My friend Brett Joshpe has published an uncharacteristically soft-headed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle arguing that in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook, conservatives and Republicans should support what he calls “sensible” gun-control laws. It begins with a subtext of self-congratulation (“As a conservative and a Republican,
I can no longer remain silent . . . Some will consider it heresy,” etc.), casts aspersions of intellectual dishonesty (arguments for preserving our traditional rights are “disingenuous”), advances into ex homine (noting he has family in Sandy Hook, as though that confers special status on his preferences), fundamentally misunderstands the argument for the right to keep and bear arms, deputizes the electorate, and cites the presence of teddy bears as evidence for his case.
Brett, like practically every other person seeking to diminish our constitutional rights, either does not understand the purpose of the Second Amendment or refuses to address it, writing, “Gun advocates will be hard-pressed to explain why the average American citizen needs an assault weapon with a high-capacity magazine other than for recreational purposes.” The answer to this question is straightforward: The purpose of having citizens armed with paramilitary weapons is to allow them to engage in paramilitary actions.
The Second Amendment is not about Bambi and burglars — whatever a well-regulated militia is, it is not a hunting party or a sport-clays club. It is remarkable to me that any educated person — let alone a Harvard Law graduate — believes that the second item on the Bill of Rights is a constitutional guarantee of enjoying a recreational activity.
There is no legitimate exception to the Second Amendment for military-style weapons, because military-style weapons are precisely what the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to secure our ability to oppose enemies foreign and domestic, a guarantee against disorder and tyranny. Consider the words of Supreme Court justice Joseph Story — who was, it bears noting, appointed to the Court by the guy who wrote the Constitution:
The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.
“Usurpation and arbitrary power of the rulers” — not Bambi, not burglars. While your granddad’s .30-06 is a good deal more powerful than the .223 rifles that give blue-state types the howling fantods, that is not what we have a constitutional provision to protect. Liberals are forever asking: “Why would anybody need a gun like that?” And the answer is: because we are not serfs. We are a free people living under a republic of our own construction. We may consent to be governed, but we will not be ruled.
The right to keep and bear arms is a civil right. If you doubt that, consider the history of arms control in England, where members of the Catholic minority (and non-Protestants generally) were prohibited from bearing arms as part of the campaign of general political oppression against them. The Act of Disenfranchisement was still in effect when our Constitution was being written, a fact that surely was on the mind of such Founding Fathers as Daniel Carroll, to say nothing of his brother, Archbishop John Carroll.
The Second Amendment speaks to the nature of the relationship between citizen and state. Brett may think that such a notion is an antiquated relic of the 18th century, but then he should be arguing for wholesale repeal of the Second Amendment rather than presenting — what’s the word? — disingenuous arguments about what it means and the purpose behind it.
If we want to reduce the level of criminal violence in our society, we should start by demanding that the police and criminal-justice bureaucracies do their job. Massacres such as Sandy Hook catch our attention because they are so unusual. But a great deal of the commonplace violence in our society is preventable. Brett here might look to his hometown: There were 1,662 murders in New York City from 2003 to 2005, and a New York Times analysis of the data found that in 90 percent of the cases, the killer had a prior criminal record. (About half the victims did, too.) Events such as Sandy Hook may come out of nowhere, but the great majority of murders do not. The police function in essence as a janitorial service, cleaning up the mess created in part by our dysfunctional criminal-justice system.
We probably would get more out of our criminal-justice system if it were not so heavily populated by criminals. As I note in my upcoming book, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome, it can be hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys:
For more than twenty years, NYPD detectives worked………..