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The Founders talk to us about guns for a well-regulated militia

24 July 2012

Summary:  The debate about the right to bear arms is a black comedy. It takes place amidst casualties like that of a war, the names of the annual crop of the dead endlessly scrolling by into the dustbin of history. The guns supposedly defending our liberty remain quiet while we throw away our rights. The arguments supporting an expansive interpretation are bolstered by an impressive array of fake quotes from our history. It’s a fine demonstration of American politics at the end of the Second Republic.

Assault deaths per 100k in US & our peers. Guess which line is the USA?

The graph is by Kieran Healy. Click to enlarge. The source is in section 4.

Contents

  1. About the Second Amendment
  2. Alexander Hamilton speaks to us
  3. Fake advice from Thomas Jefferson
  4. More information about guns in America – pro-gun control
  5. And for the other side of the debate …
  6. About our eroding rights. One by one we throw them away.

(1)  About the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

From the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School

The opposing theories, perhaps oversimplified, are an “individual rights” thesis whereby individuals are protected in ownership, possession, and transportation, and a “states’ rights” thesis whereby it is said the purpose of the clause is to protect the States in their authority to maintain formal, organized militia units.

Whatever the Amendment may mean, it is a bar only to federal action, not extending to state or private restraints.

(2)  Alexander Hamilton speaks to us

Alexander Hamilton clearly sides with with “states’ rights” theory in Federalist Paper No. 29: “Concerning the Militia“, published in The Daily Advertiser, 10 January 1788 — Capitals in the original. Excerpt:

The power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defense, and of watching over the internal peace of the Confederacy.

It requires no skill in the science of war to discern that uniformity in the organization and discipline of the militia would be attended with the most beneficial effects, whenever they were called into service for the public defense. It would enable them to discharge the duties of the camp and of the field with mutual intelligence and concert an advantage of peculiar moment in the operations of an army; and it would fit them much sooner to acquire the degree of proficiency in military functions which would be essential to their usefulness.


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This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union:

“to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, RESERVING TO THE STATES RESPECTIVELY THE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS, AND THE AUTHORITY OF TRAINING THE MILITIA ACCORDING TO THE DISCIPLINE PRESCRIBED BY CONGRESS.”

… If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security.

(3) Fake advice from Thomas Jefferson

Last week we looked at fakery by the Left to mold public opinion.  But both Left and Right understand us, and lie.  The fake quotes about gun rights could fill a book.  Repeatedly debunked, still widely circulated — and believed.  The frequency of lies in our public debates reveals us much about 21st century America — and the educational value of the Internet.

(a)  This quote sounds definitive! Too bad Jefferson never said it.

“Laws that forbid the carrying of arms … disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed one.”

It’s from Cesare Beccaria’s Essay on Crimes and Punishments. Jefferson’s note on this: “False ideas of utility”.  See the details here.

(b) But I’ve heard this one a thousand times? How sad people lie to us so often.

Fake quotes are the most powerful.

“No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

The actual quote is “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms within his own lands.” It’s from the Draft Constitution for Virginia of June 1776. See the details here.

(c)  This is my favorite. A powerful quote, although not by one of the Founders.  It’s also fake.

Yes, another fake quote.

See Factcheck.org for details.

(d)  Update: no discussion of gun-rights propaganda should overlook the National Rifle Association.

That such crude propaganda has such effect indicates our vulnerability to tyranny.  For examples see “NRA’s doomsaying sham“, Alan Berlow, Salon, 24 July 2012 — Opening:

If Americans wake up one day to find out that they’re living in a Stalinist police state and that government agents have confiscated all their guns leaving them utterly defenseless, it won’t be because Wayne LaPierre didn’t warn us. LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association, has been issuing warnings along these lines for most of his 20 years as the public face of what is regularly described as the nation’s most powerful lobbying organization.

LaPierre is, of course, a perennial doomsayer with a nearly unblemished record of wrongful predictions, a record so reliably unreliable that, were it possible to bet against it, one could easily amass a sizable fortune. During the Clinton administration he claimed that a document “secretly delivered” to him revealed that “the full-scale war [to] eliminate private firearms ownership completely and forever” was “well underway.” Yet a decade later Second Amendment rights are stronger than at any time in modern history, and law-abiding Americans are in about as much danger of having their 300 million guns seized by the federal government as by Lord Voldemort.

Four years ago LaPierre dusted off and embellished his Clinton-era prediction, arguing that if Barack Obama were elected, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity would be silenced, and “civil disarmament” would be implemented through a United Nations gun-ban treaty. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but LaPierre now says it’s only because Obama and his advisers decided prior to his election to forgo implementation of the dastardly plan and instead “hatched a conspiracy of public deception to guarantee his re-election in 2012.” According to LaPierre, Obama still plans to “erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and exorcise it from the U.S. Constitution” in a second term, when he will turn “American’s guns into international soup cans and park benches.”

(4)  More information about guns in America

(a)  Mass Shootings in the United States Since 2005, Brady Campaign website — It’s 62 pages long.

(b)  Important information about America by Kieran Healy (Assoc Prof Sociology at Duke) about the death rate in the US due to assaults (all causes).

(c)  Like so many things in America today, the gun culture is a fading love of old white guys. See “The Declining Culture of Guns and Violence in the United States“, Patrick Egan (Asst Prof Politics, NYU), the Monkey Cage, 21 July 2012.

