Why liberals should love the Second Amendment
by Kaili Joy Gray aka Angry Mouse
Sun Jul 04, 2010
Liberals love the Constitution.
Ask anyone on the street. They'll tell you the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a liberal organization. During the dark days of the Bush Administration, membership doubled because so many Americans feared increasing restrictions on their civil liberties. If you were to ask liberals to list their top five complaints about the Bush Administration, and they would invariably say the words "shredding" and "Constitution" in the same sentence. They might also add "Fourth Amendment" and "due process." It's possible they'll talk about "free speech zones" and "habeus corpus."
There's a good chance they will mention, probably in combination with several FCC-prohibited adjectives, former Attorney Generals John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales.
And while liberals certainly do not argue for lawlessness, and will acknowledge the necessity of certain restrictions, it is generally understood that liberals fight to broadly interpret and expand our rights and to question the necessity and wisdom of any restrictions of them.
Liberals can quote legal precedent, news reports, and exhaustive studies. They can talk about the intentions of the Founders. They can argue at length against the tyranny of the government. And they will, almost without exception, conclude the necessity of respecting, and not restricting, civil liberties.
Except for one: the right to keep and bear arms.
When it comes to discussing the Second Amendment, liberals check rational thought at the door. They dismiss approximately 40% of American households that own one or more guns, and those who fight to protect the Second Amendment, as "gun nuts." They argue for greater restrictions. And they pursue these policies at the risk of alienating voters who might otherwise vote for Democrats.
And they do so in a way that is wholly inconsistent with their approach to all of our other civil liberties.
Those who fight against Second Amendment rights cite statistics about gun violence, as if such numbers are evidence enough that our rights should be restricted. But Chicago and Washington DC, the two cities from which came the most recent Supreme Court decisions on Second Amendment rights, had some of the most restrictive laws in the nation, and also some of the highest rates of violent crime. Clearly, such restrictions do not correlate with preventing crime.
So rather than continuing to fight for greater restrictions on Second Amendment rights, it is time for liberals to defend Second Amendment rights as vigorously as they fight to protect all of our other rights. Because it is by fighting to protect each right that we protect all rights.
And this is why:
(Reasons below the fold)
No. 1: The Bill of Rights protects individual rights.
If you've read the Bill of Rights -- and who among us hasn't? -- you will notice a phrase that appears in nearly all of them: "the people."
...the right of the people peaceably to assemble
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 right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects...
...shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people
...are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Certainly, no good liberal would argue that any of these rights are collective rights, and not individual rights. We believe that the First Amendment is an individual right to criticize our government.
We would not condone a state-regulated news organization. We certainly would not condone state regulation of religion. We talk about "separation of church and state," although there is no mention of "separation of church and state" in the First Amendment.
But we know what they meant. The anti-Federalists refused to ratify the Constitution without a Bill of Rights; they intended for our rights to be interpreted expansively.
We believe the Founders intended for us to be able to say damn near anything we want, protest damn near anything we want, print damn near anything we want, and believe damn near anything we want. Individually, without the interference or regulation of government.
And yet, despite the recent Heller and McDonald decisions, liberals stumble at the idea of the Second Amendment as an individual right. They take the position that the Founders intended an entirely different meaning by the phrase "the right of the people" in the Second Amendment, even though they are so positively clear about what that phrase means in the First Amendment.
If we can agree that the First Amendment protects not only powerful organizations such as the New York Times or MSNBC, but also the individual commenter on the internet, the individual at the anti-war rally, the individual driving the car with the "Fuck Bush" bumper sticker, can we not also agree that the Second Amendment's use of "the people" has the same meaning?
But it's different! The Second Amendment is talking about the militia! If you want to "bear arms," join the National Guard!
The United States Militia Code:
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are—
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
Aside from the fact that the National Guard did not exist in the 1700s, the term "militia" does not mean "National Guard," even today. The code clearly states that two classes comprise the militia: the National Guard and Naval Militia, and everyone else.
Everyone else. Individuals. The People.
