Bang Bang

I favor a strict constructionist view of the Second Amendment. What the Founding Fathers clearly had in mind was this: Anyone should be allowed to carry a single-shot, muzzle-loading flintlock at any time.

It’s hard to commit mass mayhem with a single-shot, muzzle-loading flintlock. After you fire one shot (two if you’re carrying a pair of pistols) you have to pause to reload. Bystanders will have plenty of time to wrestle you to the ground.

I’m sure Antonin Scalia would agree with me on this interpretation. Scalia recently went on record as asserting that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t apply to women. That’s what he said: Discrimination against women is legal, because at the time when the Fourteenth Amendment was written, the men who wrote it didn’t intend it to apply to women. The Amendment says “persons,” not “men,” so Scalia is baldly asserting that women are not persons. (Corporations, however, are persons, as determined by the Court on which Scalia sits. But that’s a topic for another time.)

His real agenda is, he’s laying the groundwork for a legal argument to deny equal protection to homosexuals. If women aren’t covered by the Fourteenth Amendment, then obviously gay people aren’t.

What he’s doing here is rampant judicial activism masquerading as its opposite, as strict constructionism. He’s attempting to mind-read the intent of the men who drafted the Fourteenth Amendment in order to construct a flimsy justification for his personal views. Obviously the same technique can be applied, with equal justice, to the Second Amendment. We mustn’t look at what it says; we must look at what the framers meant. What they meant were single-shot, muzzle-loading flintlocks.

The Second Amendment is very fuzzy. It requires interpretation. It specifies “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” but the word “arms” is not defined. Today, the category of “arms” includes tanks, land mines, shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, and nerve gas. Does anybody seriously think ordinary people should be allowed to wander down the street carrying shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles or nerve gas grenades?

Of course not. Anybody who thinks that’s a reasonable interpretation of the Second Amendment is an idiot. We don’t even need to argue with them, we can just ignore them and walk away. Quickly.

This summer, here in Livermore, we had a little kerfuffle with a few “right to carry” gun nuts, who showed up at the Peet’s coffee shop carrying handguns. Leaving aside any speculation about the mental health of these individuals — compassion and pity would be an appropriate response, it seems to me — the question naturally arises, how can we be sure that their handguns were not loaded? Answer: We can’t.

A modern handgun can be loaded by slamming a clip into it in about one second. So if some schizophrenic wacko comes into Peet’s with an unloaded handgun, he can load and fire it before you can stand up. And because it’s likely to be semi-automatic, he can fire off a dozen rounds in a few seconds, slam in another clip, and go on firing.

If I see anybody other than a police officer carrying a handgun in Livermore, I am not going to assume it’s unloaded. That’s for the police to determine. I will whip out my cell phone, call 911, and say, “Man with a gun!” Let the police pat him down and make sure he doesn’t have a clip in his pocket, and that his friends don’t have clips in their pockets that they can pass to him. If the gun-toter feels this is an unconstitutional infringement on his freedom, he can take his case to court. In the meantime, he’ll be off the streets.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to call 911 yet. Handguns are not often seen in Livermore. And that’s a good thing. We all hope to live in a society that is free of violence. We all hope to be able to walk down the street without being terrified. I’m terrified by men with guns, and any sane person will agree with me. The argument that visible guns deter violence, though beloved of conservatives, is dangerous bullshit.

Interestingly, in the 19th century many local municipalities, particularly in the West, prohibited the carrying of guns within the city limits. At the time, nobody saw a Constitutional problem. The reality was, there were a lot of guns floating around, and it was in everybody’s best interest that the guns not be used in town, where the likelihood of hitting a bystander was high. The banning of handguns only became an issue when the National Rifle Association ramped up its lobbying efforts.

The trouble with the “open carry” movement is that these sick fucks aren’t thinking it through. If they’re free to carry guns, then so are drug dealers. So are schizophrenics and the suicidally depressed. My question for my conservative friends is, do you really want to live in a town where everybody, including the mentally ill and the chronically sociopathic, is actively carrying a gun? I don’t think you do. I think if your town turned into that sort of armed camp, you’d move somewhere safer!

