Second Amendment Miscalculation?

Text of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America as passed by Congress…

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.

One of the core arguments you are likely to hear from gun owning fundamentalists is that the second amendment right to keep and bear arms is the only guard we citizens have against a tyrannical government, should one arise. There are several problems with this view, however. One, it assumes that a sufficient number of those bearing arms are willing to shoot and kill in order to overthrow a tyrannical government. Two, it assumes that all willing participants in this uprising will see eye-to-eye and have no disagreements among the ranks. Three, it assumes there is some barometer that will be used to determine when the government has become sufficiently tyrannical. When do the marching orders come down? And from who?

A possible response to my three points above might be that the right to bear arms sets up a scenario where the government wouldn’t dare push its citizens to the breaking point because there would be serious consequences. Therefore, no need to ponder my points because they would never come to pass. But just where would this breaking point be? The problem with this response is that there are already numerous individuals (some supposedly in the mainstream) that already are using talk of guns and second amendment remedies within political discourse. I would like to know how those individuals that have used such language define tyrannical. It seems more likely that they are talking about a government (and more specifically, certain policies rather than the whole) they don’t agree with rather than a tyranical one. If you are someone that has used the argument of citizens rising up to protect against a tyrannical government, I have a few questions… Are you really willing to shoot and kill? And if so, what is the criteria you will use to make that judgement? When is the government sufficiently tyrannical for you to pull the trigger? Who will be the first target? Framed in this way the argument really begins to take on water.

I do not write this article as advocacy for abolishment of the second amendment. I’m never in favor of amendments (or repeals) to the United States Constitution that would reduce or limit rights. Rather, this article is about asking the question of why we accept some of the common arguments posited for the necessity to bear arms. Do you accept the common arguments? Have you found yourself making these arguments? Do you think you see eye to eye with everyone else making these arguments? And if not, who will it be that is using their arms to overthrow the government? Is this the kind of country you really want to live in? Can we not find a way to build a modern and civil society that doesn’t need such 18th century thinking?

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  • Johannes

    While I applaud your fine reasoning, I have a comment on “Can we not find a way to build a modern and civil society that doesn’t need such 18th century thinking?” To me, it seems that the vast majority of mankind still applies much older primitive thinking. Just think of the dearly held superstitious beliefs. Yes, I am talking about religion. Unfortunately the majority of human beings are still living in the intellectual dark ages. I don’t think this should discourage us from trying to get people to use rational thought. I do it all the time but it rarely seems to get through.

    • d.k.sutton

      I agree. But it also points to how amazing the human brain is that it can compartmentalize rational and irrational thought.