But as pundits and politicians react, they would do well to keep in mind two fundamental trends about violence and guns in America that are going unmentioned in the reporting on Aurora.

First, we are a less violent nation now than we’ve been in over forty years.  In 2010, violent crime rates hit a low not seen since 1972; murder rates sunk to levels last experienced during the Kennedy Administration.

… Second, for all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows.  Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home.  In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do.  Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes.

(d)  Insightful note from James Fallows at The Atlantic:

Meanwhile, this sample of the insanity of today’s “security” thinking.

  • The latest Colorado shooter … could not legally have walked onto an airplane carrying a water bottle, or without taking off his shoes.
  • But he could walk down the street with a legally purchased assault rifle, body armor, and as much ammo as he could lift.

(e)  Under A Blood Red Sky“, Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, 21 July 2012 — Excerpt:

Since 9/11, U.S. officials have steered America’s vast law enforcement apparatus around to the idea that it is more important to prevent crimes from occurring than it is to punish criminals for committing those crimes; that the potential loss of life is too great a price to pay for a reactive approach to terror crime. That’s why we are dropping missiles on the heads of terror suspects abroad, why we tortured men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and why we can’t close Guantanamo Bay. This shift in focus– from punishment to prevention, from the reactive to the proactive– has sorely tested the Constitution. And it explains virtually every official act in the war on terror since the Twin Towers fell.

Yet, evidently, its a concept that has no bearing on the gun debate. Since 9/11, the Brady Campaign tells us, there have been an estimated 334,168 gun deaths* in the United States, a figure that includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional shooting deaths. The total is 100 times larger than the toll of September 11, 2001. Each year, since that day, approximately 30,000 people have been killed by firearms in America. Yet there has been no cry for state or federal policies of prevention over punishment, no loud call for a proactive rather than a reactive approach to gun violence. Imagine how different America would be today if those figures tolled for acts of terrorism instead of acts of gun violence.

Since September 11, 2001, we have had not one but two United States Supreme Court rulings recognizing an individual constitutional right to bear arms. Both of these rulings, crafted by the Court’s conservative majority, were nonetheless careful to contemplate the possibility of reasonable gun regulation. But that assumes the political will to enact and implement such regulation– and also to enforce existing gun regulations in an efficient and aggressive way. How many lives would be spared if law enforcement officials enforced existing gun laws as aggressively as they pursue the war on terror? We’ll never know the answer to that question, will we. Such enforcement will never happen.

(5)  And for the other side of the debate…

(a) The Price of Gun Control“, Dan Baum (author of author of Gun Guys: A Road Trip), Harper’s, 20 July 2012 — The price of gun control is very high, and we might not get much in return.

(b)  The CDC is not known for its advocacy for the 2nd amendment, so this result deserves attention: “Firearms laws and the reduction of violence: A systematic review“, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, February 2005 — By the Centers for Disease Control’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services — Summary (red emphasis added):

This report presents findings about the effectiveness of firearms laws in preventing violence. Studies of the following firearms laws were included in the review: bans on specified firearms or ammunition; restrictions on firearms acquisition; waiting periods for firearms acquisition; firearms registration; licensing of firearms owners; “shall issue” carry laws that allow people who pass background checks to carry concealed weapons; child access prevention laws; zero tolerance laws for firearms in schools; and combinations of firearms laws.

The Task Force found the evidence available from identified studies was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed singly or in combination. A finding that evidence is insufficient to determine effectiveness means that we do not yet know what effect, if any, the law has on an outcome — not that the law has no effect on the outcome. This report describes how the reviews were conducted, gives detailed information about the Task Force’s findings, and provides information about research gaps and priority areas for future research.

(6)  Other posts about guns in America

  1. The Founders talk to us about guns for a well-regulated militia,24 July 2012
  2. Yet another mass killing in America. Watch the reactions on the Right, and learn., 17 December 2012
  3. “The right to shoot tyrants, not deer”, 11 January 2013
  4. But Hitler confiscated guns, leaving Germans helpless!, 11 January 2013
  5. Guns do not make us safer. Why is this not obvious?, 14 January 2013
  6. Let’s look at the Second Amendment, cutting through the myths and spin, 15 January 2015
  7. Myth-busting about gun use in the Wild West, 16 January 2013
  8. Second amendment scholarship (using money to reshape America), 19 January 2013
  9. Do guns make us more safe, or less? Let’s look at the research., 23 January 2013
  10. Guns in the wild west: regulated, with no fears about ripping the Constitution, 25 January 2013

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 July 2012 1:19 am

    If you want to use Federalist 29, please use it in context. Hamilton is talking about a state, on-call militia as a hedge against a domestic standing army. If you want to argue that the current 2nd amendment doesn’t guarantee individual right’s to bear arms then you have to use the reason why and argue against a standing US military. While that might have merit today because of the reasons he feared (a standing army and the strong federal state it protects is more likely to chip away at our liberties), you can’t parse and translate his argument without fully keeping it in context and arguing for all of what he said.

    That being said, Fed 29 specifically states: “Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year.”

    So how can you have a well-regulated militia absent a “properly armed and equipped” citizenry? An individual’s rights to bear arms is the first step to even considering forming a militia to guard against insurrection, invasion, or to provide for the common defense.

    • 24 July 2012 2:19 am

      kotkinjs1, I don’t understand what you are attempting to say.

