Fighting For Gun Control and Not Against the Right
In his second piece on mass shootings and gun control, Tim Burns discusses practical ways that reasonable conservatives could work with pragmatic liberals to make progress on the issue of mass-casualty gun violence. In a sense, he offers advice on strategy for liberals by way of criticism.
He argued earlier in the week that an important hurdle to clear is that Republicans and conservatives need to open their eyes the enormity of the problem and use their knowledge of guns to solve it. In this one he argues that liberals and advocates for gun control are best served by doing so with a knowledge of and respect for the legal context in which change is likely to happen.
I read (edited and posted) his piece and then logged onto Facebook. I immediately saw a screenshot of a tweet that read:
“The second amendment was written 226 years ago. Imagine trying to write laws today that govern weapons in the year 2243"
That sort of assertion couches a misunderstanding at the heart of its critique. Even if we forget for a moment the incongruity from the first sentence to the next – the second amendment is, in fact, an amendment and not a law – it goes without saying that the framers could not have foreseen the sort of destructive power available over the counter today. That’s also not entirely relevant.
That’s because, as Tim argues, the second amendment has an importance outside of the sheer killing power of firearms that makes it a logical companion to the property rights and freedoms of assembly and others It keeps as company. But saying that the framers were unaware of the weaponry to which their amendment would apply, as though it were an argument in favor of gun control, is a mistake.
First, that argument places the validity of the second amendment at all into question by implying that the right applied only in the specific time and place it was written. If that were the case, it would be an unusual error. For all the founders’ faults the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights have proven pretty timeless. In fact, most proved timeless because they long outlived the slavery and racism and profound imperfection that animated their authors and are (at their best) wielded in defense of those the founders would have seen oppressed. Second, arguing that the gun industry has innovated the second amendment into irrelevance cedes to second amendment absolutists the assumption that it actually guarantees the right to unfettered killing power. It does not.
As Tim points out that the conservative assertion that the second amendment protects, without qualification, firearms and the equipment that goes along with them from any regulation whatsoever is horseshit (I may have paraphrased that last bit). But he also points out that the second amendment itself is valuable and liberals should move beyond questioning its worth to begin the work of defining it more reasonably.
The problem isn't with the second amendment per se, but with ahistorical interpretations of that amendment and the shallow knee jerk reactions they provoke. Liberals who want sensible gun control (like myself) should attempt respect for the Second Amendment and interpret it reasonably. We should look for the places where we can make an impact on the killing power of guns and the ability of dangerous people to acquire them and fight like hell to make those impacts real.