When it comes to discussing the Second Amendment, liberals check at the door their ability to think rationally. In discussing the importance of any other portion of the Bill of Rights, liberals can quote legal precedent, news reports, and exhaustive studies. They can talk about the intentions of the Founding Fathers.
And they will, almost without exception, conclude the necessity of respecting, and not restricting, civil liberties.
So why do liberals have such a problem with the Second Amendment? Why do they lump all gun owners in the category of "gun nuts"? Why do they complain about the "radical extremist agenda of the NRA"? Why do they argue for greater restrictions?
Why do they start performing mental gymnastics worthy of a position in Bush's Department of Justice to rationalize what they consider "reasonable" infringement of one of our most basic, fundamental, and revolutionary -- that's right, revolutionary -- civil liberties?
Why do they pursue these policies at the risk of alienating voters who might otherwise vote Democrat? Why are they so dismissive of approximately 40% of American households that own one or more guns?
And why is their approach to the Second Amendment so different from their approach to all the others?
Well, if conversations on this blog about the issue of guns are in any way indicative of the way other liberals feel, maybe this stems from a basic misunderstanding.
So, allow me to attempt to explain the Second Amendment in a way that liberals should be able to endorse.
No. 1: The Bill of Rights protects individual rights.
If you've read the Bill of Rights -- and who among us hasn't? -- you will notice a phrase that appears in nearly all of them: "the people."
...the right of the people peaceably to assemble
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects...
...shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people
...are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Certainly, no good liberal would argue that any of these rights are collective rights, and not individual rights. We believe that the First Amendment is an individual right to criticize our government.
We would not condone a state-regulated news organization. We certainly would not condone state regulation of religion. We talk about "separation of church and state," although there is no mention of "separation of church and state" in the First Amendment.
But we know what they meant. The anti-Federalists would not ratify the Constitution without a Bill of Rights; they intended for it to be interpreted expansively.
We know the Founding Fathers intended for us to be able to say damn near anything we want, protest damn near anything we want, print damn near anything we want, and believe damn near anything we want. Individually, without the interference or regulation of government.
So why, then, do liberals stumble at the idea of the Second Amendment as an individual right? Why do they talk about it as a collective right, as if the Founding Fathers intended an entirely different meaning by the phrase "the right of the people" in the Second Amendment, when we are so positively clear about what they meant by the exact same phrase in the First Amendment?
If we can agree that the First Amendment protects not only powerful organizations such as the New York Times or MSNBC, but also the individual commenter on the internet, the individual at the anti-war rally, the individual driving the car with the "Fuck Bush" bumper sticker, can we not also agree that the Second Amendment's use of "the people" has the same meaning?
But it's different! The Second Amendment is talking about the militia! If you want to "bear arms," join the National Guard! Right?
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are— (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
Aside from the fact that the National Guard did not exist in the 1700s, the term "militia" does not mean "National Guard," even today. The code clearly states that two classes comprise the militia: the National Guard and Naval Militia, and everyone else.
Everyone else. Individuals. The People.
No. 2: We oppose restrictions to our civil liberties.
All of our rights, even the ones enumerated in the Bill of Rights, are restricted. You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowd. You can't threaten to kill the president. You can't publish someone else's words as your own. We have copyright laws and libel laws and slander laws. We have the FCC to regulate our radio and television content. We have plenty of restrictions on our First Amendment rights.
But we don't like them. We fight them. Any card-carrying member of the ACLU will tell you that while we might agree that some restrictions are reasonable, we keep a close eye whenever anyone in government gets an itch to pass a new law that restricts our First Amendment rights. Or our Fourth. Or our Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth.
We complain about free speech zones. The whole country is supposed to be a free speech zone, after all. It says so right in the First Amendment.
But when it comes to the Second Amendment...You could hear a pin drop for all the protest you'll get from liberals when politicians talk about further restrictions on the manufacture, sale, or possession of firearms.
Suddenly, overly broad restrictions are "reasonable." The Washington D.C. ban on handguns -- all handguns -- is reasonable. (Later this year, the Supreme Court will quite likely issue an opinion to the contrary in the Heller case.)
Would we tolerate such a sweeping regulation of, say, the Thirteenth Amendment?
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
What if a politician -- say, a Republican from a red state in the south -- were to introduce a bill that permits enslaving black women? Would we consider that reasonable? It's not like the law would enslave all people, or even all black people. Just the women. There's no mention of enslaving women in the Thirteenth Amendment. Clearly, when Lincoln wanted to free the slaves, he didn't intend to free all the slaves. And we restrict all the other Amendments, so obviously the Thirteenth Amendment is not supposed to be absolute. What's the big deal?
Ridiculous, right? We'd take to the streets, we'd send angry letters to our representatives in Washington, we'd call our progressive radio programs to quote, verbatim, the Thirteenth Amendment. Quite bluntly, although not literally, we'd be up in arms. (Yeah, pun intended.)
And yet...A ban on all handguns seems reasonable to many liberals. Never mind that of 192 million firearms in America, 65 million -- about one third -- are handguns.
This hardly seems consistent.
No. 3: It's not 1776 anymore.
When the Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, drafted the Bill of Rights, they could not have imagined machine guns. Or armor-piercing bullets (which are not available to the public anyway, and are actually less lethal than conventional ammunition). Or handguns that hold 18 rounds. A drive-by shooting, back in 1776, would have been a guy on a horse with a musket.
Of course, they couldn't have imagined the internet, either. But do we question the right of our gracious host, Markos, to say whatever the hell he wants on his blog? (The wisdom, perhaps, but not the right.)
Similarly, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined 24-hour cable news networks. When they drafted the First Amendment, did they really mean to protect the rights of Bill O'Reilly to make incredibly stupid, and frequently inaccurate, statements for an entire hour, five nights a week?
Actually, yes. They did. Bill O'Reilly bilious ravings, and Keith Olbermann's Special Comments, and Bill Moyer's analysis of the corruption of the Bush Administration, and the insipid chatter of the entire cast of the Today show are, and were intended to be, protected by the First Amendment.
We liberals are supposed to understand that just because we don't agree with something doesn't mean it is not protected. At least when it comes to the First Amendment.
But as for the Second Amendment? When discussing the Second Amendment, liberals become obtuse in their literalism. The Second Amendment does not protect the right to own all guns. Or all ammunition. It doesn't protect the right of the people as individuals.
Liberals will defend the right of Cindy Sheehan to wear an anti-war T-shirt, even though the First Amendment says nothing about T-shirts.
They will defend the right of citizens to attend a Bush rally wearing an anti-Bush button, even though the First Amendment says nothing about buttons.
They will defend the rights of alleged terrorists to a public trial, even though, when writing the Sixth Amendment, the Founding Fathers certainly could not have imagined a world in which terrorists would plot to blow up building with airplanes. The notion of airplanes would have shocked most of them (with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson. He was always inventing things.)
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