      (1) “Hamilton is talking about a state, on-call militia as a hedge against a domestic standing army.”

      No. Hamilton describes the militia’s duties quite broadly in the opening sentence (italics added):

      “THE power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defense, and of watching over the internal peace of the Confederacy.”

      (2) “then you have to use the reason why and argue against a standing US military.”

      Why? That makes no sense to me.

      (3) “So how can you have a well-regulated militia absent a “properly armed and equipped” citizenry? An individual’s rights to bear arms is the first step to even considering forming a militia to guard against insurrection, invasion, or to provide for the common defense.”

      It’s easy. Every nation has armed forces, even those with a disarmed citizenry. Like the UK. Similarly, the government can arm and train the militia, then appropriately regulate it — with their keeping arms a privilege of service. In this respect a militia is a lightly trained national guard. In fact, many State national guards had their origins as militia (eg, California).

  2. Unna permalink
    24 July 2012 2:59 am

    Concerning America’s violent crime rate, the least violent states are Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. America’s most violent states are Louisiana, Tennessee, Nevada along with an assortment of other mainly Southern states. Looking at household gun ownership rates 44% of Louisiana households have guns as compared to 40% of Maine households,Vermont 42%, Nevada 33%. “Gun Ownership by State“, Washington Post.

    Thus, gun ownership rates may not have very much to do with violent crime rates. Guns don’t kill people, violent cultures kill people. The example of the Swiss Army is often brought up, and I think it’s a good one. Lots of guns, very little violent crime. Apparently Northern New Englanders, and the Swiss, are a peaceful, though well armed people, who settle their disputes with words and not with guns. Also, to my knowledge there are few gun laws in the three most peaceful US states but I did not look that up for this comment.

    • 24 July 2012 3:06 am

      Agreed. That’s the conclusion — very tentatively expressed — of the CDC study cited in section 5.

    • 24 July 2012 3:08 am

      Follow-up: but even if gun regulations don’t reduce the run-of-the-mill gun violence, they might reduce access to the powerful weapons used these mass killings. As the CDC study suggests, the subject needs more study.

  3. 24 July 2012 4:53 am

    The way I always understood it, the Second Amendment was even controversial at the time of its writing, hence it is the only part of the bill of rights that includes a justification in its text.
    Further, given the controversial nature, it was written to be intentionally vague, so as to allow interpretation appropriate to the place and the situation (or the ratifying state). “Well regulated” refers to the militia, even though it’s “the people”, rather than the states, that bear the arms.
    So which is it – the people, or the militia?
    The individual right has its root in English common law, while the necessity of a militia was established during the Revolution. It seems to me that the Founding Fathers wanted both, and so they wrote the law to allow individuals to carry guns, and also to allow states to form small part-time armies.

    Too bad the “Army or Chicago” or the “Alabama State Militia” would not fare to well in a hypothetical battle against the full force of the United States Armed Forces. I wonder if this is by accident or by design?

    • 24 July 2012 5:12 am

      (a) That’s interesting — can you give us some sources or cites about the “controversial nature” of the 2nd amendment. My understanding is that it was in the first draft of the Bill of Rights in essentially the final form (sans a clause for religious objectors).

      (b) The little I’ve read about the Brits doesn’t mention a “common law” basis for the right to bear arms. It became law with the Bill of Rights of 1689 (Wikipedia). And is gone now.

      (c) “Too bad the “Army or Chicago” or the “Alabama State Militia” would not fare to well in a hypothetical battle against the full force of the United States Armed Forces.”

      I’ve never understood such scenarios. IMO they have the same practical relevance as invasions from Mars. In the real America the people are supine, no more likely to rebel than a flock of sheep. And the mass of gun owners side with — not against — the government as it strips away our rights. From the comments on the FM website (and those I’ve seen on right-wing websites), many gun owners would eagerly enlist with a US secret police.

      “The use of fashions in thought is to distract men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is in the least danger, and fix its approval on the virtue that is nearest the vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running around with fire extinguishers whenever there’s a flood; and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gone under.”
      ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

  4. Unna permalink
    24 July 2012 5:10 am

    I’ve always been interested in the argument that the 2d amendment was ultimately meant to deter tyranny by the Federal government. That if all the rest of the checks and balances, etc, ever failed, citizens still would have the means to restore liberty, albeit by violent revolt. Now that may, or may not, be historically grounded in the “legislative” history of that amendment, I don’t know. But it’s an argument frequently used.

    How that works out in 21st C. America is, of course, a different matter.

    • 24 July 2012 5:17 am

      The Founders were a diverse group, and so there was no one justification for the 2nd amendment. As the Cornell Law School entry says, there were two strains of reasoning — which go back to the British traditions.

      That the 2nd amendment supports militia is obvious. On the other hand, here’s one of many Founding generation talking about guns as the citizens’ defense of liberty:

      Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.

      — Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (1787)

    • Unna permalink
      24 July 2012 5:22 am

      “In the real America the people are supine, no more likely to rebel than a flock of sheep. And the mass of gun owners side with — not against — the government as it strips away our rights.”

      I think my question has been answered.

  5. 24 July 2012 5:14 am

    @FM;
    (1) I’m referring to the logic trail Hamilton describes throughout Federalist 29, to wit: “This [a state militia system] appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.” the specific reason for a militia construct was to save the populace from the chance of a tyrannical, wasteful, and overburdening standing army. A standing army can protect the nation, he says, but at what cost? An on-call militia system can perform to the same purpose without the risk to the liberties of the union.