The Founders well understood that the militia is the people, for it was not only the right but the obligation of all citizens to protect and preserve their liberty and to defend themselves from the tyranny of the government.
And fighting against the tyranny of the government is certainly a liberal value.
No. 2: We oppose restrictions to our civil liberties.
All of our rights, even the ones enumerated in the Bill of Rights, are restricted. You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowd. You can't threaten to kill the president. You can't publish someone else's words as your own. We have copyright laws and libel laws and slander laws. We have the FCC to regulate our radio and television content. We have plenty of restrictions on our First Amendment rights.
But we don't like them. We fight them. Any card-carrying member of the ACLU will tell you that while we might agree that certain restrictions are reasonable, we keep a close eye whenever anyone in government gets an itch to pass a new law that restricts our First Amendment rights. Or our Fourth. Or our Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth.
We complain about free speech zones. The whole country is supposed to be a free speech zone, after all. It says so right in the First Amendment.
But when it comes further restrictions on the manufacture, sale, or possession of firearms, liberals are not even silent; they are vociferously in favor of such restrictions.
Suddenly, overly broad restrictions are "reasonable." The Chicago and Washington D.C. bans on handguns -- all handguns -- is reasonable, even though the Supreme Court has now said otherwise.
Would we tolerate such a sweeping regulation of, say, the Thirteenth Amendment?
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
What if a member of Congress -- say, a Republican from a red state in the south -- were to introduce a bill that permits enslaving black women? Would we consider that reasonable? It's not like the law would enslave all people, or even all black people. Just the women. There's no mention of enslaving women in the Thirteenth Amendment. Clearly, when Lincoln wanted to free the slaves, he didn't intend to free all the slaves. And we restrict all the other Amendments, so obviously the Thirteenth Amendment is not supposed to be absolute. What's the big deal?
Except that such an argument is ridiculous, of course. Liberals would take to the streets, send angry letters to their representatives in Washington, organize marches, call progressive radio programs to quote, verbatim, the Thirteenth Amendment. Quite bluntly, although not literally, liberals would be up in arms.
And yet...A ban on all handguns seems reasonable to many liberals. Never mind that of 192 million firearms in America, 65 million -- about one third -- are handguns.
Such a narrow interpretation of this particular right is inconsistent with the otherwise broad interpretation of the Bill of Rights. And just as conservatives weaken their own arguments about protecting the Second Amendment when they will not fight as vigilantly for protecting all the others, so too do liberals weaken their arguments for civil liberties, when they pick and choose which civil liberties they deem worthy of defense.
No. 3: It doesn't matter that it's not 1776 anymore.
When the Founders drafted the Bill of Rights, they could not have imagined machine guns. Or armor-piercing bullets (which are not available to the public anyway, and are actually less lethal than conventional ammunition). Or handguns that hold 18 rounds. A drive-by shooting, back in 1776, would have been a guy on a horse with a musket.
Of course, they couldn't have imagined the internet, either. Or 24-hour cable news networks. Or talk radio. When they drafted the First Amendment, did they really mean to protect the rights of Bill O'Reilly to make incredibly stupid, and frequently inaccurate, statements for an entire hour, five nights a week?
Actually, yes. They did. Bill O'Reilly bilious ravings, and Keith Olbermann's Special Comments, and the insipid chatter of the entire cast of the Today show are, and were intended to be, protected by the First Amendment.
Liberals are supposed to understand that just because we don't agree with something doesn't mean it is not protected. At least when it comes to the First Amendment. And one's personal dislike of guns should be no better a reason for fighting against the Second Amendment than should one's personal dislike of Bill O'Reilly justify fighting against the First Amendment.
And yet, when discussing the Second Amendment, liberals become obtuse in their literalism. The Second Amendment does not protect the right to own all guns. Or all ammunition. It doesn't protect the right of the people as individuals.
Liberals will defend the right of Cindy Sheehan to wear an anti-war T-shirt, even though the First Amendment says nothing about T-shirts.
They will defend the rights of alleged terrorists to a public trial, even though the Founders certainly could not have imagined a world in which terrorists would plot to blow up building with airplanes.
