Friday, July 27, 2012

18th Century Cures For 21st Century Ills?

This is pure sacrilege, but maybe it is time that we consider repealing the second amendment to the US Constitution.

With all of the senseless killings that seem to be happening more frequently, perhaps it is time to look at the second amendment and how it relates to us today.

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.

When this was written in 1789, our country was still brand new and very weak. We didn't have the strongest military in the world as we do now to protect ourselves. The most recent memory of this country was that it had to fight for its independence and that fight began with a militia of farmers from Massachusetts being our only line of defense. In the war that followed, much of our fighting was done by volunteer militia as opposed to (what passed for) professional soldiers.

Ironically it was Barry Farber, a conservative talk show host, from whom I first heard the statement that you cannot cure 20th century (this was in the 1980's) ills with 18th century medicine. He was referring to laws and procedures that were created in the 1700's for conditions that existed at that time. The issue then was "cruel and inhuman punishment" and how the framers of our Constitution were referring to tossing a prisoner in a cold, damp and dark dungeon and possibly questioning him using a form of torture. He didn't believe that they would see revoking a modern day prisoner's television rights as "cruel and inhuman."

Does anyone actually believe that we have (or even need) a "well regulated Militia" (as comprised in the 18th century) for the security of the United States of America? What possible purpose could personal ownership of an automatic assault weapon serve in today's world? Just mention the names of Columbine or (now) Aurora, Colorado. What images do those names now bring to mind?

Yes, I have heard the argument that if these firearms are illegal then only the criminals will have them, but if they are unavailable through simple means as is now the case in the state of Colorado, most criminals would not be able to obtain them. Stronger background checks? The strongest background check would not have prevented James Holmes from obtaining his weapons under current Colorado law.

We Americans are proud of our Bill of Rights, and rightly so. It was the first time that any government had ever codified these basic rights in this manner. Religious freedom, freedom of speech and of the press, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, due process of law and the right not to be forced to self-incriminate, the right to a speedy and public trial by a jury of one's peers, and the protection against cruel and inhuman punishment are very high ideals that we as Americans live by and are still relevant to us and our times. But the second amendment is dangerously outdated. The authors of the Constitution gave us a mechanism to change it when necessary. Shouldn't we bring ourselves into the 21st century?


1 comment:

  1. I definitely understand the usual reaction when something like this tragedy happens. Let's take a look at what the second amendment involves.


    Some believe that the framers of the Bill of Rights sought to balance not just political power, but also military power, between the people, the states and the nation, as Alexander Hamilton explained in 1788:

    "[I]f circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude[,] that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens."

    I believe that what's being said here is that the people have the right to arm themselves against a potentially tyrannical government.

    Defending your life and property against criminals is another good reason to bear arms. A 911 call, if you have the opportunity to make it, isn't going to get a quick enough response to protect you against the drugged criminal kicking in your door.

    Do we need an assault weapon to deal with that sort of criminal threat? No, and you don't really want to use one for that situation due to the potential for collateral damage, but, if it came to defending against troopers of a despotic government kicking in your door, that's a different matter. Is that likely to happen here in the USA? Probably not in our lifetime, but it has certainly happened in other countries within the past century. Having a disarmed citizenry would seem to me to make it a lot more possible.

    It's a difficult question, Mark. I understand why you are asking it. There are no easy answers.