Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Who Cares What George Washington Thought, About Guns And Other Things?

One of the most ludicrous positions in the US constitutional debate is the notion that one must remain wedded to intent of the original framers of the Constitution. In other words, it should not be a living document. I may start to sound like a broken record on this one, but this reflects a wholly Protestant approach, secularized sola scriptura. Catholics, of course, appeal to the unwritten natural law and try to discern what is right from basic principals. Everything stems from the fact that the Word of God is a person, Jesus, and not a mere text. It follows that the starting point is the recognition that every human being is endowed with God-given human dignity that must always be respected.

Now, if this is in accord with written law, fine. If not, then an effort should be made to change the law. The founders accepted slavery. We don't. We have learned that torture is gravely evil. We have come to the realization that the death penalty debases humanity, and should be used only when there are no further options. We continue to declare that abortion is wrong, even though we accept the equality of women because it is an attack on innocent human life. The natural law does not change. We just understand it better.

Today, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, the old debate over gun control has rekindled. Those favoring guns offer a literalist reading of the constitution. Others note that the "right to bear arms" refers only to state militias. But who really cares? Does it make any difference what a group of 18th century Americans thought? The issue before us should be: what best protects the common good, the free availability of guns, or some gun control? The answer seems easy. As I've discussed numerous times before, the gun death rate in the United States is off the charts. Why this is the case is open to debate. Some point to the legacy of popular revolution and the frontier culture, others to the acceptability of violence as a response to problems, others to a popular culture that glorifies violence, and others still to the greater diversity that breeds tensions. But one thing is certain. The free availability of guns is bound to lead to further bloodshed.

Think of the recent tragedy. The young perpetrator of the massacre was clearly mentally ill, seriously so. He was paranoid and delusional, and possessed violent fantasies. These unfortunate souls exist in every country in the world. But in most other countries in the world, they could not so easily come across such deadly weapons that could cause such carnage. Sure, there are other ways to commit mass murder, but they are a lot harder. The counter argument is always some bizarre definition of "freedom", as if freedom is a primary virtue that can never be compromised. In fact, freedom is compromised every day in the service of the common good, and this is equally true in the United States as elsewhere. Examples abound. The freedom to drive a vehicle at any speed, or under the influence of alcohol, is curtailed, and for good reason. Certain drugs are made illegal, again for good reason. On the topic of alcohol, most citizens of the world would regard the ludicrously high drinking age in the United States as an undue restriction on freedom. All but the most extreme libertarians accept the role of the government in regulating behavior in the interest of the common good. Of course, there can be legitimate debate over boundaries. (Hint: the common good encompasses all, not just subgroups such as fellow countrymen. It is separate from the promotion of personal morality).

After the recent tragedy, the world press was united in condemning the liberal gun laws in the United States. The standard reaction of the right was a firm "butt out", tinged with a smug sense of superiority. For America is "free", more "free" than any other country, indeed, the "leader of the free world". Sorry, Europeans are no less "free" than Americans, and certainly do not see themselves so, but they are safer. No, the old "freedom" excuse for scorning gun control is based on an outdated mode of thinking, one that supposes that citizens with guns are the best protection against a coercive state that may abuse its power. Which brings me back to my original point: George Washington and his friends may have good reason for holding such views. We certainly don't. It's high time to adopt a Catholic approach to the natural law, rather than fealty to a dead text.


Anonymous said...

It's strange that so many of the gun loving uber-patriot types would concurrently view their country as a "coercive state that may abuse its power". Just another facet of conservative paranoia: Watch out for the jack-booted thugs and the black UN helicopters and Biased Liberal Media. Everybody's picking on us!

When it comes to the 2nd Amendment (and Electoral College) we are painfully stuck in the 18th century with a sizeable populace of compliant sheeple more suited to sound bytes than reading and understanding the full text of the 2nd Amendment. Right now we have the standard theatrics playing out: candles and teddybears, weeping friends, somber TV panelists and gutless politicians---to be followed by more carnage at a later date, perhaps even a copycat or two in the near future. Don't look for any meaningful changes to the law. It's quite amazing that we ever managed to progress from powdered wigs and wooden teeth.

Guns Don't Kill,

Antonio Manetti said...

I agree with MM. Frankly, I don't understand the concept of freedom in a society where large segments of the population are so fearful of their safety that they must stay barricaded in the house after dark.

I wonder how free the people in New Orleans feel right now. Would they feel they had more freedom if they started packing a weapon? Would that assuage the fear of a life or death confrontation?

A co-worker, who once worked and raised a family in Japan, said that, unlike here, he had no qualms about the safety of his adolescent children when they stayed out late at night.

Now that's what I call freedom.

Anonymous said...

Quite frankly, reflecting on the events at Virginia Tech has convinced me I need to own a gun. I do not currently. I plan to be a gun owner soon and pray that it will only ever be used at the range. What led to this conclusion is the thought that if I am ever in a life or death situation involving someone else with a gun, whether at any public place or in my own home, I know that my first thought would be, "How come that person has a gun and I don't?" I'd rather have a gun and know how to use it in hopes that my family would be spared tragedy before the police show up.

I have read the full text of the Second Amendment.

"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 keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The Bill of Rights enumerates several rights of the people. The right to bear arms is one of them.

Anonymous said...

Exactly what is the current need for a well regulated militia when the United States has a super power status military? Have I missed something or is this not the 21 Century?

Franklin Jennings said...

The answer to that is kind of in the text. It is necessary to the security of a free state. Granted, our militias are not currently well-regulated, and oddly enough, our states are hardly free any longer.

That aside, I'm not interested in instituting historically racist policies like gun-control.

Franklin Jennings said...


I don't think I've ever met another American who'd suggest we should scrap the Constitution with a straight face.

As long as you want to undo our entire basis for national government, you're a good, if muddled, egg in my book.

Lone Ranger said...

"Living document" does NOT mean you can interpret the Constitution any way you want. It means if you think the Constitution could be improved, you must go through the amendment process to change it.

This is a nation of laws. If laws could be interpreted to mean anything you want them to mean, it would be a nation of anarchy.

If you don't like the Second Amendment, repeal it.

I am not arrogant enough to believe that I am superior to "a bunch of 18th century Americans."

TNTRockin said...

Am I living in the movie 1984? Would you people even defend your families or yourselves from aggression? PEOPLE are the Problem..human nature is evil and will never change unlesss the person chooses to change in their heart by accepting Jesus Christ( YES, I actually said it)If there had beeen one good person with a gun in that Virginia Tech tragedy, the gunman could have been stopped. Was the government there to stop him? NO! Was the government there at Katrina? No! Stop expecting the government to provide for you and start taking care of yourselves! That's what a REPUBLIC is all about. The force fathers did not shed thir blood to create such a unique nation in order for it to conform to the rest of the world's standards. I Dont Care what the rest of the world thinks. Briatin, Australia, and Canada confiscated guns, and all of their crime rates went through the roof...Switzerland has assault rifles in every household and one of the lowest crime rates. America would not exist without guns. And as far as your theological argument..and I mean no offense here...As a Christian(no denomination) I believe that GOD(Father, Son, Holy Ghost)gives every soul freewill and also the duty to act with personal responsibility. I have a personal relation ship with God the Father through God the Son and there is no other mediator. I dont have to answer to any man for my sins, only God. The point is, because GOD gave me life, no other man has the right to kill me unless i am trying to take the life of another. I also believe that I will be held accountable for my failure to dutifully save the life of another if I do so because of cowardice or apathy.