But we do not quibble about the methods by which we practice our First Amendment rights because methodology is not the point. Red herring arguments about types of ammunition or magazine capacity or handguns versus rifles are just that -- red herrings. They distract us from the underlying purpose of that right -- to ensure a free society that can hold its government accountable. The Second Amendment is no more about guns than the First Amendment is about quill pens.
No. 4: It doesn't matter if you can use it.
Fine, you say. Have your big, scary guns. It's not like you actually stand a chance in fighting against the United States government. The Army has bigger, badder weapons than any private citizen. Your most deadly gun is no match for their tanks, their helicopters, their atom bombs. Maybe two hundred years ago, citizens stood a chance in a fight against government, but not today. The Second Amendment is obsolete.
Tell that to the Iraqi "insurgents" who are putting up a pretty good fight against our military might with fairly primitive weapons.
The Second Amendment is obsolete?
What other rights might be considered obsolete in today's day and age?
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
When was the last time a soldier showed up at your door and said, "I'll be staying with you for the indefinite future"?
It's probably been a while. But of course, were it to happen, you'd dust off your Third Amendment and say, "I don't think so, pal."
And you'd be right.
What about the Twenty-Sixth Amendment? How much use does that get?
The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
We all know the youth vote is typically pretty abysmal. Those lazy kids can barely get out of bed before noon, let alone get themselves to the voting booth. If they're not going to use their Twenty-Sixth Amendment rights, shouldn't we just delete the damn thing altogether?
Hell no. And this is why liberals work so hard to get out and rock the vote -- to encourage citizens to exercise their rights. That is our obligation as citizens, to protect against the government infringing upon our rights by making full use of them.
And yet, when it comes to the Second Amendment, liberals do not fight to protect that right. Instead them demand more laws. Regulate, regulate, regulate -- until the Second Amendment is nearly regulated out of existence because no one needs to have a gun anyway.
And that, sadly, is the biggest mistake of all.
No. 5: The Second Amendment is about revolution.
In no other country, at no other time, has such a right existed. It is not the right to hunt. It is not the right to shoot at soda cans in an empty field. It is not even the right to shoot at a home invader in the middle of the night.
It is the right of revolution.
Let me say that again: It is the right of revolution.
Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.
To alter or abolish the government. These are not mild words; they are powerful. They are revolutionary.
The Founders might never have imagined automatic weapons. But they probably also never imagined a total ban on handguns either.
We talk about the First Amendment as a unique and revolutionary concept -- that we have the right to criticize our government. Does it matter whether we do so while standing on a soapbox on the corner of the street or on a blog? No. Because the concept, not the methodology, is what matters.
And the Second Amendment is no different. It is not about how much ammunition is "excessive" or what types of guns are and are not permissible. Liberals cling to such minutia at the expense of understanding and appreciating the larger concept that underlies this right.
What is the point? Is this a rallying cry for liberals to rush right out and purchase a gun? Absolutely not. Guns are dangerous when used by people who are not trained to use them, just as cars are dangerous when driven by people who have not been taught how to drive.
No, this is a rallying cry for the Bill of Rights -- for all of our rights.
This is an appeal to every liberal who says, "I just don't like guns."
This is an appeal to every liberal who says, "No one needs that much ammunition."
This is an appeal to every liberal who says, "That's not what the Founders meant."
This is an appeal to every liberal who supports the ACLU.
This is an appeal to every liberal who has complained about the Bush Administration's trading of our civil liberties for the illusion of greater security. (I believe I’ve seen a T-shirt or two about Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on that.)
This is an appeal to every liberal who believes in fighting against the abuses of government, against the infringement of our civil liberties, and for the greater expansion of our rights.
This is an appeal to every liberal who never wants to lose another election to Republicans because they have successfully persuaded the voters that Democrats will not protect their Second Amendment rights.
This is an appeal to liberals, not merely to tolerate the Second Amendment, but to embrace it. To love it and defend it and guard it as carefully as you do all the others.
Because we are liberals. And fighting for our rights -- for all of our rights, for all people -- is what we do.
Because we are revolutionaries.