“There is no longer any defensible argument for a constitutional right to own a firearm, if there ever was.” Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge? The troll in question: one Zack Beauchamp [above], writer for theweek.com. Shouldn’t that be “writer for the weak”? As in weak-minded? You might say so, especially after reading Ban the Second Amendment, but I couldn’t possibly comment. OK, I could. Let’s start with Mr. Beauchamp’s three “indefensible arguments” for including gun rights in the Constitution . . .
1. Guns protect liberty. Citizens have the right to rebel against a tyrannical government, and they need guns to do that.
2. Citizens have a right to defend themselves however they’d like. Gun rights enable self-defense and, thus, save lives.
3. People enjoy guns, and millions of reasonable gun owners shouldn’t be deprived of something they love because other people abuse it.
I consider recreational pleasure a Second Amendment side benefit, not a rationale for its inclusion in the United States Constitution. But I’ve got no beef with reasons to be armed numbers one and two. Needless to say, Mr. Beauchamp does . . .
The “right to rebel” argument assumes that armed revolt is the last option available if the American government ever goes Full Weimar. Not only has that never happened in a consolidated democracy like the United States, but that kind of paranoid thinking is itself profoundly corrosive of democratic politics.
Hang on. What the heck is a “consolidated democracy”? Wikipedia.org defines it as “the process by which a new democracy matures, in a way that means it is unlikely to revert to authoritarianism without an external shock.” In other words, Beauchamp believes the U.S. is too democratic to become tyrannical. So citizens don’t need guns.
Not only does Mr. Beauchamp ignore the government tyranny all around him – gun control laws that prohibit law abiding citizens from keeping and bearing arms, government agents spying on the public indiscriminately, militarized police conducting “no-knock” SWAT raids on people guilty of victimless crimes, etc. – he fails to understand that civilian firearms ownership created our supposedly consolidated democracy.
Mr. Beauchamp can play semantic games – arguing that the Weimar Republic wasn’t a “consolidated democracy” because it didn’t survive – but the truth is clear: if the government doesn’t fear the people democracy disappears. It’s happening right now in “democratic” Mexico, where autodefensa groups have taken control from a corrupt government using, wait for it, guns.
In one breath Mr. Beauchamp tells us that American democracy is so successful that it’s beyond armed insurrection. In the next he states that Americans exercising their Second Amendment protected gun rights are “profoundly corrosive of democratic politics.” So profoundly that they might destroy it. What sense does that make? Almost as much as this:
Political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s book Why Civil Resistance Works puts together compelling statistical evidence that non-violent protest is more likely to attract mass participation and topple governments than its armed twin, especially in the modern era. Protecting gun ownership, it turns out, is a terrible way to facilitate rebellions against the state. That goes double when the weapons protected are handguns rather than automatic rifles, RPGs, and anti-aircraft batteries.
Mr. Beauchamp’a belief that civil resistance is more effective than armed insurrection flies in the face of the current troubles in Syria, the Ukraine, parts of Africa, the Philippines, all over the planet, really. Why are these oppressed people using guns? Because they don’t live in consolidated democracies! (Or follow the principles laid out in Chenoweth and Stephan’s book.) Ipso facto.
If we set aside this shoddy rhetorical construct and dare to look back before the “modern era,” before American democracy was “consolidated,” the Land of the Free had its own little armed insurrection. As I remember it, guns featured pretty heavily in the Civil War. And wasn’t there something about Confederate forces using guns to take possession of cannons?
The second argument in favor of untrammeled gun ownership, a right to self-defense, is equally incoherent. For starters, there’s no reason that, in a civil society, the right to defend yourself implies the right to defend yourself however you’d like. A basic part of government’s job is to limit our ability to hurt others; assuming the absolute right to self-defense constitutes, in Alan Jacobs’ evocative phrasing, “the absolute abandonment of civil society.”
See what he did there? Beauchamp went straight from the individual right to self-defense – by whatever means necessary – to stating that it’s government’s “job” to limit our ability to hurt others – presumably by whatever means necessary.
First, the laws on self-defense are clear: lethal force may only be used when a defender is facing an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm to himself or other innocent life. The actual method of self-defense is irrelevant. You can drive over your attacker, shoot ’em, hit ’em with a flame-thrower, whatever. The government may object, but it’s up to a jury to determine if an armed self-defender used excessive force.
Second, it’s most decidedly not the government’s job to decide which firearms you should and shouldn’t be able to use to defend your life. Mr. Beauchamp’s suggestion – your choice of weapon should be limited according to its lethality when used illegally – is popular amongst progressives and other proponents of civilian disarmament. It’s also enshrined in law (e.g., the federal ban on civilian purchase of current-day automatic rifles). But it’s unconstitutional.
“Shall not be infringed” means shall not be infringed. Not balanced against the need for public safety. Unless someone’s rewritten Uncle Sam’s job description, all the laws limiting availability of various types of arms are unconstitutional. As for the idea that untrammeled gun rights represent “the absolute abandonment of civil society,” let’s check that cribbed quote from Mr. Jacobs:
But what troubles me most about . . . the general More Guns approach to social ills . . . is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.
Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction.
Again with the semantics. According to Mr. Jacobs (and Mr. Beauchamp), the “lack of violence” in society created by firearms-enabled mutually assured destruction isn’t peace or civil order. It’s “fake” peace or civil order. I’ll take it! But not these guys. Even when they grasp Mr. Heinlein’s famous pronouncement that an armed society is a polite society, even as they enjoy its benefits, they reject it. What’s their alternative? State control.
Mr. Beauchamp trots out some studies to bolster his position that guns are a bad, bad thing. They’ve been debunked here and, more recently, by John “Death by Stats” Lott. Even if you take the studies at face value, the firearms-related damage to individuals or society must be balanced against the Second Amendment’s prophylactic effect on truly horrific government tyranny and the lives saves by tens of thousands of defensive gun uses each year in America.
Beauchamp doesn’t even mention either. He’s too busy trying to harpoon the anti-gunners’ great white whale: the idea that gun rights are not “real” rights.
The rights you protect in a constitution — rights to free speech and against arbitrary discrimination, for instance — are fundamental rights, to be protected absolutely. They deserve that status because they are so essential to the functioning of a democracy that no majority should be permitted to override them.
Gun rights don’t rise to that status. The basic principle of a liberal democracy is that, for laws to be legitimate, majorities must enact them. Setting aside the basic rights protections necessary for majority rule to function fairly, any other determinations about the scope of lesser rights should be set by Congress and state legislatures. Gun rights, then, shouldn’t be constitutionally protected.
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Gun rights don’t “rise” to the status of a fundamental right because . . . they don’t. And because they don’t, Congress and state legislatures are free to pass whatever gun control laws
the mob they see fit. And gun rights shouldn’t be constitutionally protected because . . . they aren’t.
Mr. Beauchamp fails to sum up his line of thinking (such as it is). I reckon he’s saying that the Second Amendment should be banned because 1. we don’t need it, 2. it gets in the way of preventing people from hurting each other and 3. armed self-defense is not a basic human right. Here’s the thing: we do, it doesn’t and it is. ‘Nuff said? [h/t JH]