Yes, we agree, the Machine has been too quiet lately. Oh wait, nobody was actually saying that?…
It’s also been a while since the Machine issued a series of related posts on a subject. So whether you’re ready or not, let’s jump right into it: an eight-post series on why every excuse for not implementing gun control actually ends up being an argument for gun control.
And how about inaugurating this series with a depressingly common take: we just have to accept that there will be more mass shootings than days in each year, because, well, you know, Second Amendment. The Machine posted about this topic a few years back. In case you don’t have the Bill of Rights in your back pocket, here is what the Second Amendment says:
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.
It’s startling that a sentence with such bad structure has become the centerpiece of so many worldviews. Nevertheless, no Amendment gets more publicity in recent decades. It’s probably fair to assert that most of the people who use the Second Amendment as an excuse against gun control are unable to summarize the content in most of the other 26 Amendments without looking them up. But nowhere in the Constitution is there any implication that one part is more important than any other. One might think the ordering of the Amendments implies some priority, but James Madison only ordered them the way he did because that’s the order of the original sections they were intended to modify. And here’s where we run into the challenge of maintaining a republic whose fundamental tenets are 226 years old and counting: what happens when one set of rights impedes on another?
Speaking of which, the First Amendment reads thusly:
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.
Take note of this text in particular: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. Where should we be able to peaceably assemble? How about schools? Movie theaters? Shopping malls? Concerts? Places of work? Now, of course, somebody will say “that’s not what was meant by assemble”. But then I’ll just play the “guns were muskets in the 18th century” card, so why don’t we just avoid wasting each other’s time?
The Machine asserts with 100% confidence that the right to bear arms has thus far been interpreted in a way that infringes on the right to peaceably assemble. And when two parts of the most important document in our nation are at odds, there is no escaping that there must be a conversation. And that is the most maddening part of this perpetual cycle: every time another tragedy occurs, the gun lobby and its minions put up the same resistance to even the slightest hint of a conversation. There is justifiable precedent in placing limits on a right prescribed by the Constitution, and one need look no further than the First Amendment. Freedom of speech ends at well-defined points: slander and libel are against the law, as is threatening a public figure. The idea that only the Second Amendment is immutable is preposterous and completely at odds with the words of Thomas Jefferson:
“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
For some reason, gun control opponents believe that the instant any law is passed to make to make the purchase of even select types of guns more difficult, suddenly every gun will be taken away from every gun owner in the entire nation. This does not seem to have happened with cars, houses, or adopted children, each of which requires a process to purchase and/or operate, and each of which can be taken away if the associated rules are not followed.
So we come full circle: the assertion of the sacredness of the Second Amendment necessarily implies the equal sacredness of the First Amendment, which inevitably leads to the requirement that limits be imposed on the reach of the Second Amendment. In case you didn’t feel like clicking the link earlier in this post, I can’t say it any better than one Antonin Scalia in one of the defining rulings of the Supreme Court on this subject:
“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Oh, the Machine is just getting started on this one.