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Second Amendment Debate: Moving the Goal Posts

Recently, Eugene Volokh, Dave Kopel, Sanford Levinson, and Alan Dershowitz appeared in New York for a debate over whether the Second Amendment has outlived its usefulness. Not surprisingly, with an audience of New York elites, Professor Levinson and Alan Dershowitz, who argued against the Second Amendment having modern usefulness, “won” the debate. It seems I can embed the introduction, but to watch the full debate, click on the “Watch Full Program” at the bottom right.

I would encourage everyone to watch. I think if you really boil away everything about the debate, the folks that think the 2A an anachronism have an abiding faith in the democratic process. Like many of our founders, I am deeply skeptical of it. I’d much rather live under a benevolent constitutional monarch than live under the tyranny of the majority.

The idea that the Second Amendment is an anachronism, and that instead we can be happy with some vague but constitutionally guaranteed right of self-defense strikes me as moving the goal posts. They are saying if we just got rid of this nasty gun business, they’d be happy to concede we had an even less well-defined right to defend ourselves. I’m not buying.

To me, guns are the core of the debate. Maybe in 100 years, particle beam or electromagnetic weapons will be at the core of the debate. But for now that debate is over firearms, which is the current pinnacle in self-defense technology and has been for the past 500 years. You can’t have a debate about the legitimacy of self-defense if you’re arguing to take the most effective means of doing so off the debating table. I can see right through that as if it were a sheet of glass, and so can most everyone else who doesn’t live on the Upper East Side. I’m fine with the idea of including a right of self-defense in any proposed constitution, but given that having effective means of doing so is still very much a political issue, any such constitution damned well needs to have something that looks an awful lot like the Second Amendment. Then we’re right back to the gun debate, which is where we started in the first place.

18 Responses to “Second Amendment Debate: Moving the Goal Posts”

  1. Ttl says:

    It seems as if 3/4ths of the audience was for the concept of self defense while simultaneously being against the act of self defense.

    • Arnie says:

      Well stated, sir!!!

    • The Jack says:

      Which is congruent with their thinking that the concept of self defense is warm and fuzzy but no one *needs* the tools for self defense.

      We also see such muddled thinking when you get people who are deeply skeptical of the power and corruption of the police who non-the-less think May Issue is just dandy.

      Or people who are, obsessively, very big on the gap between the rich and the poor who overtly support NYC style gun laws.

      Or those against Voter ID on grounds that it is racist in effect but are fervent supporters of Universal Gun ID.

      • Bryan S. says:

        yeah, their head canon is filled with “talking it out” and “agreeing to disagree”. Because either they cant fathom a true animalistic / predatory threat, or they cant think of what a real monopoly of force can do to a nation over the long run.

        Or, they are lying, and want us defenseless so their world view can have that monopoly on force and take over.

  2. Andy B. says:

    “I’d much rather live under a benevolent constitutional monarch than live under the tyranny of the majority.”

    Are those the only two choices? Because I’d prefer not to live “under” anybody.

    • KM says:

      Good point.
      the folks that think the 2A an anachronism have an abiding faith in the democratic process

      They also think we live in a democracy – AKA – Mob Rule.
      I’ll pass on that one, I’d rather try to resusitate our Republic.
      (though the prognosis is poor)

      • The Jack says:

        It’s only democracy when it agrees with them.

        How many of those folks would agree with California’s Prop 8? That was passed by a majority of voters. And yet the same people who *say* that we should base rights on majority are aghast on laws that ban SSM, even when a majority has voted it into place.

        They only support “the will of the people” when “the people” vote the way they want.

        Consider their stance on Shall Issue despite a super-majority of states, and a super majority of the US population dwelling in Shall Issue jurisdictions.

        • Andy B. says:

          But, I see that phenomenon cutting in every direction, and being mostly independent of ideology. To turn the Prop 8 example around, I will see people in other venues one day arguing that the constitution(s) have to prevail (true) when it comes to their gun rights, but then the next day arguing that the courts had no business intruding on the Will of the Majority when it came to Prop 8.

          I know what Sebastian meant, in spirit, when he wrote “benevolent constitutional monarch,” but the catch in that phrase is that not just “benevolent” but also “constitutional” are adjectives totally in the mind of the beholder — and people have an astounding capacity for seeing their own self-interests or biases as both. So when we promulgate the idea that a “benevolent constitutional monarch” might be acceptable to us, what we are admitting is we would accept a dictator, as long as he didn’t step on our toes too hard. And there are a lot of anti-democratic forces that grin when we accept that.