    (2) I mean you can’t take Hamilton’s argument for the collective right of gun ownership (versus the individual) without the context of why he’s talking about it in the first place and use that argument out of said context to argue for individual gun control translation of the law. If Hamilton’s argument is the basis for yours, you have to use his complete argument, not pick and choose something and apply it out of context. That’s just not intellectually honest.

    (3) We’re talking about the United States here, right? Not a nanny-state like the UK as you mentioned. Not every nation has anything near a Second Amendment so the argument of other state’s armed forces or militias is irrelevant to this debate. Apples and oranges.

    • 24 July 2012 1:04 pm

      (1) “I’m referring to the logic trail Hamilton describes throughout Federalist 29″

      Although Hamilton spends much of the letter describing that one use of a militia, his opening makes it clear that this is but one of the many uses of a militia.

      (2) “I mean you can’t take Hamilton’s argument for the collective right of gun ownership (versus the individual) without the context of why he’s talking about it in the first place”

      You assume that Hamilton sees a militia as useful only as a counter to a standing army. That’s false.

      (3) “We’re talking about the United States here, right? Not a nanny-state like the UK as you mentioned”

      I’m trying to be pleasant in the comments, so I will not comment on this.

      (4) “Not every nation has anything near a Second Amendment so the argument of other state’s armed forces or militias is irrelevant to this debate.”

      Let’s replay the tape.

      • You said “So how can you have a well-regulated militia absent a “properly armed and equipped” citizenry?”
      • I replied that the State can train and equip an armed force (eg, militia, national guard, army) even if the citizens are totally disarmed. Australia and the UK are examples, as societies quite similar to ours.
      • So yes, those nations are relevant examples.

      Guessing, perhaps you are thinking of a militia in some particular form — perhaps as a mass unorganized citizen army, rather than the actual form of militia units in the US during the early 19th century.

  6. Duncan Kinder permalink
    24 July 2012 7:02 am

    It seems to me that if the Second Amendment is to be included amongst the Bill of Rights, it must be understood in some serious human liberty – comparable to freedom of speech, right to jury trial, etc.

    The only argument I am aware of that could fit that bill is that people are entitled to meaningful self help against tyranny from the government or perhaps other malefactors.

    Of course, one guy with an AK-47 ain’t much of a repellant against serious tyranny. Every now and then there would be Waco, TX, type scenarios, which would be spectacular but also would be futile. A lot of pro 2nd Amendment talk is deluded – to the extent that it is not merely posturing.

    It seems to me that 2nd Amendment discourse were we to consider what sort of measure might actually deter tyranny I recently have characterized this as the “right to bury IED’s,” ( although that is to be understood metaphorically rather than literally. )

    In other words, if our sheep were to grow fangs, what sort and how.? Also, might claws or some sort of camouflage be better?

    • 24 July 2012 12:49 pm

      Agreed.

      It’s fascinating to see the intense debate about an armed citizenry’s ability to defend its rights — occuring at the same time rights are being stripped away. Quite insane. Kafka would laugh. The Founders might weep (eg, Jefferson), shrug as one does when losing a bet on a long-shot (eg, Adams, Hamilton).

    • 24 July 2012 8:01 pm

      Don’t forget Franklin, who would roll his eyes and say, ‘I guess you couldn’t’ (keep the republic, that is.)

  7. 24 July 2012 1:47 pm

    No discussion of gun-rights propaganda should overlook the National Rifle Association. That such crude propaganda has such effect indicates our vulnerability to tyranny. For examples see “NRA’s doomsaying sham“, Alan Berlow, Salon, 24 July 2012 — Opening:

    If Americans wake up one day to find out that they’re living in a Stalinist police state and that government agents have confiscated all their guns leaving them utterly defenseless, it won’t be because Wayne LaPierre didn’t warn us. LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association, has been issuing warnings along these lines for most of his 20 years as the public face of what is regularly described as the nation’s most powerful lobbying organization.

    LaPierre is, of course, a perennial doomsayer with a nearly unblemished record of wrongful predictions, a record so reliably unreliable that, were it possible to bet against it, one could easily amass a sizable fortune. During the Clinton administration he claimed that a document “secretly delivered” to him revealed that “the full-scale war [to] eliminate private firearms ownership completely and forever” was “well underway.” Yet a decade later Second Amendment rights are stronger than at any time in modern history, and law-abiding Americans are in about as much danger of having their 300 million guns seized by the federal government as by Lord Voldemort.

    Four years ago LaPierre dusted off and embellished his Clinton-era prediction, arguing that if Barack Obama were elected, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity would be silenced, and “civil disarmament” would be implemented through a United Nations gun-ban treaty. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but LaPierre now says it’s only because Obama and his advisers decided prior to his election to forgo implementation of the dastardly plan and instead “hatched a conspiracy of public deception to guarantee his re-election in 2012.” According to LaPierre, Obama still plans to “erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and exorcise it from the U.S. Constitution” in a second term, when he will turn “American’s guns into international soup cans and park benches.”

  8. 24 July 2012 1:55 pm

    The NRA is correct — our gun laws might change. But in the opposite way they predict.

    See “Five Crazy Attempts to Weaken Federal Gun Laws“, George Zornick, The Nation, 23 July 2012. You must read this to believe it. The fascinating aspect is that these charges are, I suspect, all widely opposed by the public. But then, the opinion of the sheep doesn’t matter in the last chapters of the Second Republic.

