From time to time the political scientist in me demands to be heard. It's usually something controversial. Here is a piece that I first published just over a decade ago. It's really not about guns. It's about understanding our system of government.
Paradox of Power
I believe that gun control is fundamentally wrong.
Some readers will never make it to this paragraph after my last statement. That same group may believe that there is only a First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. There are ten and we can ignore none of them without eroding them all. If we want gun control, then we need to change the Constitution not ignore it.
The Second Amendment, like the others in the Bill of Rights, was written in the context of preventing tyranny. The founding fathers could not have envisioned a United States that grew to be the most powerful nation in the world. They did envision a country that preserved individual freedom for each successive generation. Their greatest perceived threat came from the government which they were creating--that it could become its own tyranny. Federal power was distributed among three branches of government and the several states; while rights were retained by the people. This is not a model for efficiency, but for preservation. Our model of government preserved individual rights that permitted its citizens to come to its defense against a foreign adversary or to overthrow its own tyranny. The Second Amendment is a paradox rooted in a country born out of revolution.
How can I defend this position when violent acts have crept into our schools, communities, and way of life? Every Officer of the United States takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That most fundamental document preserves the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It is used in the context of a well regulated militia, but the right is reserved to the people. Times and technology have changed the price we pay for this right. There was always a price, but now it appears to be much higher with the ubiquitous availability of semiautomatic and automatic weapons. The weapons themselves are not responsible for violent crime, but the lethality of today's weapons makes each act more atrocious. The real question before the American people--one that should have been placed bluntly before our presidential candidates--is whether or not we need to change the Second Amendment.
Some would argue that the NRA lobby is so strong that such a change is not possible. That may or may not have merit; however, they should not be the strongest lobby against change. The ACLU should be prime contender in such a brokered battle. The Second Amendment is the only place where the people themselves are empowered to preserve the security of a free state, and embodies the ultimate civil liberty. Some would argue that tyranny is no longer a threat and that the political power of our federal government has been kept in check. If this is your position, consider where the power to declare war resides--in the Congress. How then did we get involved in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. Those that would classify these as police actions only hide the truth in Orwellian terminology. These were wars. The executive branch usurped power from the legislative branch and the people of this country didn't have a say in the matter. The Congress later recovered part of its power via the War Powers Act, but how binding is such an ordinary law when ignoring the supreme law of the land created this situation. The founding fathers recognized that power abhors a vacuum. The Constitution is our foremost protection against the consolidation of power by a single group or individual.
But surely we must make an exception in the case of assault weapons--the founding fathers could not have envisioned such lethality in a domestic setting. No such exception can be made. The founding fathers could not have envisioned nationally syndicated newspapers either, but none of us would stand for regulating the USA Today, New York Times, or the Washington Post because they have become too influential. We tolerate unprofessional journalists because we know that the ethical ones are essential to a free state. Every individual freedom comes at a price.
To understand the paradox of the Second Amendment, we must look at the powers vested in Congress, specifically those enumerate in Article 1, Section 8. Congress is empowered to call forth the Militia to suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions. How can the same Constitution preserve the right of the individual to keep and bear arms while authorizing the Congress to suppress insurrection? The sanity in this is that it is the militia that is called forth to suppress insurrection, not the Armed Forces of the United States, which are addressed separately in this same section. It is the part time soldier--the militiaman-- that is vested with the responsibility to suppress an uprising or to join it if such a cause is to overthrow tyranny.
Gun control lobbyists have clouded the issue by focusing on handguns and appeasing the NRA that none of their proposed legislation will impact the rights of hunters. Hunters don't have any constitutional rights--the people do--regardless of whether they are outdoorsman or not. Both the NRA and their adversaries are evading the constitutional issue. The Second Amendment is designed to protect us against all enemies, including the accumulation of tyrannical power by our own government. This has created problems in that some extremist groups within our own country have become well armed. So long as these groups do not represent the values of our people, they will be a threat to our society. Should the individual liberties of this country be usurped by our government, such groups become the mainstream of liberty. It is the nature of our republic, that our domestic tranquility is afloat on a sea that separates revolution and tyranny.
I don't believe we are at either extreme today. Our biggest threat to our liberty is not that our government will be replaced via a Coup d'etat, but that we will slowly erode the Constitution by ignoring it. If you don't believe this is possible, consider the fact that George Washington had to convince the founding fathers that he should not be king. Having just defeated a monarchy in forming our country, our founders considered establishing one of our own. Consider the illegal acts of two presidents, Nixon and Clinton. Nixon resigned for the good of the country. Clinton was impeached and evaded conviction not because he was innocent, but because he was popular and fought to retain power. Our Constitution recognized that power does indeed corrupt and it adequately distributed that power to avoid tyranny. The Constitution cannot contend with emotion, popularity, and impulse unless we honor it above capricious causes. We must aggressively fight crime and violence, especially in our schools. These solutions will come slowly and cannot be legislated. They must come from teaching the value of human life in our homes, schools, and churches.
The Constitution also provides a mechanism to deal with the needs of a changing society. The fifth article describes the constitutional process for changing our most fundamental document. It's a tough process. Obtaining a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Congress or three-fourths majority in a convention of the states requires the resolve of a nation. If we truly have a need to regulate guns in today's society, we need to amend the Constitution. Before we go down this road, we must carefully weigh what we are willing to give up in the way of liberty.
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