Uncommon Sense

August 16, 2019

A New Slant on the Second Amendment Debate

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.
(Second Amendment, U.S. Constitution)

Quite a few people are unaware that until quite recently most people and most Supreme Court Justices viewed the Second Amendment as addressing other than an individual right. Since its ratification, Americans have been arguing over the amendment’s meaning and interpretation. One side interprets the amendment to mean it provides for collective rights (of militia members), while the opposing view is that it provides individual rights.

Until quite recently, this was considered mostly a collective right, not an individual one, with few Supreme Court cases addressing that matter (in effect, they were hiding from an definitive decision). That all changed with District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. (Yes, 2008, eleven years ago, peeps! Pay attention!) The case centered on Dick Heller, a licensed special police office in Washington, D.C., who challenged the nation’s capital’s handgun ban. For the first time, the Supreme Court ruled that despite state laws, individuals who were not part of a state militia did have the right to bear arms. As part of its ruling, the court wrote, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home” (Empahsis mine. SR).

So now the Second Amendment addresses the government’s ability (inability, actually) to control an individual right. And that will be the case until a reversal of this opinion is had, so basically forever.

But, consider this. If you strip out all of the militia verbiage (which creates the collective vs. individual brouhaha) and just look at the rest of it, it says:

“. . . the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Keep and bear. “Keep” refers to people who already have an “arm” and that they are to be allowed to keep (store, house, etc.) those arms and “bear” means to carry and, in this case, use the arms involved. But it says nothing about the government infringing upon the right to acquire firearms. (None other than Antonin Scalia stated in that 2008 decision the opinion that for him, “to bear” was simple enough, meaning “to carry.” And “arms” were just weapons. He conceded that there was an idiom, “to bear arms,” which meant to belong to an organized military force. But this was only a possible import of the phrase, not its core meaning. So, while establishing this new individual right, he also established with the terms “keep” and “bear” were in this amendment.)

So, while the government cannot infringe the right to keep and bear arms, it is free to legislate who can acquire arms and for what purposes. We can limit what arms can be acquired, how many, how much ammunition, etc. and the conditions that need to be met to be able to acquire them, which includes having a license, passing a training program, being sane, providing insurance against criminal use, etc.

Well, what do you think?

March 24, 2018

The Men Who Built America!

There is a new series of TV shows under this rubric. The first such series was about labor crushing industrialists. This one is labeled: The Men Who Built America: Frontiersman. You know, like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, etc.

In the long standing tradition of the winners writing the history, these “men” are portrayed in U.S. history of icons of bravery, basically heroes. Unfortunately, that is not what motivated them. The central and western parts of the nascent United States were claimed by Spain, England, and France. At various times, these countries authorized Americans to go awandering in the “wilderness,” otherwise known as “Indian Country.”

Of course, all we are looking at here is the point of the spear of white supremacy. Everyone knew that the continent was occupied, by Native Americans, but they weren’t white, don’t you see.

The U.S., even when it was just a set of colonies of England, was created as a capitalistic enterprise. (Many people don’t know that the Plymouth Rock Colony was a business venture with a corporate charter and all.) And as far as the “Americans” were concerned, land was wealth and land was there to be taken … so they took it. The “frontiersmen” established the resources of the “unclaimed land” (“Hey, the damned Indians didn’t even believe in owning the land!” was their claim.) and made maps. And, well, they carved out a few plots for themselves; for example, Davy Crockett was a major land speculator. The next thing to happen was “settlers” were moved in, uh, well-armed settlers. That the land already had cities, nations, and villages was obvious to one and all, but it was still considered “unsettled” by white people.

This practice, generally supported by regional, state, and the U.S. federal governments, continued until we reached the Pacific Ocean. Even when we ran up against national boundaries, such as with Canada and Mexico, we didn’t stop then.

Presumably, you have heard of the Texas Rangers. Rangers were not exclusive to Texas as many states, especially southern states, had collections of rangers. Well, the Texas Rangers were instrumental in acquiring the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Basically, a small army of Texas Rangers sailed down to Mexico and moved inland to Mexico City. There they terrorized the city’s population and politicians, shooting up whole sections of the city. The price to get them to leave was … wait for it … the succession of the states we now call California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas to the U.S. And, besides, those Mexican people were brown and not white, so we screwed them over with no hit to our consciousness. Extortion’s not a sin when done in the service of white supremacy, is it?

