Home > Issues, observations > Repeal the Second Amendment?  UPDATE

Repeal the Second Amendment?  UPDATE

June 28, 2008

The Chicago Tribune editorializes; “Repeal the Second Amendment”.  My first reaction is quite negative – we’re talking about one of the rights guaranteed in the constitution here.  It’s late, and I’ll have more to say about this on Sunday but I’d love to hear what you think. 

As promised, below the fold are some updates on this subject.  The Chicago Tribune editorial had many, many comments and I will base my responses on those.  Many were slogans that we’ve all heard before, and they deserve a response:

“If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”
This is a real problem for gun-ban advocates: criminals don’t obey laws.  But it isn’t a problem for gun-control advocates, which is a very different thing.
“Concealed-carry will result in more crime, more shootings.”
Hasn’t happened, in places where concealed carry is allowed.  I bow to experimental results.
“Why don’t you just repeal the First Amendment!  The Second is the one that protects the first!”
This is not supported by the record of oppressive countries with armed populations.  Nearly every family in Saddam’s Iraq had a gun, and there were certainly people who wanted him dead.  But his government kept the people in line with torture and threats to family.
“The Nazis confiscated all the guns!”
Again, the idea that owning a gun is somehow a hedge against governmental oppression.  Sorry, but it isn’t.  There are lots of ways of controlling a population that are not fixed by bullets.  Propaganda, censorship, and terror all apply; no single amendment is sufficient or there would only have been one of them.  And while we’re at it, forget holding off the government with your trusty rifle; that’s just delusional.  You just might, however, keep it from ever getting that bad if the press isn’t a presidential lapdog.
“Washington DC has the strictest gun laws in the country, but it’s also the country’s murder capitol.”
Again, a simplistic explanation for a complex problem.  Part of our national psyche seems fixated on the last line of defense.  We like diet pills but we don’t like to count calories.  We like levees but we don’t like wetlands’ protection laws.  We enjoy excellent emergency medicine but had to be forced by law to wear our seat belts and they’ll have to pry the cell phone out of our cold, dead hands.  Our answer to safe streets is more cops, more guns, more violence.  It never occurs to us to do something about drug laws that impoverish inner-city neighborhoods while empowering criminals.  Or to put national resources behind inner-city schools and do something about hungry kids and ignorance.  We need to start applying long-term solutions to long-term problems.
“The Left has had its social experimentations with gun control for years now.”
It’s an experiment doomed to failure in a country awash in guns.  About all we’ve learned is; it doesn’t work to draw a line around a certain area and say; “No guns here”.  And here’s a related objection:
“Every single shooting has been in a ‘gun-free zone’”
Not true, and not meaningful.
“I have a right to self-defense!” (variations thereof)
Then you better get serious training.  The likelihood of your gun protecting you or your family has to be balanced against the greater likelihood of the opposite outcome. That said, many people do have training, and should update their training throughout life if they use a gun for defense.  And even then, recognize that a gun can give tragic force to your most irrational moments.
“The Second Amendment refers to a ‘well-regulated militia’, not to individual rights to own arms”
Admittedly this is one of the great historical puzzles.  The framers of the Constitution usually wrote in excruciatingly clear language, so we have to assume that this language was clear to them.  But for reasons of cultural change, it is far from clear to us.  A couple commenters even said that that armed citizens would regulate the militia – but they may have been joking.  See what happens if you pull up to the National Guard depot with your rifle and start telling them what they’re doing wrong.  I’m afraid we’re going to have to figure this one out ourselves.

There was much more; this is just a sample.  So let’s try to figure it out here.  I’m going to say what I’m in favor of, and ask you to poke holes in it.

In many ways this is more a rural/urban problem than a conservative/liberal problem.  If you live in a rural area, it’s difficult to appreciate the constant slaughter that parades through urban emergency rooms.  As the saying goes, “all politics is local.”

But it can be a problem even in rural areas.  When I was doing a pastoral internship in NC, there was a feud between two local families.  Now this is back ‘up the hollows’ and they called the ‘young rev’rund’ to officiate.  I was sitting in the living room of one of the families listening to ‘maw-maw’ when the ‘young buck’ walked into the living room carrying a nickel-plated .38 revolver.  His index finger was comfortably ensconced inside the trigger guard.

“Where you going with that?” I asked.  I felt pretty safe, because he was not mad at me.

“Uh, nowhere.  I just had it out,” he answered.

You have every right to believe that you are superior and more rational than that young man, and you might be.  But laws aren’t written for you; they’re written for everyone.  And there are lots of different kinds of irrationality.

I’m in favor of controlling criminals, and to do that we need gun control.  If you have a record of violent crime, such as assault, then no gun license for you, period.  And just as there are different kinds of drivers’ licenses (motorcycle, day-only, car, truck, etc) there should be different kinds of gun licenses.  All of them should require training, testing, recertification and liability.  A gun license should place very strict obligations on the gun owner.  And once you have licensure in place, it’s a lot easier to identify an illegal gun and more importantly, an illegal gun owner.

You might wonder, since criminals break laws, what good a licensing scheme would be?  With laws in place you can come down harder on a criminal caught with a gun – some laws already go there. And you would have law-abiding citizens with guns, which would give the criminals something to think about.

The first-level license would be approximately like the current Illinois FOID card.  You can own them, buy ammo, etc.  But every gun needs to be registered and a ballistic sample taken.  You need to have a locking enclosure and a homeowner’s liability insurance rider.

The second-level license would be a concealed-carry license.  You have to pass rigorous training and you get to carry one, specific registered weapon of limited type. You leave it home when you fly.  And you’re legally liable if the gun is stolen so load up on the insurance, baby.

