Repeal the Second Amendment Already

We do not need a well-regulated militia (or any militia) to have a free society. We need fewer guns.
Author:
Publish date:
Students arrive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after marching from Deerfield Beach High School on February 23rd, 2018, in Parkland, Florida.

Students arrive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after marching from Deerfield Beach High School on February 23rd, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. 

Before we get to the lines about guns and infringement, the Second Amendment opens with, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State...." Turns out, that's a false premise. A well-regulated militia isn't necessary at all. Given that people keep being murdered in ever-increasing numbers thanks to the proliferation of ever-more-powerful guns, let's just go ahead and repeal it. We can start tomorrow.

Every time there's a gun massacre that somehow exceeds all the other recent gun massacres in horror and scope, here's what happens: The survivors cry out for justice. The many politicians who still cater to the National Rifle Association, to their lobbying money, and to the gun manufacturers who provide that money, will pause in promoting gun sales to offer their dutiful thoughts and prayers. Next, sober-sounding politicians on both sides offer incremental consensus approaches to gun regulation. Such incremental solutions spark brief hope that somehow this time we might do something, anything. And then the second media attention fades even a little, the NRA and its lackeys find a reason to abandon even the most modest change. Inertia wins. The next massacre arrives.

The time for incrementalism is long past over.

Take the massacre in Las Vegas last October. In just 10 minutes, the murderer fired over 1,100 bullets, killing 58 people and wounding more than 500 others. In the aftermath, many of us wondered how someone could do so much damage so quickly; soon, we learned about something called bump stocks, which enable weapons to fire much more quickly, and functionally turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones. In other words, bump stocks turn weapons designed to kill a lot of people into weapons able to kill even more people, even more rapidly.

For a couple of weeks, those discussing incremental, safe consensus—which is to say White House officials, elected senators and representatives from both parties, and even the NRA—fixated their attention on bump stocks. Sales surged, with a 300 percent mark-up in the used market. Then the NRA started to voice objections, the GOP followed, and neither federal regulatory agencies nor Congress acted. The net result of the worst massacre in modern United States history, beyond the death toll, was the enriching of gun accessory dealers and manufacturers.

AFTER THE PARKLAND SHOOTING, LISTEN TO THE TEENS: This generation has grown up online—and in the shadow of unimaginable violence. We ignore their wisdom at our peril.

The same incremental consensus-building is happening right now in the aftermath of Parkland. Yes, these amazing teenage survivors are pushing the conversations in new ways, but it's early days yet, and incremental efforts are already at work. Yes, President Donald Trump wants to build new asylums to lock up people with mental illness, arm teachers, and put armed veterans inside schools, but his babble isn't where the more serious action is taking place. The three most likely congressional actions, according to Ella Nilsen at Vox, are to ban bump stocks, raise the age for AR-15 ownership to 21, and improve the extant background-check system. That might sound reasonable. In any sound incremental system, we'd lock in these gains toward gun control, then move the goalposts to find the next reasonable-sounding points of consensus. That's why, almost certainly, none of these things will be allowed to happen by the NRA.

Here's what I predict, based on watching every political cycle since 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook. I expect the baseless stigmatization of mental illness to continue (only 1 percent of all gun homicides in the U.S. from 1999 through 2015 were committed by people with known mental illness). Then a lot of folks clinging to A+ grades from the NRA will gradually find technical or constitutional reasons why they can't, sadly, support bans on bump stocks or policies that might keep the AR-15s out of the hands of kids. Indeed, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre has already made it clear that he's opposing any action that might put the right to own semi-automatic weapons at risk, including bans on bump stocks. In a few days, then, the GOP will echo LaPierre, raising objections about the need for "long guns" (a nicely blurred category) for hunting, personal defense, and protecting the Second Amendment.

Speaking of hunting and personal defense, I'm all for them. I understand why people want to keep a firearm or two in their home for defense, although actual home-defense incidents using firearms are rare (as opposed to gun theft, which is common). If you want a handgun, go for it, just know that I'm not going to let my kids come over to your house to play unless I can be sure that the pistols are locked up properly. As for hunting, I'm skeptical that you need a semi-automatic AR-15 to kill a deer, but even in my utopian visions of a significantly disarmed America, I support the right for people to keep hunting rifles around. (The simple reason I don't hunt is that I like to fish, and I've only so much free time.)

When I say "repeal the Second Amendment," I am not saying that we should criminalize all private ownership of firearms. The burden of such mass criminalization would mostly fall on non-white and poor people anyway. But we must dethrone firearms as a specially protected class of objects in our most important political documents. They should be treated like all other tools: assessed, regulated, studied, insured, and subject to legal remedy when we need to hold both owners and manufacturers responsible for their use. In fact, these moves to keep better track of firearms and hold appropriate parties liable ought to be a nice incremental consensus position. It isn't, thanks to the Second Amendment.

Finally, supporting the Second Amendment weakens other amendments. For example, students around the country seeking to protest the gun violence in Parkland were threatened by their schools with especially strict suspensions, a violation (I would argue) of their First Amendment rights. When right-wing protesters show up to events bearing rifles, they are using the threat of violence enabled by the Second Amendment to chill the free speech of others. The calls to lock up people with mental illness, absent appropriate due process, violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Taking extreme positions on one set of rights often results in trading away others.

We do not need a well-regulated militia (or any militia) to have a free society. What we need is fewer guns. Sure, in this specific political context, constitutional change is not a practical solution. Practical solutions, however, have failed again and again, thanks to the NRA and the Republican Party. Let's abandon practicality. We cannot arm our way to a safer society, so we're going to have find a way to change the political context.

Related