The “historians” followed this up by deifying the trespassing poachers who began it all: the frontiersmen. (They also turned many a criminal into Robin Hood-like figures.)

Oh, and the firepower generated to perform this wholesale theft and slaughter (it was easier to eradicate the Native Americans than evict them, so we rode through villages and shot everyone: men, women, children), that firepower was the justification for the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The militias referred to were not state or governmental militias, but volunteer and corporate militias, like the Texas Rangers. Governmental Militias were established in Article 1 of the Constitution, so the Second Amendment was just about arming hordes of Black slave and Indian killers.

As a school child I was educated to be proud of my country. I now realize that much of that “education” was propaganda covering up the mass murders of and illegal and immoral land appropriations from the original inhabitants of this land.

We did not make war, most of the time, we just moved in and when anyone complained we shot them. Easy peasey. But it was all okay, the clergy told us the Bible said it was. And then the U.S. History course offered in our schools whitewashed what was left.

May 27, 2014

The Tragedy of the Loss of the Common Good

The American Experiment in self-governance is being undermined. The attacks are subtle but observable as a shift of political focus from the collective good to individual rights. This trend in this country to “individualize” everything, is evident in gun rights and in higher education among other areas.

The framers of the Constitution stated their focus thusly: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The phrases “common defense” and “general welfare” and “our Posterity” were collectivist as was most of their focus in the rest of the Constitution. How could it be otherwise? We were establishing how we would govern ourselves without kings or other dictators.

Some of the framers went on to establish the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment: “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.” The awkward phrasing of this new article of the Constitution has given modern people no end of pause but not the legal system. For about 200 years, the courts interpreted this “right” as one that pertained to militias being employed to provide for the “common defense” and not as the right of an individual to possess firearms. This was written thus as the framers had no intention of having a standing army as that was, in their opinion, the first step toward tyranny. No, individual citizens must come together to form militias and they must provide their own firearms more often than not, so there could be no restriction on these militia-related activities. The scant discussion recorded over the debates of this amendment mention nothing but militias: no hunting arms, no personal protection firearms, just militia. In fact this was so self-evident that there was little debate about the Second Amendment at all. This situation was true up to and through the Civil War but thereafter we moved down the road to having a standing army, making the entire Second Amendment in its original meaning moot.

In 1977, the National Rifle Association was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists who developed a plan to change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense. In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned those two centuries of settled law in the Heller decision. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, a self-proclaimed “originalist intent” jurist in that he believes that the Constitution should only be interpreted as to what the framers and their generation intended in 1789!

Currently, the Second Amendment to the Constitution is interpreted as an individual right and not a collective one, resulting in unrestricted gun ownership and almost unrestricted gun use.

In higher education and public education in general, education came to be looked at as something to promote the general welfare. Study after study showed that the more educated the populace, the better off the country as a whole. But in the 1970s and ‘80s, some began to view higher education more as a private good benefitting individual students than as a public good helping the nation prosper by creating better educated citizens. This is clearer nowhere else than the requirement that all children be compelled to go to school at the state’s expense. Whether you had children or not you paid taxes to educate all U.S. children “for the common good” not just to educate your own children (the complete antithesis of “pay as you go”). Prior to that time, public universities enjoyed almost total support from government, and tuition at some of the country’s best universities was free or nearly free. (I remember my “fees” at San Francisco State College in the late 1960s were about $75 per semester and those were described as paper processing fees, not tuition. A later study showed that the State of California got back $11-13 for every dollar they spent on my education there.) But Republican governors like Ronald Reagan argued that states should not subsidize frivolous educations, while economists like Milton Friedman advocated against the entire notion of free education (he didn’t think the government should have national parks either), claiming that students seeking a “private advantage” should pay for it themselves. So, tuition in California’s state universities and colleges: free in 1960 for a California resident, costs in excess of $12,000 not counting room and board today. And, of course, those free-loading individual students cannot discharge educational loan debt in bankruptcy. The rabid individualists made sure of that.

Having gotten their way in higher eduction, they have turned on public education in general and are rapidly privatizing our public schools . . . using public funds!