The third-level license would allow you to carry your gun pretty much anywhere, even on an airplane.  License applications should be reviewed by a citizen’s jury like a trial, to limit political clout.  Most third-level licenses would answer some demonstrable professional need.

That’s the legal stuff.  Now for some practical stuff.  People who live in “nice” neighborhoods may not recognize that some homes do need defense.  But defending one’s home against criminals is NOT a simple problem.  The scenario in most people’s minds is this: you are sleeping and you hear someone break in.  You get your gun and force them to flee, or shoot them.  That’s a small minority of home invasions.  Odds are good you won’t have a chance to get to your gun.

I grew up in a house full of guns, so I have handled and fired most of the common types.  Handguns are a poor choice for home defense – they require a lot of skill and if they are stolen, are easy to conceal for crimes.  For most homes, a shotgun is probably better – easy to use, effective, and so intimidating it may not be needed.  And it won’t go through your wall and across the street and kill your neighbor.  Me, I keep an old golf club around, somewhere.  I live in a neighborhood that is quiet enough for a gun to be a bigger hazard, statistically, than the likelihood of a home invasion (which has to be further divided by the likehood that I could effectively use a gun to counter one).

I don’t know why Americans are so gol-durned het-up on guns; we just are.  There’s no one-size fits all solution to it either.  Switzerland is awash in guns too, but their murder rate is far below ours.  But they have a lot less poverty and racial strife than we have.  Maybe that’s the big difference?  But criticisms of American culture reinforce my point that we need long-term solutions, meaning structural, even foundational changes in American society.  Until then, we need improved gun control, much improved criminal control, some government control (stop the war on drugs and stop treating drug users like criminals), and ever-better emergency medicine. 

Finally, I am extremely uneasy with removing anything from the Bill Of Rights.  Our country is what it is; let’s start thinking up ways to live with ourselves.

OK folks, hit me with it: what do you think?  Let’s see if we can figure something out that isn’t just rhetoric.

Categories: Issues, observations
  1. June 28, 2008 at 07:04 | #1

    I’m all for repealing that amendment, not that it’s going to happen in my lifetime.

    One of my favorite songs is Celtic Nots Pieces of Hate.

  2. June 28, 2008 at 08:48 | #2

    I say let the people vote. Re-write the second amendment to make it clear that it is intended for “well-regulated militias.”

    Really, I don’t know . . .

  3. Ted
    June 28, 2008 at 09:01 | #3

    Repeal it. It’s anachronistic. Why do we need to remain socially stagnant?

  4. June 28, 2008 at 20:04 | #4

    Actually, we just posted something about this over at It’s the Thought that Counts—the post is called Right to bear arms? and argues for repealing the amendment. You might find it interesting.

    I’m curious to see what you have to say about the issue. I’ll definitely be back tomorrow!

  5. June 28, 2008 at 20:06 | #5

    Well, that’s odd, I don’t know why it ruined my link. Here’s the URL to copy and paste:


  6. EdK
    June 28, 2008 at 21:51 | #6

    As long as you believe the nanny state should know all, know what is best for you, and knows you are not to be trusted with dangerous things like firearms, private communications, software that foils DRM, etc. then that’s probably a sensible opinion to repeal the right to bear arms.

    Because, after all, it’s for your own safety.

  7. June 28, 2008 at 23:23 | #7

    Guess I’m not the most flaming liberal in the universe after all, because I come down on the side of regulation rather than a blanket ban on firearms.  Even if I did want a blanket ban, though, I still don’t want the Bill of Rights tinkered with.  That just opens a can of worms that doesn’t bear thinking about.

    Besides, there’s an easy way around the “right of the citizens” portion: revoke the citizenship of paranoid, delusional, dangerous lackwits.  ;-)   I can but dream.

  8. June 29, 2008 at 13:22 | #8

    I guess I was somewhat unclear in my statement. I meant that this is a democracy and the people should decide, and if the people (not Big Brother) want to change the Second Amendment, then so be it. Of course, the Founding Fathers, elitist slave-owning plutocrats that they were, were deathly afraid of direct democracy, so we don’t have it.

    Didn’t I read somewhere that it is something like 46 times more likely a household member will be killed or injured by a gun on the premises than that it will be successfully used to repel a criminal? Something like that.

  9. June 30, 2008 at 04:31 | #9

    Gerry, you did indeed.  I don’t know what the statistics are, but when I was studying up on law enforcement, there was case after case of homeowners getting shot with their own weapons.  Some of those homeowners were cops.  That convinced me never to use a gun for self-defense.

    I have a katana instead.  ;-)

    George, this was beautifully thought out, and considering I’m no expert, I can’t really find any flaws.  I could poke some holes in it with my sword, but then my screen would hate me. 

    You’re so right about long-term solutions.  Alas, Americans seem oblivious to such things.

    At least you’ve given me a ton of talking-points for the next time a gun nut bends my ear.  Now I can quickly and easily bend it right back!

  10. July 1, 2008 at 22:28 | #10

    I agree with everything in George’s update. I am fine with people owning guns if there are stricter laws for owning. Make it harder for people who shouldn’t have a gun to have one.

    And to me conceal carry just makes sense. This is one issue I am certainly conservative on. If you know someone might have a gun it only makes sense to me that you will think twice about committing a crime against them. Why take the risk? Especially if as George says, we work on solving other social issues. Let us not for get that many crimes are out of necessity or a feeling of helplessness. Solve those issues and lesson the need people have to commit the crime in the first place.

    That said, I really won’t cry if the 2nd Amendment is appealed. I don’t own guns and don’t plan on it anytime soon. Sorry for those of you that feel stronger but I would rather see us work toward a world of no guns, when we are ready.

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