  9. Kenneth Alonso permalink
    24 July 2012 2:51 pm

    The core idea of the Second Amendment is that a standing army is a threat to democracy. The best approach to achieve the goal was thought to be a military that would represent and embody the voters (the rulers of a democratic state). The amendment barred the federal government from using its Article I power to dissolve the militia structure that existed in the states at the time of its adoption. Following the War of the Rebellion, the necessity of imposing the Reconstruction era amendments recognized the need for the support of the Union Army. The legislators de-emphasized militia’s and states’ rights while accentuating an individual right of all citizens to keep guns in private homes for personal self-protection. (A hunter was never regarded as one “bearing arms” under this language).

    I recommend Akhil Amar’s, America’s Constitution (Random House, 2005), for an excellent discussion of how the Constitution arose and was modified.

    • 24 July 2012 3:06 pm

      “The core idea of the Second Amendment is that a standing army is a threat to democracy”

      I believe it is more accurate to say that “A core idea…”. The record is clear that they saw a militia as essential in other ways. As Hamilton says in the opening line of this letter.

      We frequently tend to reduce the Founders’ thinking to cartoons, one-dimensional postcards that suit today’s political fights.

  10. Keith Melancon permalink
    24 July 2012 5:29 pm

    Is there a different side to this argument as well – the business side? If there were no boogeymen, then would the demand for guns, specifically military style semi-automatic guns, go down? What real and lasting effect did the assault gun ban from 1994 have aside from driving up prices? We had a surge in gun sales following President Obama’s election that drove up the cost of guns, but more specifically semi-auto military clones with large capacity magazines. Are some of these stories planted to drive sales?

    Compare the cost of bolt action rifles, which are better choices for most practical applications to the above mentioned clones – the price gap is huge and people are generally looking to buy a bolt action rifle to fight the “black helicopters.”

    • Keith Melancon permalink
      24 July 2012 5:31 pm

      last line correction – …people are generally NOT looking to buy a bolt-action rifle….

  11. Sweet Will permalink
    24 July 2012 11:58 pm

    “Follow-up: but even if gun regulations don’t reduce the run-of-the-mill gun violence, they might reduce access to the powerful weapons used these mass killings. As the CDC study suggests, the subject needs more study.”

    More study, what happen to common sense, a pistol with 6-10 bullets versus 30, or a deer rifle versus a military assault rifle, which likely will cause the most damage? IMO reducing the potential carnage is worthy of banning assault rifles and large magazines and one small step toward reasonable gun laws.

  12. Drake West permalink
    25 July 2012 4:05 am

    whew – this deep debate about Founding Fathers words is tiresome and to an extent extraneous to this situation in Colorado. What myriad of laws and regulations could keep James Holmes from planning and executing his action – none.
    Now true, complications to acquiring some the parts he used in his heinous act may have saved some lives, or even deterred him completely. Maybe in a legislative and enforcement perfect state, he would be reduced to strangling a single woman with his bare hands (if he was even physically capable of such a thing). No doubt this person had snapped and some violent act was to be expressed.
    The important debate about gun violence is that the gun FACILITATES more killing and wounding. It is easy to acquire a gun, easy to learn to use one and relatively inexpensive to keep adding to the arsenal. There is an special empowerment felt by holding a gun in one’s hand. Like nothing else. In a world where media, social discourse and iconography show the gun ubiquitously as power, sick people, snapped people and thugs will turn to the gun as a tool for their brand of violence.
    Unfortunately, the focused debate of the purpose and right of a well regulate militia doesn’t seem to address these points. Are people sicker than in 1791? I cannot prove that, but I can say there are for sure more people, more stress and more images of the gun being about power than in 1791. We even mocked to frontier rifle picture at the head of this article. Who looked at that and saw anything more than a backwoodsman’s tool? Certainly not awe inspiring like the AR-15 in the news images this weekend. We have a love affair with guns in this country.
    When I look at the attached graph, I see that gun related deaths have decline steadily from the height in the late 80s. What has happened? Perhaps our sickos and thugs are just getting profiled better and the crackdown on gang violence over the last 15 years has taken some of the guns off the streets. Dont know. All I know is overreacting to Aurora is pointless. Look at how many Timothy McVeigh killed without a single shot fired.

    • Drake West permalink
      25 July 2012 4:12 am

      Oh and what is the point to my post?
      This debate is too complex to simply root out the intent of Jefferson or Hamilton. I love reading the history and thank FM profusely for the civics lesson. It still does not help me make sense of sick people armed to the teeth. I patently reject the idea that an armed population is a deterrent to gun violence. In order to deter a gun with a gun, you need at least 2 guns and at that point, who is deterring who? I think the Old West proved that armed citizens just continually shot each other when the time called for it. Not much safety in that.

      People are violent, they get mad, they snap and when they have been indoctrinated in the idea that the gun is power, get one and use it should the need arise, Aurora happens. Too bad James Holden didnt just go out and buy Arkham Asylum on PS3 to act out his Joker fantasy.

    • 25 July 2012 5:28 am

      “What myriad of laws and regulations could keep James Holmes from planning and executing his action – none”

      How strange that you so casually dismiss the success of other nations — such as Australia — and greatly reducing the incidence of such things. Pre-emptive surrender, the new form of American exceptionalism!

