A Different Kind of B.A.
Screwing America Can Be Costly

An Essential Part of Civilization

Samizdata:

It is particularly refreshing to read an American arguing against gun control without once mentioning the US Constitution. I am not opposed to the US Constitution, most of it, but I think that Americans should spend at least some of their time explaining why most of it is right, instead of just taking it for granted as a stack of unchallengeable axioms.

Good advice.

Comments

Matt

Well I wouldn't consider it a "stack of unchallengeable axioms" exactly. However, in the US (and I wouldn't apply this to other countries unless I was ready to argue merits) it is the supreme law of the land. Therefore it doesn't matter why it is right per se, it matters simply that it is the law. If you don't like it you amend it (as has been done many times) but until that happens it is the law and must be followed.

Does that make sense? I could try to argue that having guns makes sense--but that isn't the point in the US. The point from a "Second Amendment" point of view is that according to the law of the land, guns are a right, not a luxury. Arguments about the benefits of owning guns are merely supporting, not core arguments.

Now if you're talking about Canada or the UK, for example, then you can only use those arguments that in the US are supporting because those countries don't have a guarantee like the US Second Amendment.

So I can see the argument that non-Constitutional arguments are more universal--but within the US they really are critical and unavoidable, because the US Constitution is what really matters. Thankfully it is more important than what the current President, Congress, or even Supreme Court thinks.

~Matt

Elydo

Ah, but the INTENT of the law is what has top be taken into account, to be sure that the law is valid for evolving societies. It has been, and still is, debatable whether the Second Amendment allows for gun ownership by private citizens for the purpose of gun ownership, or if the intent of the statement was to allow citizens to retain arms for militia use, which is no longer applicable due to the militia being replaced, effectually and legally, by the National Guard. In such an case, only National Guard members would then have the constitutional right to bear arms. Some states have ruled on way, other another, and some have yet to actually decide which interpretation they wish to follow.

The underpinning point, however, is that laws must be constantly examined, contrasted and above all argued, to be sure that they remain current and do their function, which is to benefit and protect the society. Too often I have, as a native and inhabitant of Scotland with a reasonable number of American friends and contacts, encountered the US Constitution being held up as the end of any debate, not the beginning. More worrying about that trend is the tendency of a proportion of Americans to apply their Constitution to others, and look down on others for not having or rejecting it. I have had, will no doubt have, major argument about the concept of "Inherent" Rights.

Wording of any legal document is vital, or else, or due to, situations such as most UN proclamations, so full of vague premises and weak projections arise. Or a law I recently heard about which is blatantly out of date and no longer applicable, yet is still apparently legal: The ability to kill any Scotsman within the boundaries of the Old City of York, but only so long as he is carrying a bow and arrow. Laws must evolve with the society that makes them, enforces them and abides by them, and the only way for laws to be evolved is for them to be understood and defended by the populace, and criticised and protested by the same when necessary.

Classical Liberal

I do wish it was more important than what the Supreme Court thinks, but unfortunately in the U.S. we have a juciciary that has forgotten its place.

We the people are supposed to debate what we want to be our highest laws (the Constitution) and then the judiciary is supposed to apply what the two other branches of governement--the political branches, as well as the people them/our selves directly, in the case of referendums--have made the highest law. Sadly, too often the judiciary acts like they get to put what they think is right into the Constitution. That's why today Supreme Court nominations are so contentious, when really it should be as controversial as picking a dentist. Our courts have made themselves into the highest political branch of government, and we have allowed it to happen.

Emanations that cast penumbras, indeed!

Classical Liberal

Elydo, I beg to differ. "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." It doesn't say, "the right of the militia to keep and bear Arms," nor "the right of the government to arm its armed forces," it says that the PEOPLE shall have the right to keep and bear arms.

The fact that the institution of the militia has morphed into the National Guard is irrelevant. If the intent of the Constitution was to allow only milita members to keep and bear arms, than why say "the people"? Does a government really need an explicit statement of permission to arm its armed forces?

Furthermore, it is plain that all through U.S. history the people have kept and born arms not only for the militia, but also for individual defense, hunting, dueling, and any other purpose to which a firearm may be put. The point of our Bill of Rights was to codify those rights which the recently dubbed "Americans" (formerly British living in America) had possessed all along, and which the Crown and Parliament had unjustly denied us; therefore, the historical ownership of weapons is significant.

As to this statement: "Some states have ruled on way, other another, and some have yet to actually decide which interpretation they wish to follow." States have nothing to do with it. The Second Amendment in discussion is in the Federal Constitution.

Francis W. Porretto

Arguments for the right to keep and bear arms can be developed from many starting points. However, it's an unfortunate feature of our race that we settle the most contentious matters by fighting -- often to the death. So Constitutional arguments, founded on the original American consensus that the approval of three-quarters of the states was good enough to make a proposition part of the Supreme Law of the Land, are the penultimate stage of the journey. The final stage -- actually shooting it out -- is the one we're trying to avert. Since cantankerous human beings will never agree on the conclusiveness of any argument for or against a proposed right, that's probably the best we can do.

Matt

"Ah, but the INTENT of the law is what has top be taken into account, to be sure that the law is valid for evolving societies."

That is one viewpoint, but certainly not the only one. I would adopt that viewpoint with regard to laws, as in the law in the city of York cited above. It is merely a law. But in the US the Constitution is NOT merely a law, it is above all other laws. Clear methods were established if you wanted to change the Constitution. You don't get to just decide that it doesn't apply, you have to use those processes to change things.

Parts of the Constitution have been changed beyond recognition (look at the original provisions regarding slavery and representation). Through the amendment process slavery was outlawed and all those provisions made void. That is how the American Constitution works.

Now if you want to discuss the merits or exact meaning of the second amendment, that is another discussion. But you still must come back to the amendment. Whatever your view you simply cannot make a law that bans everyone (military, police, and national guard) from owning guns--that would definitely violate the Second Amendment. So in the US it does always come back to the Constitution.

As I said previously though this only applies within the US. I would not take an argument back to the Constitution if I was discussing English law--unless I was discussing say the merits of a written constitution--but then I would be talking about the US Constitution, not going to it as the final answer.

"I do wish it was more important than what the Supreme Court thinks, but unfortunately in the U.S. we have a juciciary that has forgotten its place."

Yeah, well I'd agree with this. I even considered not typing the last sentence of my original reply because of this. In my view the Court should be part of the checks and balances system, but all too often they want to be THE check on the other two branches and have no check upon themselves.

And yes, this does make appointments so important. Say another Republican is elected post-Bush and two liberal justices die/retire and he gets in two conservatives--they would severely change the makeup of the court for decades to come. The opposite could easily have happened had John Kerry won the last election and appointed liberal justices instead of Roberts and Alito.

In my opinion the court should not be this powerful. Remember that judicial review may have been discussed before the Constitution was written, but it is not a power explicitly granted to the court. If you believe in laws that change in meaning with society this isn't a problem, but if you hold that laws are the same until they are physically changed then it is a problem and the source of the court's power.

~Matt

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