If you’re going to advocate a black-and-white political principle, you have to be prepared to live with the consequences. If you’re not prepared to live with the consequences, then just take a deep breath and admit that you’re wrong.

Another shaky argument in favor of individual gun ownership is that it’s a bulwark against government tyranny. This may have been true in a small, rural nation in 1800, but it isn’t true today. Today the government has overwhelming firepower at its disposal. If they want to tyrannize you, boyo, they’re going to do it. Your gun cabinet will offer you no protection whatever. (Don’t believe me? Look how well that theory worked for David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.)

The way to avoid government tyranny is to engage in the political process and make sure that the people we elect to office are kind, decent, fair, tolerant, and committed to peaceful solutions. Any politician who glorifies guns should be actively shunned and repudiated by conservatives and liberals alike.

The trouble is, that message won’t get through to the conservatives. As I’ve noted before, conservatives tend, as a group, to love violence, hatred, and fear. It wasn’t a liberal President who got us into an endless, unwinnable war in the Middle East. It was a man who got a huge charge out of spreading violence, hatred, and fear. Connect the dots.

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8 Responses to Bang Bang

  1. Mike says:

    FBI studies and police experience is that criminals and others intending harm tend to CONCEAL carry – that’s why concealed carry usually requires a permit in most states. Besides, “gang members aren’t known to open carry.” [San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Phelps, San Bernadino Sun, September 6, 2010]

  2. Terry says:

    Careful with the strict construction argument– strict construction of the first amendment could be interesting:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    Strictly speaking, only oral speech and the printed word would be protected free speech. TV, Radio, Telephone, FAX, Internet would not be included. Hmmmmm.

    • midiguru says:

      I’m not, in fact, a strict constructionist. I take that position only in order to lampoon the whole question. In reality, the Constitution is (a) a living document and (b) quite often ignored when it becomes inconvenient.

      I believe there’s something in there, for instance, about how only Congress has the right to declare war. The last time that happened was in 1941. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Panama, and the current endless nightmare in Iraq and Afghanistan … Constitution, Schmonstitution! Who cares?

      In some cases, we’re right to ignore the Constitution. As much as I value freedom of the press, for instance, I acknowledge that a government in the modern world has to have secrets! Punishing those who publish secrets is necessary.

      In the end, the Second Amendment is irrelevant. It’s not even worth talking about. As Bill Maher pointed out on the Tonight Show last night, some people just plain like guns. It’s not so very different from people liking alcohol, or heroin, or gambling, or dangerous forms of sex. Liking guns is a form of emotional pathology.

      There are times when guns are necessary. Law enforcement officers need to carry them, for instance. But if you’re personally fascinated by guns and would like to expand your opportunities to brandish and fondle them, please don’t bother trying to justify your sick fascination by referring to the Constitution. Just admit that you like guns.

      • Ben Cressey says:

        RE: Government secrets.

        I don’t think much of either Wikileaks or Julian Assange, but it seems to me that punishing reporters for publishing secrets is wrong-headed, for the simple reason that if relatively unskilled folks like Bradley Manning can access classified material, then agents of a foreign power certainly can. I don’t see why the Israelis or the Chinese should be better informed about the government’s actions than American citizens.

        Absolutely the government should protect appropriately classified material to the utmost of its abilities. But once a breach occurs, it must be prepared to live with the consequences rather than shooting the messenger.

      • midiguru says:

        The value of a law punishing those who publish or otherwise distribute secret documents is that it’s a deterrent. The difficulty is, government officials will always tend to classify documents as secret not because their publication would be a threat to national security, but because their publication would be embarrassing. So a well-crafted law would give the judicial system the power to exonerate the distributor of secret documents if the court finds that no information vital to national security was in the documents.

  3. 24 black says:

    In general I agree with your opinions (about the war against Iraq etc.)