    • Drake West permalink
      25 July 2012 11:34 am

      Here is an excerpt from “Gun Control in Australia” at Factcheck.org:

      “[i]t has now been 12 months since gun owners in Australia were forced by new law to surrender 640,381 personal firearms.” Actually, it’s been 13 years since Australian gun law was originally changed. In 1996, the government banned some types of guns, instituted a buyback program and imposed stricter licensing and registration requirements. Gun ownership rates in Australia declined from 7% to 5%. Another law in 2002 tightened restrictions a bit more, restricting caliber, barrel length and capacity for sport shooting handguns.

      Have murders increased since the gun law change, as claimed? Actually, Australian crime statistics show a marked decrease in homicides since the gun law change. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, a government agency, the number of homicides in Australia did increase slightly in 1997 and peaked in 1999, but has since declined to the lowest number on record in 2007, the most recent year for which official figures are available.

      Now Australia is a very different place than the USA. 22M people living in 3.3M sq m. Almost 20% live in one city, Sydney. Their cultural diversity is much less than the USA, even though they are quite diverse.

      There is one thing definitely different in Australia than the USA, as I mentioned above, the glorification of the power of the gun is much less. How can I prove that – they had the ability to pass these reforms in the first place. So FM, I am not surrendering, I am giving my opinion that the USA is globally unique on this issue due to how we represent the DESIRE to bear arms as a Constitutional right and an intrinsic fiber of our national persona.

    • 25 July 2012 1:09 pm

      ” the glorification of the power of the gun is much less {in Australia than US}. How can I prove that – they had the ability to pass these reforms in the first place.”

      You make it sound like love of guns is some fixed aspect of the US character. Not so.

      (a) America had the ability to pass similar (albeit weaker) gun control laws in the past. Like NYC’s SUllivan Act in 1911 (see Wikipedia), and the to the National Firearms Act of 1934 (see Wikipedia). The 20th century trend was of slowly tighening regulation until the present counter-revolution, which began (guessing) with the conservative resurgence of the 1980s.

      (b) Like so much of the conservative resurgence, its demographical basis looks weak — being based on the tide of old white guys nearing its peak in numbers and influence. See the article in section 4c for details.

    • Drake West permalink
      25 July 2012 2:02 pm

      FB writes: “You make it sound like love of guns is some fixed aspect of the US character. Not so.”

      How can you say this?? Forget your quotes about conservatives and their lawmaking. It is all about CULTURE. This country has an ingrained love of guns, the power of a gun and the brandishing of a gun. The use of a gun to kill someone, well that is just so much more personal, but there are a lot of people in this country who have used guns to shoot at people, wound and kill people. Why? Because we love guns.

      I did some quick research about guns in popular culture, say movies:

      Between 1986 and 1993, when the spike in gun deaths occurred in this last generation the top 10 grossing films for this 8 year period contained no less than 33% of the movies had main characters who wielded a gun or excessive gun based death and violence.

      How about TV shows: To be fair, comedy ruled TV in this period. It was not until the mid 90s that cop dramas started taking over prime time. Except for Sienfeld and Friends, not too many laughs in the top Nielsens in the 90s.

      Youtube: right now there are 1.72 million hits on a search for “guns” on YouTube. Some may be just song videos about guns, but the most popular ones are videos of people shoot large guns at fruit or other targets.

      What about…Music: Gangsta Rap was pioneered in the mid 80s and gained mainstream following in the early 90s. This brand of music worshiped the use of guns to get what you want, from Cop killing to taking down rivals.

      At the same time, worldwide these media categories were nothing so violent as in the USA. Sure, overseas people flocked to some of Hollywood’s most violent offerings, and I cannot say why they would not be popular, only that we are sure their origin is USA.

      What I am trying to say is that our Culture, born and bred, is to consider the gun to be an expression of power and freedom of the people, which I really do not argue. The gun in all its forms is still unmatched for personal power projection. Our politicians come from that culture. the NRA’s lobby is so successful because the culture of the US backs them up. Sure there are countless tragedies with guns the hands of sickos, but apparently it does not outweigh the needs of the many.

      We can debate which is the chicken and which is the egg in terms of Human nature vs. the freedoms written into our Constitution. Firearms in 1791 were understood to be paramount to national sovereignty, as the are today. Nothing in that regard has changed. Our founding fathers must have thought that power was a danger to the freedom of the populace so they wanted to ensure the government could not ban guns. Guess they though violent gun crime was better than oppression by an army backed regime. I think I have to agree.

      Guns are cheap, easy to learn to use and legal. I still cannot think of anything more devastating to spend $400 on. I do not own a gun, don’t need one and do not want one. I have 2 small kids and live in a small urban apartment.

      Years ago, when I was a young single man living in South Florida in the late 80s, I had roommates and best friends who had guns, lots of guns. They loved them, played with them and went shooting, legally at an abandoned quarry 2 miles off the main road. Out there was a target range with junk people had brought in to shoot at. There was an old car, lots of concrete blocks, milk jugs and even 5 or 6 bullet riddled mannequins. The most fun was to take shots at the them of course. They didnt last long before they were shattered bits of plastic. Fun fun fun right.

    • 25 July 2012 2:11 pm

      I’m uncertain what you are attempting to prove. That the gun control laws of the past did not in fact exist? That gun regulation was not tightening for several generations? That gun ownership is rapidly decreasing?

