"The Second Amendment is one of the clearest statements of right in the Constitution," Benjamin Wittes, a guest scholar at the center-left Brookings Institution, acknowledged in a discussion Monday. "We've had decades of sort of intellectual gymnastics to try to make those words not mean what they say."Mind you, Wittes is not a gun rights advocate--far from it.
Wittes, who said he has "no particular enthusiasm for the idea of a gun culture," said that rather than try to limit gun ownership through regulation that potentially violates the Second Amendment, opponents of gun ownership should set their sights on repealing the amendment altogether.Not exactly a "cold, dead fingers" type, obviously--but even so, he still acknowledges that the right of individuals to keep and bear arms is explicitly protected by the Constitution.
"Rather than debating the meaning of the Second Amendment, I think the appropriate debate is whether we want a Second Amendment," Wittes said.Wittes, though no ideological ally of the gun rights movement, possesses intellectual honesty and moral courage lacking in many of his fellow civilian disarmament lobbyists, who continue to cling desperately to the "collective rights" myth (Congressman Moran, for example).
This is not to say that I find all of Wittes' statements unimpeachable.
Wittes said the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms meant more when it was crafted more than 200 years ago than it does today.Because tyranny and government sponsored genocide never happen anymore? If you believe that, I can offer you a marvelous bargain on a pair of breeding mules.
Modern society is "much more ambivalent than they [the founders] were about whether gun ownership really is fundamental to liberty," he said.Try disarming us, Ben, and find out just how "much more ambivalent" we are.
"One of the things that they believed was that the right of states to organize militias, and therefore individuals to be armed, was necessary to protect the liberty of those states against the federal government," Wittes said. "This is something we don't really believe as a society anymore."I guess it slipped my mind--can someone tell me just when this guy was endowed with the authority to speak for society? As a member of society, I know his statement certainly doesn't represent what I believe.
Of course, there are also dangers associated with removing (rather than simply ignoring) Constitutional rights for which one has little enthusiasm.
But challenging the Second Amendment on the basis that society's circumstances have changed since the drafting would similarly open up to question all other constitutional rights, according to Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett, who also participated in Monday's discussion.Then again, civilian disarmament advocates would like to be able to get around those rights as well (First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment), when it suits their purposes.
"The techniques that are used to show that the Second Amendment really doesn't have any contemporary relevance are absolutely available to anybody who wants to show that aspects of the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment have no contemporary relevance," he said.
Barnett recommended that gun control advocates "not favor methods of interpretation [to criticize the legitimacy of the Second Amendment] that you wouldn't want to put in the hands of political opponents."The current administration is subject to a great deal of criticism (justifiably so, to my way of thinking) for its propensity for executive power grabs, with little regard to their Constitutionality. Is it not odd that many of the people who object the most loudly to the more sinister provisions of the so-called "Patriot Act," the erosion of Posse Comitatus, etc., are in many cases the same people who would grant the government a monopoly on the use of force?
It would seem that such people hold to a philosophy directly opposed to that of Teddy Roosevelt--they seem to want to speak loudly, and not carry any stick at all. I just don't see that working very well.