“Shall Not Be Infringed” Means Just That

Courts coast to coast in the last several years may very well be spearheading the most significant liberalization of gun laws of the modern era, unequivocally affirming the individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, but that still doesn’t seem to thwart the likes of The Week‘s Zach Beauchamp from claiming intellectual and moral superiority over the Supreme Court, the Founder’s and millions of law-abiding gun owners in the Left’s latest push to weaken gun ownership, or do away with the Second Amendment all together.

In his column today, Beauchamp, after stating that “about 32,000 Americans are killed each year using guns” in murders or suicides, blames the “wide availability” of guns for them, then rationalizes that because of this circumstance, that “there is no longer any defensible argument for a constitutional right to own a firearm, if there ever was”.

I’ll jump in here. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that in each of those 32,000 deaths that only a single gun was involved–a likely assumption in a suicide; less so in a murder, but I’m aiming for simplicity here. Now couple that with estimates that there are between 270 and 310 million firearms in U.S. circulation, and you find that the number of guns involved in the deaths Beauchamp cited compared to the general circulation amounts to a glaring rounding error.

Put another way, 99.988% of guns in circulation have nothing to do with gun murders or suicide. They are overwhelmingly doing nothing more than sitting entirely inert in people’s houses. Tragic as those deaths are (I’m certainly not diminishing them), a surpassingly small number of society’s guns are involved, and casting aspersions on all of them is quite the stretch.

Beauchamp then moves to posit three presumably legitimate reasons in which to maintain a Second Amendment (I endorse them all), then deconstructs them as “indefensible” arguments with no “factual or moral” ground to stand on:

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.

In reference to the first, Beauchamp begins by stating that the “right to rebel…assumes that armed revolt is the last option available if the American government ever goes Full Weimar,” and dismisses this on the grounds that this has never been necessary in a “consolidated democracy” like the U.S. He goes to say that non-violent protest is more likely to succeed than its “armed twin.”

To which I say: the fact that we live in a “consolidated democracy”, seemingly far removed from authoritarianism and who has never gone “full Weimar” doesn’t mean for a moment that it can’t, or even won’t happen. The Founders, being students of history–Jefferson had a heavily annotated copy of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire–recognized that the tendency of all powerful nations or empires was to slip into tyranny. In response, they codified into the law of the land that Americans ought retain the means by which to eliminate it, by force if need be:

“When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government”.

Does Beauchamp believe the U.S. would exist today if the American revolutionaries didn’t use armed force to send the British packing? I, for one, sort of doubt it. It would be nice if he kept our own history in mind when he’s attempting to justify eliminating the means by which our forefathers secured it.

He goes on, in the second argument pertaining to self-defense, by stating that “there’s no reason that, in a civil society, the right to defend yourself implies the right to defend yourself however you’d like.”

I beg to defer. When the average, anatomically more powerful man is brutally beating and raping a woman, I tend to believe at that point that any conception of “civility” has evaporated, wouldn’t you agree? Perhaps Beauchamp, in his unwavering moral supremacy, would like to tell her in that moment that an avenue to defend herself “however she’d like” ought not be available to her. He might say that “a basic part of government’s job is to limit our ability to hurt others”, and hand her a rape whistle because, hey, wouldn’t want to hurt the guy. Whereas I say that government can’t do squat for you when it’s you being hurt right now, so in light of thisI’d prefer you carry a gun and so be afforded the opportunity to protect yourself effectively. Women, by show of hands, who’s comforted by the whistle? That’s what I thought.

Beauchamp might be comfortable with handicapping an unsuspecting rape victim like Amanda Collins, or home invasion victim Sarah McKinley, from providing an effective defense for themselves and still think he’s maintaining the moral high ground, but I think differently. The immorality comes from telling a person in those circumstances that regardless of the risk to your life or limb, you’re not permitted to defend yourself “however you’d like”. I’d hate to traverse a seedy part of town with Mr. Beauchamp and happen upon a dangerous situation. My sense is he’d be quite useless.

He ends with the third argument by coming to the conclusion that despite the fact that people deeply enjoy firearms and the gun culture, it still doesn’t amount to a good enough reason to defend a constitutional right to gun ownership. Gun rights don’t “rise to the status” of fundamental rights like free speech or the right against arbitrary discrimination, as they aren’t “so essential to the functioning of a democracy that no majority should be permitted to override them”.

What Beauchamp appears to be ignorant of is the fact that the Founders were hesitant to include specifically enumerated rights–including free speech–at all to the Constitution, believing it to be so transparently obvious that the People possessed these rights as a simple matter of their humanity that enumerating them was superfluous.

An explicit amendment that secures gun ownership or not, the Founder’s feelings were clear: People have a right to bear arms that shall not be infringed. Putting it in terms any sympathetic liberal will recognize: for the law-abiding, if you like your firearms, you shall keep your firearms. Not “can” keep or “are allowed to” keep, but shall keep. That the Founder’s eventually did make that abundantly clear by making it a constitutional amendment, right beside free speech and the rest, demonstrates they believed gun ownership to be just as fundamental a right as any of them.

Perhaps the most confusing element of this mess is that Beauchamp’s premise begins and ends based on an entirely fictional characterization of the Founder’s sentiments towards the Second Amendment and gun ownership–he quotes a Revolutionary-era character from the popular FOX show Sleepy Hollow, who states that “there was concern among [the Founder’s] that [the Second Amendment] could lead to perverse consequences”–all the while leaving completely untouched what the actual Founder’s felt about it:

“Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property”. -Thomas Paine

“That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well-regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained in arms, is the proper, natural and safe Defence of a free state”. -George Mason

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” -Thomas Jefferson

“Arms in the hands of citizens may be used at individual discretion in private self defense.” – John Adams

No populace in their right minds should delegate power to a government that they don’t retain for themselves. This goes especially for the right to wield arms. Thankfully, our American heritage was birthed not by the likes of Beauchamp, but of Paine, Mason, Jefferson and Adams, who had an intimate understanding of the necessity for an armed populace: individually for self defense, but also in their duty to throw off a government who has dissolved into Despotism.

So leave the fictional, alternative reality you’ve slipped into, Zach. As you say, eliminating the Second Amendment isn’t likely to fly, so why expend all that energy daydreaming a hypothetical?


About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA

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