A buddy of mine posted a link to an interesting essay today. The essay by Robert Parry was titled 'The Real Rationale for the 2nd Amendment, That Right-Wingers Are Totally Ignorant About'. Its premise is that 'right wingers' are some how wrong about what the forefathers meant by the second amendment. I would argue that all he really establishes is that nobody likes a rule that works against them even if they made the rule.
Lets take the very first sentence of Parry's introduction:
"Right wing resistance to meaningful gun control is driven, in part, by a false notion that America's Founders adopted the second amendment because they wanted an armed population that could battle the US government."
What we have here is semantics right out of the gate. First of all. Is there no left wing resistance to meaningful gun control? Can we even have a meaningful conversation if we make it about the left or the right? What if someone is a pro second amendment social liberal (they do exist)? Are they therefore ignorant to this suggested false notion or does the fact that they are liberal mean that they are aware of it but just don't care? Also, what is meaningful gun control. Is everything that has been done so far meaningless and everything that hasn't been done meaningful? Does gun control legislation become meaningless the instant it passes? Interestingly enough if you pay very close attention you will see that Mr. Parry's argument for gun control, meaningful or otherwise, falls apart within the first 10 words. When he says "in part" he is acknowledging that there is another argument to be made for the resistance of gun control that he does not want to discuss in a modern perspective - at least not here. If whatever the other part of the argument is successfully negates any pro gun control argument, then doesn't this argument become semantic by nature? Still, since this is the 'notion' he is presenting, this is the one we have to analyze. So here we go.
The argument Parry is making (at least initially) is that in documented communications of our forefathers, after the establishment of the United States of America, can be found concern, confusion and contempt at various rebellions they were forced to face and subsequently defeat.
Parry quotes a communication from George Washington:
"Washington questioned Gen. Lincoln about the spreading unrest. 'What is the cause of all these commotions? When and how will they end?' Lincoln responded: 'Many of them appear to be absolutely so [mad] if an attempt to annihilate our present constitution and dissolve the present government can be considered as evidence of insanity.'"
And again he quotes Washington:
"If three years ago [at the end of the American Revolution] any person had told me that at this day, I should see such a formidable rebellion against the laws & constitutions of our own making as now appears I should have thought him a bedlamite – a fit subject for a mad house,” Washington wrote to Knox on Feb. 3, 1787, adding that if the government 'shrinks, or is unable to enforce its laws … anarchy & confusion must prevail.'"
I don't think Parry has successfully used the forefathers misgivings to diminish the value of the second amendment. If anything he has enforced it by pointing out the desire of a government to stay in power and its insistence that it is right simply because it exists. This doesn't mean that the uprisings were correct or that Washington or the forefathers were wrong for crushing any insurgencies. But the fact that a standing government does not want to be overthrown is not in and of itself acceptable evidence that it shouldn't be. Our forefathers had an idea that conceptualized into these great United States of America. They fought for it, they bled for it and they achieved it at the cost of many lives - so its hardly surprising that they weren't keen on giving it up to any ragged militia with a grievance. Understanding this, if an uprising should occur of lesser force than the might of the American government and its militia of citizens then that uprising should be crushed and it is the duty of the United State's well armed militia to do it. Parry is suggesting that these dutiful destructions of small uprisings is the sole intent of the 2nd amendment.
"The reality was that the Framers wrote the Constitution and added the Second Amendment with the goal of creating a strong central government with a citizens-based military force capable of putting down insurrections, not to enable or encourage uprisings.""
But if the majority of the well armed militia subscribes to the ideals of the uprising, then it follows that the standing government no longer accurately represents the people and it is its destiny to fall - by blood if necessary.
And this is the point of the second amendment. Parity. I will say that word again. Parity. I think that from here on out we should all use this word when discussing the second amendment especially where it pertains to historical narrative.
Parity is defined as 'the state or condition of being equal' where its meaning centers on the idea that the condition of being equal is self checking. The system checks itself to make sure it is equal. The brilliance of the second amendment is that it is in fact a self checking parity that assures only one of two scenarios is allowed to exist between the United States government and the United States citizens.
1. The standing government represents the *majority opinions of the people to the best of its ability.
2. The majority of the people allow themselves to be misrepresented by the standing government.
* - where the majority opinion isnt infringing the constitutional rights of any american citizens
If you truly understand those two scenarios and sincerely comprehend why they are the only ones possible while the second amendment exists then you see that Mr. Parry's argument has completely failed. If he is correct that anyone who believes the second amendment is designed to arm the minority against popular opinion then we would expect to see armed militias contesting the government on a daily basis. It is a near universal understanding that small uprisings will fail that keeps them from happening with any frequency. This is part of the parity that is enforced in the second amendment. If you believe you are right and the government is wrong so much so that you would take up arms against it then you better hope you have the majority opinion and its well armed militia on your side or you will fail, you will bleed and you will die.
