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Second Amendment primacy

Excerpts from recent takes on the religion of guns and the readiness with which gun-control opponents invoke the threat of tyranny in explaining their elevation of the Second Amendment. All are worth reading in full.Gary Wills in the New York Review of Books:

[What happened at Sandy Hook] cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. The fact that the gun is a reverenced god can be seen in its manifold and apparently resistless powers. How do we worship it? Let us count the ways:1. It has the power to destroy the reasoning process. It forbids making logical connections. We are required to deny that there is any connection between the fact that we have the greatest number of guns in private hands and the greatest number of deaths from them. Denial on this scale always comes from or is protected by religious fundamentalism. Reason is helpless before such abject faith.2. It has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine. None dare suggest that Moloch can in any way be reined in without being denounced by the pope of this religion, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, as trying to destroy Moloch, to take away all guns. They whimper and say they never entertained such heresy. Many flourish their guns while campaigning, or boast that they have themselves hunted varmints. Better that the children die or their lives be blasted than that a politician should risk an election against the dread sentence of NRA excommunication.3. It has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to bear arms, a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his religion of slaughter. Moloch brooks no dissent, even from the highest court in the land.

 Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker:

It was hard, in [Newtowns] immediate aftermath, to find a presentable advocate for the view that the No. 1 cause of gun violence is a shortage of guns. (The No. 2 cause, presumably, is a surplus of people, since people, not guns, kill people.) Fox News Sunday and its host, Chris Wallace, had to settle for Representative Louie Gohmert, of Texas. Wallace pressed Gohmert on why he thinks civilians should possess weapons like the M-4 (the Congressmans choice) and the AR-15 (the school shooters choice and the top-selling rifle in the nation, notably in the past two weeks). Well, Gohmert replied, for the reason George Washington said: a free people should be an armed people. It insures against the tyranny of the government. If they know that the biggest army is the American people, then you dont have the tyranny that came from King George. That is why it was put in there. Thats why, once you start drawing the line, where do you stop?After Sandy Hook, as after the Columbine horror, in 1999, and the dozens of mass shootings since, many Americans, gun owners among them, wondered why any sane person would require a rapid-fire killing machine with a foot-long banana clip to feel safe in his or her home or person, let alone to take target practice, shoot skeet, or hunt rabbits. But, for Hobbesian gun nuts of Gohmerts ilk, the essence of the Second Amendment, when all is said and done, is not about any of that. Its real, irreducible purpose is to enable some self-designated fraction of the American people, in a pinch, to make war against the American governmentto overthrow it by force and violence, if that is deemed necessary. If thats the line you draw, then where, logically, do you stop? In Georgian times, when the amendment was ratified, the most fearsome weapon anyone, soldier or civilian, could carry was a single-shot musket. And today? Shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles dont shoot down black helicopters, people with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles shoot down black helicopters? Gohmert is a fringe figure, but the fringe is as long as an AR-15s barrel. His seditious fantasies of freelance insurrection are shared by a nontrivial portion of the N.R.A. membership and board, by the N.R.A.s feral kid brother, the Gun Owners of America, and by a gaggle of locked-and-loaded politicians who, not long ago, were threatening Second Amendment remedies for policy offenses like the Affordable Care Act.

 Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic:

