Not what the founders had in mind

Young children wait outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown

One of the things you can expect to happen shortly after word of another mass killing like the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, today, is that for a lot of gun-lovers, the first reaction is to begin defending their right to own weapons like this one:

Rifle type used in the Newtown shooting?

Rifle type used in the Newtown shooting?

“It’s the shooters, not the guns that kill,” these humanitarians will say almost in unison. But that’s not really true. These lunatic gunmen would not be able to kill so many people if it weren’t so easy to get semi-automatic weapons like the one above, reportedly the type used to kill 20 children today.

Back in the 1780s, when the founding fathers were hammering out the Constitution and Bill of Rights, two armies could line up opposite each other and blaze away with their muskets and not kill as many people as died in that elementary school today. That’s just a fact. I refuse to believe the founders would have included any clause about the right to bear arms if they knew what kind of killing power this ammendment would unleash on children.

Guns don’t kill people. But people with guns do.



  1. Let’s try it with a right that you presumably do value, free speech. Should adults be banned from possessing virtual child porn to protect children? SCOTUS said no, holding that simulated child porn is protected by the First Amendment: “Here, the Government wants to keep speech from children not to protect them from its content but to protect them from those who would commit other crimes. The principle, however, remains the same: The Government cannot ban speech fit for adults simply because it may fall into the hands of children. The evil in question depends upon the actor’s unlawful conduct, conduct defined as criminal quite apart from any link to the speech in question. This establishes that the speech ban is not narrowly drawn. The objective is to prohibit illegal conduct, but this restriction goes well beyond that interest by restricting the speech available to law-abiding adults.” (Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coal. (2002) 535 U.S. 234, 252–253.) The Founders may not have envisioned that the First Amendment would protect digitally transmitted simulated child pornography, but do you think they would have foregone the First Amendment had they known? I believe they would have enacted the 1A knowing it all: Nazis marching in Skokie, “Fuck the Draft,” and desecration of military funerals, for a few. Likewise, the right to keep and bear arms is no less a fundamental right than speech. Even knowing the horror of today, the Founders would have enacted the 2A. Neither outlier mass murders nor outlier sexual tastes would have scared the Founders (and those who wrote and enacted the Reconstruction Amendments) from the protection of liberty. With a few glaring exceptions, they were not cowards. We can discuss the scope of the rights – to speech, or to keep and bear arms, to what extent they should extend to modern technologies or conditions. (For the 2A, the Heller decision is a fresh, nascent effort to delineate the 2A to our times. Not all weapons are accorded 2A protection under that decision.) But to assert that the 2A is obsolete, a mistake, or was enacted myopically, is to challenge the wisdom of the whole Constitution, so coequal is the 2A, because it es inseparable to the document’s purpose of securing life, liberty, and happiness. Today you (and I) see the evil a firearm facilitated. Today, consequently it is natural to forget what the Founder’s were thinking of in enacting the 2A. But tomorrow it will bear remembering, say, the Klan burning a cross on the front lawn of a family home, yes, with children cowering terrified inside. The homeowner could not call the police because the police were among those wearing the robes. But a shotgun. The homeowner could put an end to the party with one — and if he could have brandished an auto-loading military rifle, all the better. When the Klan is on your lawn, then you can see the Founder’s foresight.(E.g., read about Deacons for Defense.) We can protect children without denying adults the means to protect themselves and their children.

    1. Additionally, your example of the Klan being on someone’s lawn and being thwarted by a semi-automatic rifle-toting homeowner presupposes the idea that the Klansmen didn’t bring their own semi-automatic weapons to this fictional showdown. But who, in the real world we live in, would be more likely to have such weapons? Hate mongerers or peaceful homeowners? Your world view seems to require that we ALL must be so armed, just in case. Is that really the world YOU want to live in?

  2. If your point is just to refute my contention that the framers would not have included the 2nd amendment if they’d known that it would be used to protect the right of individuals to keep weapons of mass destruction, well, who is to know? You could be right. But why did you feel the need to work the word “cowards” into your argument, or imply that questioning their intent some how challenges the validity of the document? I’m not sure what cowardess has to do with the decisions they were making and not making. Was it cowardly that the founders didn’t ban slavery when constructing the Constitution? And when the 13th amendment ended slavery, no one assumed it “challenged the wisdom of the whole Constitution.”

    Although I’m sure people who preferred to keep slavery made that argument.

  3. After I wrote my response to your point, I recognized that my analogy is inapposite in so far as the bad conduct underlying the 1A cases (simulated child porn, racist marches) is legal, whereas a mass murder is most illegal.
    The rights chosen by the Founders support results that they could not have foreseen, and my disagreement with your point is that any of the results, if foreseen, would have led to a constitution with fewer rights. If anything, with a crystal ball, the Founders would have enacted more rights and would have added language clarifying the existing ones.
    When dealing with rights, numbers add up to nothing. Rights exist in the realm of principle, and the liberty principle is of the paramount value of the individual. For you to live, I must not be forced to relinquish my life. One slave’s labor might make twenty freemen quite happy. But slavery still is wrong.
    And, yes, it was cowardly that the Founders ratified slavery. But it was brave that they empowered regular individuals with the 2A, when almost all rulers and governments historically had monopolized control of weapons to themselves or a ruling class. To speak of bravery and cowardice now is appropriate because the horror of yesterday naturally tempts one to surrender a right to apparently gain safety from another yesterday — your reaction suggesting to repudiate the 2A wholesale. Certainly the freedom the 2A affords IS scary, and it does take strength of conviction (or bravery) to preserve it when to forsake it seems safer. Yet the reaction is shortsighted, the safety temporary if not illusory. Surrender the 2A now, and it will be too late to reclaim it when the Klan comes a calling. (I stand by my Klan example. It is based on historical fact, easily verifiable with a Google search. But even if only one Klan victim was able to defend his and his family’s right to life, liberty and happiness, then the 2A was vindicated. Ditto the Warsaw Ghetto, in which small arms proved their value against an army.) Likewise, it will be too late to reclaim the 2A when a rapist comes calling, maybe for a child. The lives protected in such instances are no less valuable then those taken yesterday. So, again, we must find a way to protect against mass murder without abandoning any of the constitutional rights bequeathed to us so wisely by the Founders.
    On a separate note, I always appreciate your outliner sofware reviews.

    1. Thank you for the comment about my software reviews, and thanks for reading. I appreciate that you and I disagree on this subject, but have done so respectfully (I think) of each other’s opinions.

      On that note, the Klan no longer burn crosses on lawns, not because homeowners are armed, but because society no longer tolerates that behavior. That’s how society advances. That’s why slavery was eventually stopped, why women are protected from sexual harrassment, why we have child labor laws, etc… That’s also why it is time to reconsider guns in America.

      Perhaps we can agree that while affirming the 2nd Ammendment, we can find ways to limit access to the most destructive of firearms. (For one thing, I don’t think the 2nd Ammendment protects the right to get ammunition for these weapons.)

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