          • The Jack says:

            Agreed. Was just using as an example.

            It is a common fallacy for people to go “Everyone agrees with me therefor I’m right.”

            I’m reminded of the line “Everyone is libertarian about their own passions, unless said passions depend on funding from the state.”

          • Andy B. says:

            “I’m reminded of the line “Everyone is libertarian about their own passions, unless said passions depend on funding from the state.”

            I like it. :-) I understand where you’re coming from.

            I just have to repeat an anecdote that sprung to mind. A few years ago we had a Libertarian candidate for AG here in PA, who wasn’t qualified for the office because the state constitution says you have to be an attorney, and he wasn’t. But he argued that, if he were to be elected, then the people of the state would have overruled the constitution, so he could serve.

            I thought it was an amusing argument, for a Libertarian and professing “constitutionalist” to make.

  3. Adam Z says:

    Speaking of debating the 2A, this Texas A&M professor thinks it should be totally repealed…! Apparently she also thinks the entire US Constitution is an “obsolete document”….which would also make her “right to free speech” as a university professor obsolete as well…???!!!

    http://dailycaller.com/2013/11/16/call-to-arms-texas-am-law-prof-says-its-time-to-repeal-second-amendment/

    • Andy B. says:

      While an enemy is an enemy, I have somewhat more respect for people who favor undergoing the process of amending the constitution, than I do for those who say “no constitutional right is absolute,” and advocate just ignoring the constitution when it gets in their way.

  4. mike says:

    Eugene, Dave – next time someone asks for a contemporary example of how the 2nd Amendment is used to protect against tyranny, maybe try this example:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Athens_%281946%29

    Or, point out how the “Occupy” protestors are sprayed down with mace, and the Open Carry attention whores are asked nicely to disperse.

  5. Weer'd Beard says:

    “The idea that the Second Amendment is an anachronism, and that instead we can be happy with some vague but constitutionally guaranteed right of self-defense strikes me as moving the goal posts. They are saying if we just got rid of this nasty gun business, they’d be happy to concede we had an even less well-defined right to defend ourselves. I’m not buying.”

    Just look at places like the UK that has outright banned all guns as defensive tools (you can own guns in the UK, but if you shoot somebody defensively you go to prison) they quickly went to ban knives.

    Also while I carry a .45 in my Day-to-day, I cannot carry many variety of defensive knifes, nor bludgeons like a blackjack, sap, or collapsible baton.

    No, those who wish to ban defensive arms wish to ban ALL personal defense.

  6. The old Soviet Union had many guarantees of individual rights in their constitution. They were all dependent on the whether they served the interest of the state or not, so they were effectually nullified. That is exactly what is being proposed here.

    The idea that a paper document provides for real security is nonsensical. I agree that I respect those who wish to repeal the second amendment. At least they are willing to follow the rule of law. What we see in most anti-rights actors is an outright disregard for the rule of law. It is classic liberal fascism.

    • Alpheus says:

      Of course, it’s often forgotten that repealing the Second Amendment does not make it right to ban guns: all that repealing the Second Amendment does, is make it Constitutionally valid to repeal guns, which is to say, it makes it Constitutionally valid for the government to become illegitimate.

      The Second Amendment protects a right that exists independent of the Constitution; it’s sole purpose is to remind us, and to remind the government, that it isn’t within the rights of government to pass laws banning arms.

  7. Andy B. says:

    “They were all dependent on the whether they served the interest of the state or not. . .”

    But, didn’t the United States adopt that concept from even long before the Soviet Union existed? That “no constitutional right is absolute,” if a “compelling state interest” was served by violating it?

    The trick all along has been to find compelling state interests, and the bigger The State, the greater its interests. An example I love just for its irony is, that c. 1850, when my first ancestors arrived in the United States, congress still recognized that it had no constitutional authority to regulate immigration — which it wanted to do, to keep my ancestors out. But by 1881, the desire for limiting those icky Chinese had provided a compelling state interest, so no constitutional amendments were required to empower congress to do what everyone who was anyone, and all Real Americans, wanted them to do. Thus will be it ever.

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