Several times in the past month, I’ve addressed here the notion among some Americans that the Second Amendment is intended mainly as a safeguard against an oppressive government.
It’s time, I think, to raise that issue again.
As you may have noticed, the breast-beating among certain firearms enthusiasts in this country has grown increasingly fierce since the start of the new year, especially as the political push for serious gun control has become more earnest.
On talk radio, in the comment threads on Internet Web sites and at almost every other turn, the boasts of self-styled protectors of the Second Amendment have become ever more militant.
I’m not talking about ordinary gun-owners or sportsmen or ladies with cute little pistols in their purses. I’m talking about the beady-eyed, armed-to-the-teeth zealots who have claimed for years that their personal arsenals are a hedge against a tyrannical government. Some of these guys have sounded almost hopeful in declaring themselves latter-day Minutemen dedicated to warding off Barack Obama and his gun-grabbing, jackbooted government thugs.
All of this prompts me to cite an essay by Joel S. Hirschhorn that I posted HERE last month, before the passions of the paranoiacs became so heated:
In truth, the gun crowd that see themselves as the ultimate patriots, like the original revolutionaries that fought the British and created the USA, is itself conflicted by self-interests. That is, most gun owners are receiving so many economic benefits from the existing government and economy that they are unwilling to risk all of them by a massive disruption of the whole US system. Just like we saw incredible numbers of protesting Tea Party people looking old enough to be collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits, the overwhelming majority of gun nuts are also feeding off of the national system they keep attacking. They keep buying more expensive guns and ammunition, gold and hordes of long-lasting survival foods to satisfy their paranoid thoughts. They keep giving money to right wing causes. They listen all the time to right wing radio and TV pundits. They have enough wealth to afford lots of things, especially expensive guns. Yet they do not ACT. They do not REVOLT. Even when their favored politicians lose.
Most of us do not equate the gun crowd with the plutocracy run by the richest Americans and corporate interests that aligns itself with Republicans and conservatives. The plutocrats, however, have no desire for a revolution that tears down the whole US political and economic system that they so benefit from. What the plutocracy has accomplished, against all logic, is to manipulate the gun crowd into supporting political causes that maintain the status quo that allows the upper rich to get richer. We have far more economic oppression than political oppression.
In other words, keep spending your discretionary money on guns and ammunition and all the other things so heavily marketed to the most paranoid people as evidenced by all the advertisements on right wing stations for gold and survival foods. Keep thinking that you need guns to combat criminals, except there is no evidence that crime has actually been curbed by the massive gun ownership rather than other factors.
But by all means keep listening and spending rather than actually REVOLT and bring down the system. Enjoy your guns. Just don’t take any risks and use them as defensive political tools. Don’t do what so many angry Europeans have always done; actually go the streets to bring down governments. Or what we see Egyptians doing. Of course, all those angry citizens do not have guns. Still, they put their lives on the line.
The bottom line is that the whole gun Second Amendment movement seems like just another aspect of conspicuous consumerism that keeps the US economy humming. When I see millions of these right wing gun enthusiasts give up their Social Security and Medicare benefits I will start to take them more seriously.
As to the roughly, at most, 100 million American gun owners, keep fighting more gun control laws. Keep buying even more guns, keep the multibillion dollar gun industry thriving. Keep screaming about your Second Amendment rights. Keep voting for Republicans. Keep listening to Limbaugh and Hannity and all the other idols that are among the richest Americans. Keep deluding yourselves that you are the only hope for the nation. Don’t face your hypocrisy. Delusion is the opiate of the right.
Another of our posts from last month argued that the theory that the Second Amendment is about allowing the citizenry to mount an insurrection against the government is exactly backwards. Rather, the amendment is about conscripting the citizenry to suppress insurrection.
Andrew Reinbach EXPLAINS:
If somebody brings up the first phrase–” A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” they [the National Rifle Association, et al] insist the militia meant the people at large, and that the idea was to create a counterweight to the central government, so it wouldn’t dare infringe on the people’s rights.
I’m sorry to have to burst their bubble–well, not really–but the legislative history following the Second Amendment’s passage very clearly supports the opposite of what they say. In 1789, the militia was intended to substitute for a standing Army, and to defend the government from insurrection.
Congress passed two Militia Acts in 1792. The first created state militias, each under control of that state’s governor, specifically created to resist invasion, and suppress insurrection. The second directed all able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 45 to belong to their state militia, own a gun and related equipment for that purpose, and report for duty twice a year. The law even laid out how many bullets each militia member had to bring with him–25 if he owned a musket, 20 if he owned a rifle. After the Civil War the Acts were modified to allow black militia members to belong. In 1903, the state militias were merged with the National Guard.
Aside from frontier fights with the Indian Nations, the militia was used only twice between 1792 and 1814: Once against the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pa. (led in person by George Washington); and then at Bladensburg, Md., to defend Washington DC against the British (the militia ran at the first volley and the day has been called the Bladensburg Races ever since). There was one use of a militia under the Articles of Confederation; in 1787, Shay’s Rebellion in western Massachusetts was put down by a private militia after Shay’s men attacked the Springfield armory.
There is no record of any legally-constituted militia “defending the people against a tyrannical government” under the Constitution–acts it would construe as treason, under Article 3, Section 3 (“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”) The only way to claim otherwise is to use the Civil War as an example. Even then, using state armies that way fit the Constitution’s definition of treason; it was simply expedient after the war to let the matter go.
Given that, anyone can see that the militia under the Constitution was an instrument of the state from the first, and never meant to safeguard the people from the state. What the NRA is doing is trying to confuse colonial militias–when there was no United States–with militias under the Constitution.
The record likewise makes clear that personal gun ownership was protected by the Second Amendment as a way to arm the militia. Of course, lots of people owned muskets or rifles then anyway. And in general, most people didn’t care. But a glance at the historical and legislative record explains why the Second Amendment has three clauses in one sentence and can’t be understood without considering all of it–screams from the right notwithstanding.
That popular misreading of the Second Amendment as a hedge against oppressive government is also addressed in this 10-minute video: