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Monday, June 30, 2008

Answering the Collectivist Argument on the 2nd Amendment

On a practical level, the Heller decision largely put to rest this debate. Whatever collectivists believe, the Supreme Court has spoken and it upheld the interpretation that the 2nd amendment is in fact a right of individuals to own and carry firearms.

That said, it won't necessarily end the philosophical debate among academics and pundits about the meaning of the second amendment. First, here is the amendment again.

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.

Now, the allusion to the militia combined with the use of the words "the people" has allowed gun control advocates to make the argument that the second amendment was meant only to protect organized state militias.

In my opinion, this is a nonsensical argument made cynically and disingenuously by folks with an agenda. I think the founding fathers used wording that none thought at the time would create controversy and yet more than two hundred years later we are still embroiled in controversy.

In response to the Heller decision, several editorial boards including my hometown Chicago Tribune and the New York Times used this very collectivist argument to argue against the decision.

I believe there are three very powerful ways to argue against the collectivist argument.

1) Take a look at the writings and quotations of any of the founding fathers and all, ALL, relating to the right to bear arms are in favor of an individual's right.

Here are some examples.

Americans have the right and advantage of being armed - unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms

James Madison

The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly

Alexander Hamilton

Here is the most important one which explains what the founding fathers
meant when they used the term militias.

Militias, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves and include all men capable of bearing arms. To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.

Richard Henry Lee

Now, of course, the Supreme Court shouldn't necessarily use text outside the Constitution itself when trying to infer the intent of its authors, but in this case, it is overwhelming. Each and every single thought that the founding fathers had on the second amendment referred to it being one that protected individual's rights to bear arms. If the founding fathers meant this amendment to be collectivist they sure as heck hid it well because you will find no text anywhere that backs up that assertion.

2) On a practical level, none of the amendments to the Constitution are amendments that give rights to the government, but rather to the people. In order to believe that the second amendment is collectivist, you would need to believe that for unknown reasons the founding fathers wanted to enumerate rights to the government among in the second amendment, even though each and every other amendment enumerates rights to the people itself.

Of course, this belief goes against everything we know about the founding fathers. Each and every one of them feared a government too powerful. They wanted to give as many rights as possible to the citizenry and as few rights as possible to the government itself. Of course, this makes no sense. We would all assume that any government sponsored militia would be armed. I don't think they would use the second amendment they created just to make sure everyone knew the government could arm any militias they create.

3) The right of the people is found throughout the amendments and each and every other time it is used to give rights to individuals. Here is how the first amendment reads.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now, if we are to take the collectivist argument to its logical conclusion, then people only have a right to speak freely in an organized group. Of course, I never hear that argument made. That's because that is a silly argument. It is no less silly to claim the second amendment is collectivist.

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