These are but two of the anti-common good efforts in our current society. None seem to be “American” in their outlook, all seem to be steeped in Social Darwinism which is surprising because no conservatives, the tips of the plutocrat’s spears in these efforts, think positively of Darwinian evolution. This is not a surprising contradiction from a group which loves to wrap itself in patriotism and the flag but is doing its utmost to unravel the American Experiment in self-governance. Their message: you are on your own; there is no collective good.

April 23, 2013

The Right to Bear Arms, not Guns

The Second Amendment whackos seem to think that the Bill of Rights gives them unfettered access to modern firearms. The strict interpreters of the Constitution know that this is not so. The right that is not to be infringed is to bear arms.

So, if you are one of those who beats a Constitutional drum for “original intent” or are a strict constructionist, then you are defending the right to bear: spears, halberds, polearms, bows and arrows, axes, crossbows, billhooks, pikes, lances, and, of course, knives and swords, and slings, and shields, etc. Oh, and catapults and trebuchets, and all those kinds of siege weapons.

Now this may sound ridiculous, it was meant to, but the Second Amendment does protect your right to bear these weapons.

I am sure the whackos would chime in at this point and say that during the Revolutionary period there were firearms (muskets, rifles, pistols, cannon, mortars, etc.) and these would have been included.

To be sure, s’truth, but does the Second Amendment allow you to own and fire cannon and mortars? What caliber? How much payload? What, you need a permit to own a cannon? You do not have unfettered access to tanks and recoilless rifles and Vulcan cannons? Government tyranny!

Strictly speaking all of those muskets, rifles, pistols, cannon, mortars, and so on were single shot weapons, meaning they had to be reloaded after firing a single shot. So, the original intent of the framers was that we have access to single shot firearms. Only somebody trying to re-interpret the original intent of the framers would think otherwise.

And the NRA still hasn’t addressed the issues regarding the recently defeated “gun bill,” specifically why it is legal and appropriate that federally licensed gun dealers be required to do a background check on each and every sale, but tyrannical to require ole’ Bubba selling guns over at the swap meet at the VFW do so.

Are you listening NRA? (I didn’t think so, listening isn’t their strong suit.)

February 11, 2013

Even More Second Amendment BS

One can make an historical argument that the founders wanted Americans to possess firearms as a check against an overbearing government. (But it is really, really hard to say what eighteenth Century Americans thought it meant when they ratified the Bill of Rights. Certainly it wasn’t something the founders of the Constitution thought important because they left it out.) So, the argument that gun advocates want to possess arms to be able to defend themselves from the government isn’t entirely crazy.

But (you knew there was going to be a “but,” didn’t you) consider the two situations: then and now.

Then: There was no standing army, not much of a navy, etc. Most of the arms were in the possession of individuals and there weren’t huge stockpiles of weapons available to the government. If the government really pissed off the people and there was a general revolt, there would be no stemming the tide and the revolters would win that argument.

Now: Let’s put up some serious survivalist/gun nuts on one side, some substantial militia somewhere, maybe from Michigan. On their side they have quite a few semi-automatic weapons, piles of ammunition, a few four-wheel drive vehicles and trucks, maybe a few contraband hand grenades or some dynamite, some food stores, some bandages and medicine, etc.

On the other side, the government can throw up, say, the Fifth Cavalry. No need for nuclear weapons or saturation bombing with bunker busting bombs, or any equivalent nastiness. Just the Fifth Cavalry with Apache helicopters with fully automatic weapons capable of ungodly sustained fire rates of thousands of rounds per minute, and rockets, etc. Let’s see, oh, they have tanks, field artillery, and mortars, thousands of men with semi-automatic weapons, stockpiles of ammunition, weapons, food, medical facilities (full field hospitals, med-evac services, etc.), command and control involving satellite surveillance, high altitude plane surveillance, radar, night vision, etc. Oh, and a complete command structure of officers and staff with communications systems, etc., oh, and training, lots of training.

Okay, do the revolters win now?

When you stop laughing, consider this. For the fantasy of being able to oppose our current government by force of arms, we pay a cost of thousands and thousands of lives wasted at the point of guns every year. Yes, guns don’t kill people, but “mentally unstable people with easy access to high power assault weapons kill more people easier and faster.”

Guns for hunting I am okay with. Guns for sport shooting I am okay with. (I used to own a shotgun and shot trap.) But people stockpiling pretend military weapons to be able to repel an overzealous government is fucking crazy.

That idea is dead and will be dead as long as we keep a standing army.

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