    For a tolerant person you seem quite intolerant for the other opinion or world view. That’s always the case with leftist. They believe is ok to be on the one edge of the spectrum (communism for example) but wont allow people be on the opposite edge (fascism for example).

    Two quick points.
    1. You are freaking out about something that’s not an issue. Do you really believe all these people who like to carry guns are there to kill you? Because if you, better start asking questions about your mental health, than theirs. How many incidents do you know that confirm your fear about random shooting from “men with guns”. How many of those would have been prevented if it wasn’t legal? (there is a very strict law against drugs, yet people still do them, ever wonder if a law against guns would accomplish anything?)

    2. “Remove guns from the suicidally depressed because they may commit suicide”. I don’t know if should laugh or cry about this argument. Maybe even remove the right for suicide. Whoever thinks like that IS mentally unstable and needs professional help, right? Yeah, make suicide illegal. So much for freedom.

    You seem a very rational, human loving and fair person with a wonderful view about how the world should be. However all this goes out of the window, when you make it clear that your view is the only right way to look at the world. You know all the lessons but you forgot to truly and deeply understand the first lesson of harmonious coexistence: “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.” You would gladly shut them up.

    • midiguru says:

      That’s an interesting perspective. First of all, you’ll notice that I’m not deleting your comment. I trust that demonstrates that I’m not out to shut people up. Hell, I’m not even out to shut Sarah Palin up, though I certainly wish she’d go away.

      It’s an interesting question at what point defending one’s own point of view can be construed as intolerance of others’ points of view. I’m certainly intolerant of the bigotry of people who oppose full equal rights for homosexuals and the transgendered. Am I required to say, “Of course, they’re entitled to their point of view?” Would we say that of the white Southerners who lynched black men for imagined crimes, or simply for recreation? I’m inclined to think not.

      I find firearms frightening. I make no apology for that. They’re frightening when carried by a law enforcement officer. They’re frightening when the guy behind the counter at the gun store is showing a model to a potential customer. If you think a gun is only frightening when someone is actively pointing it at you, then you’re the one who has a mental health problem. It’s called “denial.”

      I’m not required to tabulate statistics on random shooting incidents in order to justify the fact that I’m frightened. I simply understand the reality, which is that the entire purpose of firearms is to kill people and animals. That’s it. They have no other utility. Therefore, anyone who is carrying a firearm has, on some level, the intent or the willingness to kill animals or people. Handguns — not so useful against animals. So anyone who is carrying a handgun is, in effect, expressing a willingness, desire, or intent to kill people. I do not feel comfortable around such people. Not even if they’re law enforcement officers.

      I wasn’t actually talking about taking guns away from the suicidally depressed because they may commit suicide, though I do think that’s a dandy idea, one that I would whole-heartedly support. Have you ever heard the phrase “suicide by cop”? What can happen is, the suicidally depressed person will sometimes deliberately cause a disturbance in order to get the police to kill him. The depressed person can do this with a knife, of course. That does happen. But give them a gun, and the likelihood of innocent bystanders being shot goes up rather dramatically.

      As far as whether I’m right or wrong, I’m always more than happy to learn more. I sometimes change my mind about things. (And I do actually own a handgun, by the way.) But the way I learn is when people actively engage in a rational manner with the ideas that I put forth. Unless and until someone does this, I will tend to assume that I have a decent grasp of the topic, whatever it is. Far from wanting to shut people up, I want them to put forth their best, most rational arguments in the most effective form they can manage. At that point, I may still have the pleasure of mopping up the floor with their silly ideas. And then maybe they’ll learn something (though usually that doesn’t happen). In the absence of dialog, nobody learns anything.

      That being the case, you’re clearly accusing me of something that I don’t in fact do — at least not consciously. If you have any evidence to back up your accusation, by all means, trot it out. Alternatively, you might want to admit that you’re wrong. That would be refreshing.

  4. 24 black says:

    Thank you very much for a convincing reply.

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