Friday, July 10, 2015

The One-Amendment Constitution

According to many Second Amendment devotees, all other rights ultimately derive from "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." As columnist Sandy Froman puts it, "The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is a civil right. And what’s more, it’s the right that protects all the others."

Implicitly, then--and sometimes explicitly--they believe that it is the right and responsibility of the individual to provide for his own defense, and to employ the credible threat of lethal force to secure the right to free speech, religion, property, security from unreasonable search and seizure, etc. Second Amendment extremists are refreshingly frank about the basic reason they need guns, especially military-grade weapons with high-capacity magazines and other ultra-lethal arms: to defend their liberty against their government. 

Just so we're clear: According to classical political theory, people give up some liberty to "put on the bonds of civil society" and "unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another." A society in which the individual has to defend every basic right with arms is not a society; it is Locke's state of nature, or Hobbes' "war of all against all."

Does anyone see the inconsistency here? If the RKBA folk are so convinced that the American social compact is so attenuated that it can only be protected by violence or the threat of violence, how hypocritical and disingenuous it is to invoke the Constitution in defense of their disdain for government! It is a contemptuous self-contradiction that exploits the larger society's respect for law to cordon off their own lawless domain.

This state-of-nature theory of "government" fits perfectly with those interests who view society as an obstacle to their ability to impose their will without restraint. It's not really about guns; those are just a potent symbol for the exercise of unchecked power. Yeats described our situation: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity." Society needs to assert itself, or we will start to slip backwards from Stephen Pinsker's apogee of decreasing violence.

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