Now if you and the majority of the people believe that you are misrepresented by the government and corruption has made it impossible to peacefully replace the representatives of said government then it is up to you to revolt or not. Being an oppressed majority of a corrupt state gives you the right to revolt. The Second Amendment gives you the power. But neither can give anyone the resolve. Thats what the second amendment means. It means if the majority of the people of the United States are oppressed by a corrupt government it is nobody's fault but their own as that majority, by right of the 2nd Amendment, is potentially a well armed militia.
Now this really only addresses the second amendment as it pertains to potential domestic enemies and internal revolution. The fact is the true enemy mentioned in 2A is anything that opposes the security of a free state. This not only includes, but is most likely (if you think about it mathematically) entirely superseded by foreign enemies. I wonder if a foreign attempt to occupy American soil would result in letters from the foreign leaders to their generals that said "Why don't these people just let us invade? Whats with all the resistance?" Think about it.
Outside this argument Mr. Parry takes refuge in a common shelter for those who like to hide in shelters with:
"[right wing media persuades] millions of Americans that their possession of semi-automatic assault rifles and other powerful firearms is what the Framers intended, that today’s gun-owners are fulfilling some centuries-old American duty."
I never really understand this argument when it comes up - the idea that the 2nd amendment wouldn't exist if the forefathers had known how powerful weapons would become. Was George Washington such an uneducated general that he did not have an understanding of potential advancement of technology and its application to warfare. What about Ben Franklin. Was evolution of warfare a concept beyond one of the greatest thinkers of the time. But more importantly, does it even matter if they understood it or not? Again we go back to this word parity. If the revolution had been won with swords alone and the second amendment written before guns were invented, would muskets invented in the 1980s negate the second amendment? Would it be decided that technology should not be part of the self parity provided by 2A? Of course not. The expectation is that the people will always be up to the task of defending the country against enemies both foreign and domestic. The most interesting part of the second amendment to me is that it ensures the right of parity, but does not require it. This to me is demonstrative of the very soul of the United States - that the tools will always be available - the rest is up to the people. Eric S. Raymond interprets this potential for contradiction in his essay: Ethics from the Barrel of a Gun with the following passages
"Whether one agrees or disagrees with it, the Second Amendment is usually interpreted in these latter days as an axiom of and about political character — an expression of republican political thought, a prescription for a equilibrium of power in which the armed people are at least equal in might to the organized forces of government. It is all these things. But it is something more, because the Founders regarded political character and individual ethical character as inseparable. They had a clear notion of the individual virtues necessary collectively to a free people. They did not merely regard the habit of bearing arms as a political virtue, but as a direct promoter of personal virtue."
Lastly Mr. Parry invokes the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut:
"...and thus the false narrative makes possible the kinds of slaughters that erupt periodically across the United States, most recently in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 schoolchildren and six teachers were murdered in minutes by an unstable young man with a civilian version of the M-16 combat rifle."
I was actually disappointed when he did this. Before this, his argument, while I believe it to be incorrect, was at least worthy of presentation. His facts were valid even where his interpretation of them fails. There is room in the gun control debate for discussion of incidents like Newtown but here it is used as a far reaching straw man argument that would only really pertain if the second amendment talked about the right of mentally disabled people to murder children. This is not an intention or a consequence of 2A and there are laws of much more explicit language nullifying any interpretation of it or any other law that might exonerate such a madman. To try to blame anyone for Newtown because they defend the philosophies of the second amendment as it pertains to the security of our entire nation is a misguided if not intentional hit below the belt. It's shameful and I wouldn't allow it any more than I would allow a liberal who believes in a collective welfare state to be compared to a Nazi since wanting everyone to eat and killing 6 million people have nothing to do with each other. I would also argue that polarizing the issue with the 'right winger' attack is detrimental to any meaningful discussion we could have about gun control anyways - meaningful will be found in the center.
I think at this point it should be pretty clear that very few people think the second amendment is a haphazard call to arms for anyone or any group of people that have a grievance with the union. That the second amendment enabled a United States military still in its infancy to crush any such activity enforces its need and our country is certainly stronger because of it. That our forefathers were kicking themselves for arming the people they ultimately had to fight doesn't negate 2A but I don't blame them for thinking so in the heat of battle because hey - war is hell. Still they did the right thing allowing themselves to be challenged. Because when you cut to the chase, thats what the 2nd amendment really is - the ultimate peer review.
You can find the full text of Parry's essay here: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/real-rationale-2nd-amendment-right-wingers-are-totally-ignorant-about