Saturday, June 28, 2008

Supreme Court Rules on Gun Control Laws

Before plunging into a commentary on this week's Supreme Court decision on gun control, note that I added two book reviews to, of Memoirs by Harry S. Truman and of How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloos.

I am in agreement with the basic line of reasoning of the United States Supreme Court in their opinion that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does recognize the right of an individual citizen to own firearms, within reason. [See full text of DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL. v. HELLER]

Liberals, and other gun-control advocates, have long argued that the right to be armed only applies to a "well regulated militia." Before examining the issue, here is the full 2nd Amendment (Ratified December 15, 1791":

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.

This section of the Constitution, like the rest of it, was not handed down by some God, but was created by a committee of men (in this case, white, prosperous, male men). I think guns are a problem for our society. I find some of the arguments for gun-control to be strong. The problem for the gun-control advocates is that they want the 2nd Amendment to have a meaning different than what it actually has. Even in law books I have noted arguments that simply ignore history and contextual clues to the meaning of this important section of our Constitution.

If you don't like the 2nd Amendment, you should try to amend the Constitution. Misreading the Amendment just shows people how dishonest you are.

Think back to the general context of the writing of the Constitution and the subsequent ratification of the Bill of Rights. Each state had its own government, and they were united under the Articles of Confederation during the Revolutionary War. Most people were content for the States to merely be confederated, but some wanted a stronger central government, in particular the wealthiest, most powerful and most conservative families. In the late 1780's in many States debtors and creditors were practically at war with each other; the economy was limping along; and the debts of most States and the national government that had accumulated in the Revolutionary War were mostly unpaid. In Pennsylvania the legislature had been taken over by small farmers, to the discomfort of its previous controllers, the merchants of Philadelphia. Then Shays' Rebellion took place in Massachusetts. Rebellion against England was one thing; rebellion against the ruling classes of the States was intolerable to them.

A convention to amend the Articles of Confederation had been called to take place in Annapolis [Annapolis Convention], with the sole purpose of the agenda being to facilitate trade and commerce. But a quorum did not show up. Panicked by Shays Rebellion, the representatives of the most powerful men in the Americas then met in secret and decided that to insure their rule and the security of their private property, the Articles would have to be thoroughly re-written, with much power taken away from the States and invested in the national government. Yet there were many conflicts of interest among these ruling men, and in some cases they did look to the good of the entire nation. The result was the proposed U.S. Constitution.

A majority of citizens did not like the proposed Constitution, if only because it was new and strange. When allowed to vote on it, a majority voted against it. However, by combining the use of some pretty dishonest tactics with a promise to add a Bill of Rights to the document as soon as possible, eventually all the states chose to join the new national government [and all states believed they could voluntarily leave a government that they voluntarily joined].

So when you look at the first ten amendments to the Constitution, what you are seeing is a manifestation of the concerns of those who opposed a strong central government. They wanted individual rights protected, and one of the most sacred individual rights is to have a say in decisions that are going to be applied to you. Just as citizens did not want decisions made for them in London, they did not want very many decisions made for them by a distant national government.

In particular, they remembered that the London government had sought to disarm them at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. To be disarmed is to be defeated. To be disarmed when another party is armed is to be the slave of that other party.

People feared a strong central government. They did not want the Army of the United States of America to be the sole possessor of armaments. They wanted the states to have militias. And within the states they did not want one political faction disarming another political faction. The best way to insure that is to allow individuals to own weapons or to store the weapons owned by the militias in their own homes. As people had learned in the Revolutionary War, if all the arms were in one place, they were easily seized.

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ..." Note it does not say "being necessary to the security of a free Nation," or "being necessary to the security of an individual." A free state is one that cannot have its rights, or the rights of its citizens, trampled on by the national government, or a foreign power, or the national government in league with a foreign power.

I am frankly surprised that the Supreme Court does not want to disarm all Americans. It seems like the very model of an unelected, dictatorial government. But note that 4 members of the Supreme Court did vote to disarm the citizens.

Guns are dangerous. People get killed by accident every year, and many are killed in anger by people who regret such actions later. But intelligence is dangerous, and electing people to govern for us is dangerous; danger lurks even in things we create for our own safety.

If we want to minimize people's desire to own hand guns for self defense, we must first make them feel secure. If we want to minimize crime, we need to minimize economic injustice and maximize education and opportunity. People may have forgotten about the dangers of government, but they cannot forget about the dangers posed by criminals. There are other ways to limit the dangers of weapons besides the draconian gun laws of cities like the District of Columbia.

I am a critic of the Supreme Court as an institution, but in this particular case five people who are actually part of the court made the right decision.

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