      More broadly, I find your reasoning difficult to understand. To give just one counter-example — Many Japanese movies are violent on a scale unacceptable to an American audience. Movies and TV shows (eg, the popular Star Blazers series) have to be radically revised to reduce the violence. Plus the Japanese glorification of organized crime (eg, the Yakuza). Does this mean that Japan is a violent society?

      In fact Japan is at the bottom of the homicide rankings, with 0.35 per 100,000 in 2011. The US is in the middle with 4.8.

    • Drake West permalink
      25 July 2012 8:53 pm

      FB said: “I’m uncertain what you are attempting to prove. That the gun control laws of the past did not in fact exist? That gun regulation was not tightening for several generations? That gun ownership is rapidly decreasing?”

      I am trying to NOT prove that the framing of words and meanings in the Constitution, which this thread seemed to be about, is so relevant to the cultural iconography of the gun in US society. Like I stated several replies ago, thanks for the civics lesson.

      I agree with your counter reasoning about Japan in some ways, but you sorely miss the point. Japan is decidedly NOT gun happy and they do not have a right to bear arms in their laws

      from their primary gun law(s):

      “The weapons law begins by stating “No-one shall possess a fire-arm or fire-arms or a sword or swords”, and very few exceptions are allowed.[39] The only types of firearms which a Japanese citizen may acquire is a rifle or shotgun. Sportsmen are permitted to possess rifles or shotguns for hunting and for skeet and trap shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing procedure.[41] Without a licence, a Japanese citizen may not even hold a gun in his or her hands.

      Seems nothing like 2nd Amendment does it? Perhaps there is a correlation between this wording and our wording to the cultural glorification of the power of a gun, and therefore their lowest ranking COULD point to that fact. I am not aware of any study that even attempts to prove that, so I will not use it in this debate, and neither should you.

      I reject your use of Homicide rankings unless those are GUN RELATED homicides. According to Murders with firearms (most recent) by country and Current Worldwide Homicide/Murder Rate we can extrapolate the difference in homicide/murder rate overall and gun related homicide rate in the 2 countries:

      • USA: homicide rate 5.22 per 100,000 – handgun related: 9,369 cases (as of 2008)
      • Japan: homicide rate 0.45 per 100,000 – handgun related: 47 cases (as of 2008)

      Comparison: overall rate is Japan is 8.6% of USA – handgun related Japan is 0.5% of USA. That simply means that 200 times more often a homicide is gun related in the USA than Japan.

      By no means is this conclusive or a single proof, but we love to kill with guns and Japan just does not. Why? We have to look at our right to bear arms because it is one of the things in conflict with the Japanese Constitution. I think more and more points to culture in this country being gun loving.

      I think you should just plain stop writing about why Japanese Anime in any way resembles mainstream live action films from Hollywood. Please just stop, you are smart, but you do not know everything about everything. I will not engage in any debate about use of violence in Anime.

    • 26 July 2012 2:50 am

      “I think you should just plain stop writing about why Japanese Anime in any way resembles mainstream live action films from Hollywood.”

      Nope. I watched Star Blazers on TV when first broadcast in America in 1979, and have watched quite a bit of since then. Unfortunately nothing since Fullmetal Alchemist, due to time constraints (I’d like to see the new version someday).

      While I’m no expert, I consider myself competent to make some broad and simple observations on the subject. My statement about Star Blazers is quite accurate.

      For a practical application of anime see this post about Fullmetal Alchemist: Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009.

  13. 25 July 2012 3:53 pm

    The founding fathers were clever enough to realize that the political system they were creating was going to change. That was all the cleverness they needed, really – not that it was a new idea, by any means.

    The way to decrease the likelihood of a putsch is to have a strong national guard which has regional resident cadre and is not under federal control, and to tighten up the constraints preventing any one branch of government from deploying the standing army. I am vastly more concerned about the deployment of guard units outside of their states than I am by any restrictions on personal ownership of weapons – I’d rather have my neighbor driving an abrams tank than have my entire neighborhood owning sporting rifles, and that doesn’t mean a damn thing if the neighbor (and tank) have been deployed to the edge of the empire on some pointless urgent cause.

  14. 25 July 2012 11:11 pm

    Folks, you all better go find someone like Chesty Puller to command the new k9 Cop/Marines currently on show at Camp Pendelton. Then clean up the Untied States. Sweeten the bilges, pump ship. Cheerfully yours, A. Pismo Clam. p.s. The shooting has started, and you still won’t say which side you are on.

  15. Burke G Sheppard permalink
    26 July 2012 6:57 pm

    Fabius wrote:

    “More broadly, I find your reasoning difficult to understand. To give just one counter-example — Many Japanese movies are violent on a scale unacceptable to an American audience. Movies and TV shows (eg, the popular Star Blazers series) have to be radically revised to reduce the violence. Plus the Japanese glorification of organized crime (eg, the Yakuza). Does this mean that Japan is a violent society?”

    An interesting point about culture. I’m not familiar with Japanese glorification of the Yakuza, though I’ve heard of it – but I have seen a bit of Star Blazers. If that show were made here, it might be less violent, but I suspect the Star Force would be replaced with a Lone Wolf Death Ranger with super powers or something, who acts outside the law because the law is a wuss. Or the law is for wusses. The Star Blazers were an organized, disciplined military force who operated as a team. And the villains weren’t more interesting or complex than the good guys. So yes, it’s WAY more violent that what we would tolerate here, but I don’t see it ever becoming a touchstone for a crazy person. I can’t really see a whack job dressing up as Dessloch (sp?) and trying to do a whole theater full of people.