Even if we presume that the 2nd Amendment exists partly so that citizens can rise up if the government gets tyrannical, it is undeniable that the Framers built other safeguards into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to prevent things from ever getting so bad as to warrant an insurrection. Federalism was one such safeguard; the separation of powers into three branches was another; and the balance of the Bill of Rights was the last of the major safeguards.If a "2nd Amendment solution" is ever warranted, it'll mean our system already failed in numerous ways; that "solution" is also easily the most costly and dangerous of the safeguards we have.It would probably mean another Civil War.Yet the conservative movement is only reliable when it defends the 2nd Amendment. Otherwise, it is an inconsistent advocate for safeguarding liberty. Conservatives pay occasional lip service to federalism, but are generally hypocrites on the subject, voting for bills like No Child Left Behind, supporting a federally administered War on Drugs, and advocating for federal legislation on marriage. (Texas governor Rick Perry is the quintessential hypocrite on this subject.)And on the Bill of Rights, the conservative movement is far worse. Throughout the War on Terrorism, organizations like the ACLU and the Center of Constitutional Rights have reliably objected to Bush/Cheney/Obama policies, including warrantless spying on innocent Americans, indefinite detention without charges or trial, and the extrajudicial assassination of Americans. The Nation and Mother Jones reliably admit that the executive power claims made by Bush/Yoo/Obama/Koh exceed Madisonian limits and prudence informed by common sense.

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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It is ironic that as we are in afghanistan using the barrel of a gun to force tirbal people to adapt our "enlightened" centalized system of government,we at home are becoming like them;distrustful and contemptuous even, of centralized governemnt and arming ourselves as if we were tribal people in the remote mountains somewhere needing to ward off invasion after invasion.But considering how we have glorified everything military-it is not surprising that as we become more paraoid about our centalized government -we have our own arms race taking place among oursleves -a nation at peace.A rifle will not protect us from the impending tyranny of our federal government-the paranoid fantasy proclaims. Hence we're arming ourselves to the teeth as we tell those backward afghans to come modern time and trust a centalized government to protectt and defend their rights!Part of americana has always included the belief that you have to be armed with a weapon to to feel that you are free.Being free means among other things being armed.That is why the term "militia" has been interpreted to mean any and every individual can own a weapon as oppossed to meaning a local police force, state milita or national guard.[the way I would interpret the second amendment].It is a cultural norm for much of america that feedom means the freedom to defend yourself from the tyranny of the state. Individualism in oppossition to collectivism is that quintissentially american thing; practically considered it means the right to own a weapon that can go head to head with the the always potential threat of the tyranical imposition coming from the collective[ state]. Such is the rugged american individualist mindset.It's not my culture[i'm an urban dweller and i believe in centralized government -a nanny state in fact] yet I have to say i do not believe in telling other people[whether here or afghanistan] what their beliefs should be regarding rugged individualism vs. centralized governemnt or about their right to bear arms even.I am aware that their are two cultures here around the role of centralized governemnt[right vs. left] and the con commitant perception by the right wing of the "right" of the individual to to possess arms to resist that centralized governement. In the past we've seen this right wing mindset resist other impositions of the centralized government[social issues regarding health, education and welfare and civil rights] yet over time they have come along and accepted them as valid and right.Perhaps that will happen with gun restriction legislation too.Or perhaps restrictive gun legislation that the right perceives would render them helpless before an unjust central government-is something they will not bend on.The perception that a gun to match" theirs", keeps you free might be too culturally ingrained as essential to feeling free, to being a free american.Though through grass roots and media and governemnt campaigns we've changed other culturally ingrained mores;public smoking, drunk driving, womens rights etc., so perhaps we can too about the "sanctity" of the right to amass weapons to defend oneself. We'll see.

A trifecta of sensible and compelling commentary. Perhaps the queasiest fragment, at least to me: "the AR-15 (the school shooters choice and the top-selling rifle in the nation, notably in the past two weeks)."

"Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias."I read an interesting proposal somewhere that we should require gunowners to qualify for and join state militias (the National Guard?). I think that would result in a decrease in gunownership, if we imposed some civic responsibilities like those envisioned by the Constitution. But would it be possible to enact such restrictions?

Interesting idea, Irene. But I doubt that the typical gun nut-case has any real idea of what the American Revolution was about, and he doesn't care either. Once again the failure of the high schools . . .

To our Constitutional Republic__ from a veteranThe strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. -Thomas JeffersonFirearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American peoples liberty teeth and keystone under independence From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable . . . the very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference they deserve a place of honor with all that is good. -George WashingtonThe Constitution shall never be prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms. -Samuel Adams

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