyly suggested — excluding convicted felons and the insane, for example, from gun ownership.

Today, the sociopaths, the mentally deficient. Tomorrow, the gay, the Spanish-speaking, the immigrant, the alien, the smokers, the fat, the powerless, the deprived, the Falstaffian, the distaffian, the pacifists, the Vulcans among us. Redrawing that fine line will be the Court's business for the next century.

My confidence in governments to reframe an ethical debate in exactly the most conveniently wrong way possible is unbounded.



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