    • 26 July 2012 7:48 pm

      (1) “I have seen a bit of Star Blazers. If that show were made here, it might be less violent”

      I suspect you saw the English-language dubbed version shown on US TV. The original Japanese version is quite different. Much of it was deleted as too violent for a US audience, and much of the dialog was changed.

      (2) The effect of violence levels is very difficult to determine. I don’t believe, and have not seen any research, suggesting that you can draw conclusions about the effect of plots and characters in movies on US violence. My guess is that takes us into the realm of wild speculation.

  16. Burke G Sheppard permalink
    26 July 2012 7:07 pm

    Fabius wrote: “In the real America the people are supine, no more likely to rebel than a flock of sheep. And the mass of gun owners side with — not against — the government as it strips away our rights. From the comments on the FM website (and those I’ve seen on right-wing websites), many gun owners would eagerly enlist with a US secret police.”

    I don’t know what rights you think that gun wners want to strip away from the people. I don’t know a single gun owner who supports the mockery that has been made of the Fourth Amendment in this country, which seems to be more or less a dead letter. I know quite a few who are apalled at the idea of the government putting out a hit on American citizens based on secret evidence. As for Americans being supine…at least as it pertains to gun rights, gun owners haven’t been as supine as all of that, or this discussion would likely not be taking place.

    • 26 July 2012 7:43 pm

      Whatever the people you know, polls show overwhelming support for the various War on Terror revocations of our civil rights among conservatives: illegal surveilance, deterntion of citizens without charge or warrant, torture, and execution with charge, trial, or verdict — and voting rights.

      The rights they support tend to be in a narrow range: religion, gun ownership, and property.

      I specified “the mass of gun owners” rather than “gun owners” because they are a diverse group. But gun ownership is much higher among GOP voters (50%+) than Democrats (30%). Note that the political spectrum in the US has shifted right so that party ID is misleading. Polls (eg, Gallup in January 2012) found that 20% of Democrats identify themselves as conservatives (which group might include many Democrat gun owners), but only 4% of Republicans identify as liberals.

  17. 29 July 2012 3:06 pm

    Great article: “Five myths about mass shootings“, Jeff Kass, op-ed in the Washington Post, 27 July 2012

  18. NYRB reviews new books about Crime, Justice, & Guns in America permalink
    14 September 2012 2:01 am

    The NYRB reviews new books about Crime, Justice, & Guns in America. These problems will grow worse if US social stress increases in the future.

    Our Romance With Guns“, David Cole, New York Review of Books, 27 September 2012

    • Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America by Adam Winkler
    • The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control by Franklin E. Zimring
    • Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy
  19. Slate: The Insane Defense of the "Castle Doctrine' Gone Wild permalink
    27 October 2012 1:15 am

    The Insane Defense of the “Castle Doctrine’ Gone Wild“, Emily Bazelon, Slate, 25 October 2012 — “A tragic killing in Montana proves once again that these laws do more to encourage violence than to prevent it.”

    Opening:

    One amazing thing about the recent spate of laws that make it easier to shoot people and get away with it is how much prosecutors hate them. “It’s an abomination,” one Florida prosecutor told the Sun Sentinel, referring to the state’s “stand your ground” law at the center of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin.

    And now we’re hearing from Montana’s county attorneys, sheriffs, and police chiefs, all of whom oppose the 2009 law that expanded the “castle doctrine” to give homeowners more leeway to kill potential intruders. The law is “a solution that had no problem,” the president of the Montana County Attorneys’ Association said.

    And earlier this month, the prosecutor for the town of Kalispell cited the newly strengthened castle doctrine in refusing to indict Brice Harper, a man who shot and killed Dan Fredenberg, the husband of the woman Harper was having an affair with. Harper didn’t kill Fredenberg at the end of a violent encounter. He killed an unarmed Fredenberg when he walked into Harper’s garage.

  20. 28 January 2013 9:55 pm

    A few of thoughts. For one, the definition of the term “militia” does not need to be guessed. USC Title 10, Chapter 13 defines the term “militia”. There are two types of militia, the organized militia that the author of this piece is familiar with and the unorganized militia which is essentially every other male that could conceivably be eligible for service in the militia even if they are not formally connected with it right now. Based on this clear law, pretty much this entire FM piece is baseless. I also find it odd that the author does not interpret “the right of the people” to confer the right to bear arms to individuals when there is absolutely no argument that “the right of the people” refers to the right of individuals to exercise free speech in the 1st Amendment. Clearly the authors of the amendments could have used some other phrase had they meant to confer the right to bear arms as a collective right of the states rather than an individual right. Further, the individual right to bear arms for self defense was common in law through out the colonies and in state constitutions that predate the Bill of Rights. It is not like Madison made up the 2nd Amendment out of whole cloth. Further, and what I would think is the most obvious, smack you in the face element of the 2nd Amendment is that it is part of the Bill of Rights which all enumerate the rights of individuals with the exception of the 10th which protects the sovereignty of the states. Finally, since the Constitution already gives the Congress the power to raise an army, why would the founding fathers add the 2nd Amendment if they merely wanted to grant themselves the ability to regulate and maintain the militia, a power already granted to them in the Constitution.That makes no sense.

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