26 June 2008

Justice Scalia's History Lesson

No layman has had time today, I suspect, to read through all the opinions issued in the District of Columbia gun-rights case, but I'm linking to them so those who are interested can peruse them at their leisure. The news reports this as a major ruling, apparently the first definitive assertion by the Supreme Court of an individual right to own firearms for self-defense or hunting purposes. Justice Scalia's majority opinion puts forward a lot of learning to prove that the Second Amendment's famous "well-regulated militia" clause does not limit the scope of the uninfringable right to keep and bear arms. I'm not sure I fully buy his argument. My main problem with what I've read is his assertion that the amendment acknowledges a pre-existing right, while at the same time he states that the amendment "confers" the right. Which is it? Since I don't buy into natural-rights discourse, I have to question whether the Constitution recognizes pre-existing rights. If you accept Scalia's reasoning, you open the door for him to base his understanding of constitutional gun rights on the unwritten text of the pre-existing law. It looks like he's superimposing his own notion of the individual's natural right to self-defense upon the actual text, but his notes inform me that the Court has done this sort of thing before in other contexts. Liberals and conservatives alike have appealed to pre-existing rights when it's served their respective agendas.

I've read a few books on the Second Amendment, and I've offered my own tentative interpretations of it in the past, but I'm not about to say I know more about the subject than any of the nine justices. Instead, I'm inclined to accept today's ruling as proof that constitutional arguments for gun control are a dead end. It was probably futile all along to hope that an 18th century charter could mandate meaningful gun control. What was needed all along, and is obviously needed now, is a thorough revision of the Second Amendment in light of the social realities of the 21st century. That will be hard work, with nothing certain but constant struggle with a determined and fanatic opposition. True gun control offends the primal instincts of American-style conservatism, which is, at or near its heart, all about the individual's desire to save himself before everything else. But those instincts have to be conquered if we're going to achieve a civilized society.

Think about this: some nut went postal in Kentucky yesterday and killed five people before offing himself. A gun-rights fanatic will tell you that, even if you took his gun away, he'd still have killed people. But would he have killed five people with a knife or a club? The difference between that man with his gun and him without is evidence for gun control, being necessary for the security of a civilized state.

6 comments:

crhymethinc said...

But just think how many more of them would have died, if a few of them had also been armed and started returning fire. This country is overpopulated by the dull and useless drones anyway...a little thinning out of the herd may prove to be a good thing in the long run.

Samuel Wilson said...

I don't think it would work out as you hope, since you can't guarantee that the goons with the guns will only shoot each other, and you can't be sure that the fallen bystanders are only expendable drones. What if it were you?

Anonymous said...

you gotta fight ... bah nah ... for your right ... bah nah ... to go postal!

Solomon Grundy arrived here on Monday,
Got shot down on Tuesday,
Died on Wednesday.
Didn't Make it to Sunday.
And that was the end of Solomon Grundy.

(The Jehovah's Witnesses did it. They rule the underground gun trade and P Diddy is secretly their leader. They will hide in the desert until Wango Tango is over and then P Diddy will rule the world.)

spockdiddler said...

Dork. Black man only knows what white man taught him.

evangelicorp said...

Easy there.

When the Second Amendment was written they did they even have concealable handguns? I know they had pistols -- but come on... they were practically the size of a sawed-off shotgun. I can only imagine an 18th century kid walking into school, removing the "neighborhood" musket from his pantaloons and... firing one shot. The room fills with smoke and he then retreats to a closet to reload only to return to 27 guns pointing back at him.

Samuel Wilson said...

Evangelicorp: I have at least one problem with your story. If your pre-Columbine kid has the "neighborhood musket," and he's attending the neighborhood school, where did the other kids get their guns from? I'm also skeptical about your scenario since the schoolmaster himself was most likely to have the neighborhood musket under lock and key, since in those days, as I understand it, he would use it to shoot the dull boys who failed to conjugate their Latin verbs properly. They had discipline back then.